Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

by Todd Walker

The thought of a second grader even touching an razor-sharp ax is horrifying to modern helicopter parents… and probably illegal in some jurisdictions! If so, please don’t share this.

Yesterday was one of the best days yet in my young grandfathering career! Our daughter and grandson came over to hang out and hit up our local farmer’s market for some naturally grown produce. Afterwards we played several rounds of Eye Spy at a local restaurant, ate lunch together and headed home. Max slumped in a patio chair and said what every young video gamer has running through their mind when their electronic device is not in their hands…

“There’s nothing to do.” *Sigh*

That’s all I needed to hear!

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to a Seven Year Old

I’m bored!

Like most school children today, our grandson had a fear of sharp, pointy stuff ingrained in his psyche within two years of public schooling. The NO WEAPONS mantra had stuck in his pliable mind. Knives, axes, and most of all – guns! These menacing, inanimate objects are inherently evil and must be avoided. Granted, these tools should not be left in the path of toddlers. This begs the question, what age is appropriate to begin training children to use a knife or ax?

You’re no stranger to the No Weapons Zone signs if your kids are school age. Yes, all these tools can be weapons. Yellow school buses and SUV’s possess the same ability.

But here’s the thing… the intent of the user is what matters. Even with the purest intentions, accidents happen. All the more reason to introduce safe handling and respect for these tools to the next generation at an early age.

Under proper supervision and training, Max discovered that my camp ax is a useful cutting tool – not the vicious weapon portrayed in Kindergarten circle time.

As a prepared parent or grandparent, you have to decide the appropriate age to begin training your children to use sharp stuff. There’s no magical age. We’re all individuals. Move slowly and follow their curiosity and maturity level. My children didn’t come with a user’s manual. You just have to figure it out as you go.

It’s my hope that these tips will help train our next generation to begin Doing the Stuff with the tools of our trade.

Fear Factor

While demonstrating my DiY Survival Sling Shot at our backyard, Max was afraid to try it out. He told me that he knew what those things were called, pointing my bag of ammo.

“What?” I asked.


“No buddy, these are ball bearings.”

“Well, they look like bullets,” he assured me.

My explanation of “bullets” gave him enough confidence to pull the sling without the “bullet” misfiring in his hand. He fired a few rounds and hit the target.

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

Taking aim!

Fear is overcome easily with truth and patience. Our body follows our mind (thoughts). An elementary physics lesson on what made bullets (or any object) move was all it took. I shot a pebble to prove the point.

Safety First

Obviously, safety of the child and bystanders is paramount when using projectiles or cutting tools! Our next skill came about through his curiosity of an ax in my shop.

Here’s a few tips I hope you find helpful for introducing your child to cutting tools.

First, allow the child to hold the ax with the bit (sharp edge) in the sheath or mask. I used my Backcountry Ax with a 16 inch handle. Take a moment to point out that the bit will bite and that axes should always be sheathed until they are ready to be used. Allow your child to hold the ax on their own strength under constant supervision. If they struggle to hold the tool steady, find a lighter ax or hatchet.

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

The Eastwing hatchet (at the bottom of the pic) is a few inches shorter than the Backcountry Max used and has a smaller handle grip.

Now, while you hold the tool, remove the mask to reveal the ax head. Explain the purpose of the cutting tool. No need to go into the history of axes. A few sentences will do for short attention spans.

Next, demonstrate proper technique on a wood anvil (chopping block) with your work space cleared of obstructions and tripping hazards. Find an anvil about waist-high to your child when he/she is kneeling. Always use a kneeling position when spitting wood with a short ax. If you miss the target in the standing position, the arc of the ax may find your shin. By kneeling, you increase the swing radius of the ax from the pivot point of your body.

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to a Seven Year Old

I modified the wood by cutting it into 4 inch lengths to make splitting easier.

Short Cuts

For young beginners, saw a wood round into 3 to 4 inch sections. I let Max strike a 12″ piece with no noticeable results. I ran into my shop and chopped a few pieces with my miter saw. You want them to have success and see the results as they learn a new skill. Seeing wood fly is very motivating!

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to a Seven Year Old

Explain the importance of placing the round to be split at the back edge of the anvil. Above I demonstrate the danger of swinging too closely on the near edge of the anvil.

Now assist them in their first swing with the ax. Have them swing at a spot on the back half of an empty anvil. The ax will get stuck in the anvil if enough force is applied on the down swing. Push down and pull up on the ax handle in a controlled movement to loosen and remove the ax.


When you’re comfortable that they’re able to strike a target on the anvil with assistance, allow him to try a 90º swing on his own – with very close supervision. Repeat several times until accuracy improves.

Now place a short round on the back half of the anvil. This is where the fun begins! On his first strike, the ax head got stuck in the round. I had him raise the ax with the round still attached and swing it back down on the anvil. It worked. The wood split!

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

And he scores!!

He was so excited and amazed at what he’d just done. His next round split with his first swing… even more excitement! After carefully placing the ax on the ground, he ran to show his mom and DRG pieces of split wood.

As a reminder of this right-of-passage, his skillful work is proudly displayed on our fridge.

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

Fridge worthy wood!

I’ll give you one guess as to what he wants now instead of a bow and arrow set. Ha! He’s got a lot of learning and maturing to do before he gets his first hatchet. My father gave me my first folding knife when I was seven. I learned some valuable lessons that year and still sport a puncture wound scar in my left forearm for doing what I was told not to do while unsupervised.

Please use your best judgement when teaching Doing the Stuff skills to children. Scrapes, cuts and bruises happen as they learn. But with proper training, serious injuries can be avoided – and traditional knowledge gets passed on.

For more articles related to kids and self-reliance, check out these Trusted Resources:

Here’s two questions for you: A) When did you receive your first cutting tool? B) What do you consider to be the top 5 skills children need to for self-reliance? I’d like to put together a summer series on self-reliance skills for kids. Your thoughts and input are really appreciated!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance, Survival Education, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

  1. Wonderful, to see the next generation learning survival skills. Shaen said he started chopping kindling at about seven and natural moved on to bigger peices.

    I’m still a kindling cutter.


    • I bet your girls have learned a lot from you two in the self-reliance department! I know I’ve learned a lot from you and I’m on the other side of the continent.


  2. Chewylouie

    That’s awesome! To answer your questions, I couldn’t tell you when I got my first knife, but it was probably 7 or so. I know I was able to carry a machete in the woods very young. I actually don’t remember being taught to be safe with tools. The only thing that I remember is my dad telling me never to cut towards yourself with a knife (or any other tool). For your other question, I think start a fire, fish and gather some edibles (just a few useful ones, until they can learn more) build a simple shelter, use a knife safely, and boil water (not that difficult, but if your not careful, you could burn yourself pretty bad).


    • Thanks for sharing and answering my questions, Chewy! The one thing your dad taught you is the same my dad taught me. But did I listen? No. I pulled my new pen knife towards me on a piece of wire and plunged the blade into my forearm at 7 years old.

      I agree with you’re suggestions too.


  3. wonderful article, i will use shared instructions when teaching my daughter 🙂 thank you Todd


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  5. I love those pix! Your family is very blessed!


  6. I can’t answer A because I cannot remember. But, as for B, here is 1. I teach my children all the time about plants. They now have decided on their own favorite wild edibles (wood sorrel & violets & red clover flowers). They, of course, know to and do check with me before they eat anything they pick. They find it as exhilarating as I do to eat from the abundance of the wild! Additionally, we are blessed with some amazing nature programs through our local metropark system. Just yesterday, we were in the rapids of our local river collecting and examining the animals that we found. Sheer joy!


  7. I got a little pen knife when I was seven or so, maybe six. Yes, girls in our family got knives. I had a ball peen hammer when I was four, so I got the hang of the swing and hitting the mark, but I never had an axe to swing. We were all exposed to dangerous tools and minded our parents and did not touch them. Yes, we did do minor things to get hurt. I still have a scar where I got a knife from the kitchen when I should not have.

    You mentioned a child’s curiosity. I taught my child less than two-years-old how to plug in a lamp safely and unplug it. She had just received a shock from doing it wrong. Friends thought I was crazy to allow her on a high staircase because she might fall down the stairs and hurt herself. Nope, she was the only one of us (five in family) who did not fall on the stairs because she held on going up and came down sitting just as I taught her. I think parents then and now make their children fearful to try anything. Life is dangerous even on a good day, but using fear to learn is a good thing.


    • Thanks for sharing your story with us! I understand the concern of our safety conscious parents but this sometimes turns into a fun nazi party and kids loose interest in things/skills.

      I’ve always heard that you don’t know your cutting tool intimately until it bites you. Keep doing the stuff and getting scars, my friend!


  8. Sherpa,
    I really enjoyed your informative article. I agree with you on most of you comments.
    I have a comment / question for you & others. First I must tell you some background.
    My 14 year old has been raised hunting, fishing, camping, etc. He has many of his own knives & long guns. He has been taught proper knife & gun (rifle & pistol) handling safety from very early. The guns are locked away in a safe here at my house for safety. They are not locked away at his mothers home. Unfortunately, in an impulsive act after a fight with his mother, he used one of those handguns to take his life. I have always been a big believer in the 2nd amendment & gun rights. Losing my son in that manner hasn’t changed my views on those issues. It has changed my view on how individuals should control their guns. I never thought this would happen, of course. We never saw signs this was coming. Turns out after a lot of reflection, we realized my son had some mental health issues that played a role in his decision (mainly ADHD & Anxiety Disorder). We knew he had ADHD but didn’t consider it to be a factor. It was, impulsiveness is a big part of ADHD.
    My questions to you are:
    1. How do you decide when to allow your children access to your weapons?
    2. Have you taken into account their mental health in this decision?
    3. Short of legislation, how do we educate the public about the need to limit access to those who might use weapons to harm themselves or others.

    Sorry for such a long post. I have a 6 year old so I am trying to resolve these questions now to figure out how to raise him but be self reliant.


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