Posts Tagged With: splitting wood safely

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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