Posts Tagged With: knife craft

A Beginner’s Guide to Knife Craft for Kids

by Todd Walker

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

I’ll never forget my first one. It had two blades, one long, one short, which folded into the wood grain handle with a snapping sound only good pocket knives make. I had crossed over, in my mind, from boy to man with my knife in the bottom of my jeans pocket. I had finally become a part of a long line of Southern knife toters.

No man in my family would ever be caught without a sharp pocketknife while wearing pants. The tool was used for everything from peeling a fresh Georgia peach, gutting a blue gill, cutting bailing twine, sharpening a carpenter’s pencil, and for the inevitable splinter removal while chopping firewood. But, by far, the most relaxing task was whittling on a stick as the aroma of wood smoke soaked into our clothes and canvas tent.

Without a knife, a man from my parts was close to useless.

For this tutorial on beginner knife use, we’ll cut through all the fluff and get back to the basics of selecting and using a knife safely.

Knife Selection

As the parent, only you will know when your child is responsible enough to use a knife. When that time comes, allow him/her to hold and use several knives to test the fit in smaller hands. My first knife was the pocket knife described above. For camping and other outdoor activities, we’ll focus our attention on sheath knives (non-folding).

However, if you decide to go with a jack knife (pocket knife), which is hard to beat for simple whittling, steer away from multitool types. They’re too fat, bulky, and uncomfortable for longterm use. Buy a folder with three or less blades. The handle should have smooth edges to prevent hot spots which lead to blisters. When gripped, your child should have enough room to rest his thumb on the knife handle and not the open blade.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

Two blade, three blade, and a multi-blade knife.

No need to spend a lot of money on a kid’s first sheath knife. I bought my grandson his first fixed-blade knife, a Mora Companion, for under $15.00. This four-inch blade has a non-slip handle which fits his hand. There is also a slight knob on the forward handle near the blade for added protection against slipping a hand down the blade. The carbon steel is easy to sharpen and maintain. The scandi grind really bites into wood to produce fine, controlled shavings when whittling.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

L to R: Mora Companion, Mora Classic, and a smaller Classic. Below is Fixin’ Wax and steel wool.

The spine of the sheath knife (opposite of the cutting edge) isn’t given much thought to new campers. It’s not the business end of your blade, right? Not true. A 90 degree spin comes in handy for many camp tasks such as creating fat lighter shavings, sparking ferro rods, and smoothing wood surfaces. If your knife spine is rounded, take a bastard file to the edge and create right angles on the spin. Our video below demonstrates the usefulness of a sharp spin in fire craft…

A fixed blade sheath should hold your child’s knife firmly in place. If you turn the sheath upside down, the knife should stay put.

Knife Safety

Our gun community does an excellent job of teaching gun safety to children. The same should be taught concerning knives. A knife is a tool, not a toy. A sharp knife holds potential for serious injury, even death. There are inherit dangers with edged tools. With proper training, supervision, and experience (and a few band aids), your child will soon build confidence in his new skills.

Here’s a few safety guidelines to remember:

  • To remove a knife from a belt sheath like the Mora Companion, grip the handle and place your thumb on sheath tab. With gentle downward pressure from the thumb, the knife will release. Do not forcefully pull the knife as you will lose control of the blade. Return the knife in the same manner, in a controlled manner, until the blade snaps back into the sheath. In the beginning stage of practice, you may want to add a strip of painters tape to the cutting edge until you demonstrate proficiency in the process.
A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

Grip handle and press the thumb tab to safely remove blade.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

  • Only use a knife when your Blood Circle is clear of others and obstacles. To define the Blood Circle, stand with arms outstretched. Turn full circle to make sure no other person is within this space.
  • Never whittle with a knife within your Blood Triangle. It may seem natural to whittle between your legs while in the seated position with knees spread. Cutting within this danger zone, a triangle formed between your knees and crotch, is inviting disaster. One slip and the blade could plunge into the femoral artery.
  • For basic whittling, always cut away from your body. There are times when cutting towards the body is acceptable, but these strokes are for more advanced users.
  • With a knife in hand, it is your responsibility to make sure no person is within your Blood Circle. If someone enters, stop whittling and sheath your knife.
  • Keep your knife sharp (We’ll cover sharpening in a later article). It may sound contrary, but a dull knife poses more danger than a sharp one. It takes more applied force to make a dull knife cut wood or potatoes. A keen edge slices with more control.
  • Never attempt to catch a falling knife.
  • Keep your knife sheathed when not in use. Do not walk, much less run, around with an unsheathed knife.
  • To pass your knife to someone, hold the spin between your curled index finger and thumb with the handle towards the person. When the fellow grips the handle, don’t release the blade until he says “thank you.” This lets you know he has a firm grip on the handle.
A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

“Thank you”

Knife Care

Carbon steel blades are sharpened more easily than stainless steel. However, high carbon will rust if neglected. Always wipe excess moisture from the blade after each use. Lubricate your blade with a food safe oil before stowing your knife for your next adventure.

If a rust spot appears, hit the area with 0000 steel wool and apply oil. My go-to lubricant is my DiY Fixin’ Wax. This stuff has many uses for camping and woodcraft.

Whittling Skills

Once you’ve learned and demonstrated the above safety tips, it’s time to do some whittling. You’ll need a softwood stick with no knots. Pine, tulip poplar, and basswood are all good choices. If green, pine will coat your blade and hands with resin. Fixin’ Wax will remove the sap from both. Dowels from hardware stores will work as well. Find a stick about an inch in diameter and about a foot or two long. A longer stick can be tucked between your elbow and side for extra stability while whittling.

Overhand Grip

The overhand grip will be your most used method in basic whittling. Place the spine side of the handle in the palm of your strong hand. The spine/back of the handle should lay in the “V” between your thumb and index finger. Don’t put a death grip on the handle until your knuckles turn white. Relax your hand. Your brain will tell your hand when to grip the handle tight in use. With your arm and fist extended in front of you, the cutting edge will face away from your body.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

Back of handle fits into the V between your thumb and index finger. It’s like you’re shaking hands with the handle.

The first step will be to remove the bark from the stick. This helps you get the feel for how the blade bits into the wood. With the stick gripped in your off-hand, begin slicing the bark off your stick with controlled slices an inch or so below/past your off-hand. Try not to dig your blade into the wood beneath the bark. When half the bark is removed, flip the stick and remove the other half.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

Remember to work outside your Blood Triangle.

Now sharpen one end of the stick to a pencil point. Gradually begin shaving small amounts of wood off to a point. No need to hurry the process. Just relax and enjoy whittling. If you get tired, stop and rest. Fatigue leads to careless mistakes.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

Gradual strokes to get to the point.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

Try to make your stick resemble a sharpened pencil.

Thumb Lever/Push Cut

This technique, a bit more advanced, allows you make controlled cuts for notches and detailed carving work. Yep, it’s time to notch the opposite end of the pencil point your just whittled. You’re about to create your first tent stake.

Using an overhand grip, rock the blade of your knife perpendicular on your stick about an inch or two on the end opposite the pencil point. Cutting across the grain of wood with an edged tool is difficult and applies lots of downward pressure. It’s best to place the stick on a support (a chopping stump, large log, etc.). Rock the blade until you create a 1/8 to 1/4 inch kerf across the grain.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

Cut across the grain on a solid support.

You’re now ready to use the thumb lever. Grip the stick with your off-hand about an inch or so from the kerf you just rocked. Maintain your overhand grip with the blade resting an inch down from the kerf. Grip the stick with your off-hand just behind the blade. Place your off-hand thumb on the knife handle in the “V” of your strong hand. Angle the blade into the wood and push the handle with your off-hand thumb until the blade reaches the kerf. Again, take small, shallow cuts until you reach the bottom of the kerf. You’ll want to rock the blade in the kerf until your reach about 1/3 the diameter of the stick. Continue alternating between each cut for a smooth notch to tie off your tent or tarp line.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

You thumb acts as a fulcrum to leverage your blade through wood safely.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

One last cut to finish your tent stake. On the notched end of the stick (the end you’ll pound on to drive the stake), whittle off a small portion of the right angle edge (1/8 inch) of the rim. This chamfer cut will help prevent the stake from splitting when pounded into the ground.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~

Use the thumb lever to remove the sharp edge. Keep your fingers safely below the top edge of the stick.

Congrats on making your first tent stake!

As your skills progress, try carving a few simple pot hooks for your camp kitchen. I think you’ll find your journey into woodcraft and camping to be very rewarding. Knife craft is only the beginning… now get outside and whittle something useful!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

How to Carve 7 Pot Hooks for Classic Camp Cooking

by Todd Walker

How to Carve 7 Pot Hooks for Classic Camp Cooking -

You’ve probably heard the adage, “Practice makes perfect.” This statement is misleading. The truth is…

Practice makes permanent!

In other words, the more you use your knife, correctly or incorrectly, the more permanent your skill becomes. Use poor technique long enough and you’ll be a danger to yourself and others.


If you’re new to camping and outdoor self-reliance, learning to safely handle a knife is essential. Even old-timers like myself can learn new tricks. I covered some basic knife safety issues in our recent article if you’d like a refresher.

Today we’ll covering a few basic notches which not only hone knife skills but create functional camp comforts… mainly for your camp kitchen.

Knife Selection

For an all-around camp carving knife, look for one that has the following features.

  • Simple ~ Gadgets look cool but aren’t practical. The only true way to build knife skills is to practice with a simple blade.
  • Grind ~ For carving tasks, I prefer a blade with a Scandinavian grind. Here’s a link with diagrams comparing multiple grinds from L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives. There is not one perfect grind for all camp/woodcraft tasks. It’s hard to beat a Scandi grind for carving, though.
  • Length ~ My dedicated carving knife (Mora 120) at home measures 2.5 inches. In the woods, my Mora knives, either the Companion (4″) or Classic 2/0 (2-7/8″), are excellent for fine carving tasks. These knifes are inexpensive yet build to last. A blade length of 3 to 4 inches is ideal for fine carving in the field.
  • Handle ~ After hours of carving, you’ll find a smooth, round handle which fits in your hand to be more comfortable than fancy textured handles.
L to R: LT Wright Genesis, Mora Companion, Opinel No. 8, and Mora Classic 2/0

L to R: LT Wright Genesis, Mora Companion, Opinel No. 8, and Mora Classic 2/0

My main belt knife (pictured at far left above) is larger and more robust than the knives previously mentioned. However, it too can be, and has been, employed in fine carving tasks. Skills learned with smaller knives are easily transferred to a larger blade.

The Pot Hook Notch

Eating a hardy breakfast and dinner cooked over a campfire requires proper tools. With these basic notches, your camp kitchen will be well-equipped for cooking.

There are several ways to craft a pot hook. This article illustrates techniques using both straight and forked sticks.

Straight Stick Pot Hook

Find a straight stick measuring elbow to finger tip just larger than thumb diameter. Seasoned (dry) or green wood works, with greenwood carving easiest. A soft hardwood like Tulip Poplar, Basswood, or any sapling fortune sends will work.

The location of your pot hook notch should be a few inches (3 to 4 fingers width) from the end of the stick. Any closer to the end and you risk breaking the notch while hot dinner dangles over the fire.

The quickest method is to baton an “X” pattern on the stick using your knife. The blade should penetrate the wood at least half to two-thirds deep. Carve out the upper half of the X-pattern where the two lines of the X intersect. You’ll also carve out the wood next to the bottom, outside portion of the X. This will create a raised V pattern resembling a bird beak as you look down the stick. Hence the name, Beak Notch.

How to Carve 7 Pot Hooks for Classic Camp Cooking -

The Pot Hook or Beak Notch

Carve out the wood under the point of the beak where the bail of your bush pot will rest. Test the fit by placing your empty pot on the hook and give the stick a sudden twist. If the pot doesn’t fly off, your notch is deep enough.

Care should be taken in stick selection when hanging cast iron cookware. Use a robust stick and only carve the notch to the pith (halfway) for added pot hook strength.

Hanging the Straight Pot Hook

There are a few options for hanging your newly carved pot hook. Since you’ve got the pot hook notch technique down, carve another notch at the other end of the stick so that the beaks are pointing towards each other. However, for balance, carve the additional notch on the opposite side of the stick at 180 degrees from the first notch on the other end of the stick.

The Speygelia is a long stick used to suspend pots over a fire.

The Speygelia is a long stick used to suspend pots over a fire.

Depending on stick length, you’ll want to carve 3 or 4 additional notches to adjust pot height over the fire. These notches will rest on a longer stick (Speygelia) with a chiseled tip propped over the fire. This longer stick is anchored in the ground by an inverted Y-stake or simply wedged under a rock or log.

My basecamp pot hanging from a tripod.

My basecamp pot hanging from a tripod.

A tripod also works well for straight pot hooks with a hole notch on the end.

The Hole Notch

Mors Kochanski teaches a method of carving a hole in the end of the pot hook for hanging. This notch is also helpful with camp construction projects.

The steps to carving a hole in a stick are:

  1. A few inches from the hanging end, remove stock from both sides until one third of the original is left in the center.
  2. Score a line an inch from the end of the 1/3rd piece with your knife. Score another line 1/2 inch up the stick. Between these lines is where the hole will be carved.
  3. With the butt/pommel of your knife in the palm of your hand, cut a quarter inch section across the grain on the score mark. This is done best by rocking the point of your knife perpendicularly across the wood grain. Repeat this cut on both score marks and make matching cuts on the opposite side of the stock.
  4. Make a rectangle by scoring a line which connects the crosscuts. Repeat on opposite side.
  5. Insert the point of your knife in the middle of one long side of the rectangle you created in step 4. Pry the wood up and out. Repeat on the opposite side. The thickness of your stock may require more prying and crosscutting but the rectangle should pop out to create a hole.
  6. Clean up the inside edges of the hole with your knife point. Insert cordage or wire for hanging the pot hook. I like this application for my camp tripod.
Hole notches in both straight and forked pot hooks.

Hole notches in both straight and forked sticks.

Toggle Method

A down-n-dirty method Dave Canterbury teaches for hanging a bush pot over a fire is to use a simple wooden toggle. Cut a shallow V notch in the middle of a finger-size stick about hand length. Tie a piece of cordage to the middle and hang from a tripod. Slip the toggle through the bail of your bush pot and your ready to cook.

How to Build a Bushcraft Tripod for Your Outdoor Kitchen

Toggle holding a cast iron squirrel pot

Forked Stick Pot Hooks

The Pot-Claw

The most expedient pot hook may be what Daniel Carter Beard called the Pot-claw in The Book of Camp-lore and Woodcraft (1920). The Pot-claw requires only one beak notch to be functional. However, more beak notches may be added for raising or lowering pots over the fire. Crave a pot lifter for removing the pot from the fire (details at the end of this article). And remember, we’re practicing knife craft so add more notches.

A variety of pot hooks hanging on a waugan stick. L to R: Straight pot hook with hole notch, Pot-claw, and Gallow-crook.

A variety of pot hooks hanging on a waugan stick. L to R: Straight pot hook with hole notch, Pot-claw, and Gallow-crook.

Select a sapling or tree limb with a Y-branch with similar diameters mentioned previously. Trim the smaller Y-hook to four-finger length. Carve a pot hook notch a the end of the stick so that it is pointing up on the opposite side from the Y-hook.

The Gallow-Crook

This pot hook in classic camping literature is basically a pot-claw with a twist. Cut a sturdy sapling which has a small, flexible Y-branch attached. Bend this branch to form a loop and lash it to the larger sapling to form a loop. Carve a series of beak notches opposite the loop. Place the loop through your waugan stick for a secure pot hook.

A Gallow-crook hanging from a waugan-stick with a bipod, which is adustable both horizontally and verically.

A Gallow-crook hanging from a waugan stick with a bipod which is adjustable both horizontally and vertically.

The Gib

One other pot hook used in the Classic Camping era was called the Gib. This hook requires two forked sticks spliced together. It’s not a slight on your woodsman prowess if you use two nails to make the Gib. Old timers often carried a few nails when camping. No beak notches are needed when using metal fasteners. You pot hangs from the nail.

Using a beak notch to splice two forked sticks together

Using a beak notch and V-notch to splice two forked sticks together

Cordage is another option for joining the two forked sticks. With either fastener, carve away half of the stock from the ends of both sticks the length of your hand. The flat parts are located on the opposite sides of the forked branches so the hooks are on opposite sides of the Gib.

Carve a beak notch on the rounded part of one stick opposite the flat area on one end and a V-notch on the other end of the other stick. Mate the flat surfaces together and lash with cordage. I’ve found tarred mariner’s line works well even over a fire.

Start with a timber hitch or clove hitch over the beak notch. Wrap the remaining cordage and tightening as you go. Wrap to the V-notch and terminate the lash with a clove hitch.

The Gib is useful at a more permanent basecamp when you have more time to set up your kitchen. On the fly, simply drive a nail in the end of a forked stick… no notching required.

Hanging Forked Pot Hooks

Traditional woodcrafters and classic campers used a Waugan stick atop two Y-sticks driven in the ground. On frozen ground, two tripods or a tree and a bipod can be employed to support the waugan cross stick. The bipod can be lifted and moved so the waugan stick and pot hooks are completely away from the fire if the need arises. Maneuverability of this setup offers a drying rack for wet camp clothing and gear near the fire when the meal is done.

Your pot-claw and all other forked pot holders are hung on the waugan stick over the fire. For versatility, several hooks can be employed when cooking camp dishes when more company is expected.

Pot Lifter and Pourer

I first saw these last two ideas employed by Chris Noble from Master Woodsman. Hot bush pots can be safely carried and poured using a forked stick. Cut the tops of the Y so they fit through the bail of your pot. Carve a beak notch just above the Y with the beak pointing toward the handle. Flatten the two ends of the Y-stick with your knife for added stability when pouring the pot.

Lift the pot bail in the beak notch. To pour, tilt the pot slowly until the Y makes contact with the pot rim for safe pouring of hot soup or beverage.



Lantern Hook

One last idea for the pot hook notch comes from Chris Noble who made and installed one like this on our Georgia Bushcraft shelter. Cut a Y-stick and shave the back flat. Carve a beak on one end and a V-notch on the other. Lash the piece to a tree or post at basecamp for a lantern hook.

Coat hook or lantern stand using a pot hook notch.

Coat hook or lantern stand using a pot hook notch.

Developing competence with a knife can only be achieved through practice. And the best part is you can practice these skills in your own backyard or anywhere sticks grow.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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