Tool Safety


Humans have made and used knives as tools for millions of years. Today’s designs and materials are more sophisticated and complex than ever before and continue to evolve. Reduced to its basic elements, a knife has one or more blades that are protected by a handle or sheath when not being used.



     Knives are among the safest of tools if used properly and respected. The first rule of knife safety is always to cut away from your body or from another person. There is always the possibility of an accident or the blade sticking or slipping. Observe the same rule when sharpening blades. Cut away from you. Knife accidents also happen when the object being cut is not firmly secured. Always cut on a firm surface. Do not hold an object so another person can cut it unless you are both facing away from the potential arc of the blade or blade tip. Remember that knives are typically made for cutting. They are not hammers. If used as a hammer, the force of the blow can cause your hand to slip up and along the blade. Or you can miss the object you’re aiming at and strike your fingers or wrist on the object. Chopping or hammering with a knife can also cause pieces of the object to fly in all directions, maybe even into your eye or the eye of a companion. Knives are not screwdrivers or pry bars. A blade that is stressed by twisting can slip or snap, possibly injuring the user. Use the right tool for the job.

     Sharp blades are actually safe blades. It takes less energy to make a cut with a sharp blade. And a sharp blade is less likely to stick. When a blade sticks, the natural instinct is to apply more force or pressure. That’s when slips occur and the user gets cut. The other danger of using a dull blade is that the force of the cut can chip or bend the blade if it hits a hard object.

     When opening a knife, keep your fingers away from the arc of the blade. Don’t carry unsheathed straight knives or folding knives in the open position in your pocket. A fall could cause a nasty puncture wound or sever an artery. And don’t climb or run with any knife in the open position. If you fall, the knife will follow you, ready to stick into a vital body part when you land.



     If there’s a sharpening secret, it’s this: Do it more often. Certain alloy combinations and forging processes will create a steel that holds a sharper blade edge for a longer time. We take off thin, uniform layers of steel at a sharp angle to recreate that sharp edge. The recommended sharpening angle is 10-15 degrees.

     When sharpening a blade, always push the blade away from you. And if you take five strokes off one side of the blade, you will need to take five strokes at equal pressure at the same angle on the opposite side. Keep you knife clean and sharp. Use it safely and responsibly. It will be a valuable, even life-saving tool for many years.



Knife blades and handles are made from a variety of materials. Some of them resist rust. Some don’t, especially if the knife gets rained on. Even "stainless" steels can be harmed by water and some chemicals. Salt water is especially corrosive. If your knife gets a lot of use, a light oil applied to the folding mechanism will keep it operating smoothly. Take a good look at it every few months and clean any dirt out of the handle or on the blades. A toothpick works well and won’t damage the metal. Then re-apply a light coat of oil to keep water off the metal.



The axe is an essential tool for all camps where open fires are used. Like any tool, the axe should only be used for its correct purpose, the safety guidelines followed, it should be properly cared for and should always be treated with respect. There are mainly two types of Axe used in Scouting, these are the Hand Axe and a Felling Axe. Each of these has a specific use and should only be used as such. The Hand Axe is for use with one hand. It is used to cut and trim small firewood, thin branches and twigs and should not be used on live wood. Any wood larger than three inches in diameter (about the size of your wrist) should be cut using a bow saw. This is for use with both hands, is larger than the hand-axe and is used for felling upright, live trees. It is important that the correct size and weight of axe is chosen. It is difficult (and dangerous) to try and control one of an inappropriate size. No one should attempt to use a felling axe until they are competent with a hand axe.


Care of the Axe

*Mask the axe when not in use, using a correctly fitting mask and not by sticking it in the ground. An axe may be masked temporarily in the chopping block but make sure that the blade follows the grain of the wood, is secure in the wood, and that the haft is not overhanging the block and can trip anyone.


*In camp, keep all axes dry. Never leave them out overnight. Fit the mask or sheath and keep them out of the way in a store tent (but not just inside where someone might kneel or step on them going into the tent!).


*Sharpen the axe with a round carborundum stone (available in different grades of coarseness). You should start with a coarse stone and then finish with a fine stone depending on how much sharpening the axe requires. (It should be used with oil.) Move the stone round in small circles on each side of the axe face. Keep your fingers away from the bit.


*Keep the axe head greased to prevent it rusting and oil a wooden handle regularly with linseed oil.


*Replace a damaged haft with a new one never attempt to repair it.



*To prevent the axe being snared in clothing you should not wear scarves, ties, lanyards or any loose clothing. Wear strong leather boots, rather than trainers or soft shoes.


*Clear the ground nearby and make sure there are no overhanging branches, ropes, people or other obstructions within three axe lengths of you (that is one outstretched arm and the length of three axes). Never ask anyone to hold the wood you are cutting.


*Inspect the axe before use. Never use it if the head and haft do not line up straight, if the haft is split, chipped or otherwise damaged or broken, or if the head is loose.


*Never use a blunt axe - it can slip or bounce off of wood yet can still penetrate flesh.


*Always use a chopping block below the wood to be chopped and don't let the axe go into the ground.


*Chop directly over the chopping block. The part to be cut should be resting on the block.


*Always stop when feeling tired. If you carry on, you are more likely to miss and cause a serious injury.


*Mask the axe when not in use.


*Carry the axe cradled upside down in your hand with your arm by your side. Make sure the axe bit is facing forward with your fingers out of the way so that if you fall the axe would go into the ground.


*Pass the axe to someone else by standing side by side, facing the same direction. Pass the head first.


*Always use an axe within the marked out chopping area. Don't take it along to the source of wood. A bow saw would be more effective here.


*Enforce the chopping area as a 'no go' area for anyone not properly trained or clothed.


*Chop enough wood to keep the fire wood pile stocked but do not over stock the pile.


How to Use an Axe

*Crouch (or kneel on one knee) behind the chopping block.


*Hold the wood to be chopped with one hand.


*With the other hand grip the hand-axe on the lower part of the haft, on the 'grip'. Hold the axe firmly but not rigidly. Note: only hold the hand-axe with one hand.


*Chop the wood by keeping the axe and the lower part of the arm straight and bending your arm at the elbow rather than the wrist or shoulder. Chop at 45 degree angles to the length of the wood making alternate left and right cuts to create a small 'V'. The 'V' will get wider as you cut through the wood, creating the chippings, until it is cut in half. Do not try to cut at right angles to the length of the wood; this will make the axe bounce.


*Always watch the point at which you are aiming. Indeed, when practising, it is a good idea to put a chalk mark on the log and try to hit that.


*Clear chippings away regularly and use them for kindling (that is, small pieces of wood suitable for starting a fire).



Sharpen the axe with a round carborundum stone. Hold the stone so that your fingers don't protrude onto the blade. If you put the stone flat on a table or other flat surface, then lift it with your fingers and use the face which was on the table for sharpening, your fingers should always be clear of the blade! Move the stone round in small circles on each side of the axe face. For extensive sharpening, lay the axe, bit upwards, against a grindstone and rotate the grindstone slowly towards the bit. It should become good practice to sharpen the axe after use and before storing.


Not strictly an axe of course, but often used in conjunction with axes for preparing firewood. You may come across a variation of the bow saw, for example, the bush or 'sandvic' saw. Bow saws are used for wood too large for using a hand-axe and are often safer and easier than the felling axe for cutting small timber. They should be greased to prevent them from rusting and, as blades are relatively cheap, it is advisable to replace the blades rather than attempting to sharpen them!


Using a Bow Saw

*Make sure that the wood is held firmly - if you must use your hand for this, keep it well away from the blade.

*Start slowly, pulling the blade backward towards you until the blade is well into the wood. Then push and pull in a steady rhythm using the whole length of the blade.

*Always mask the saw after use - either use a plastic 'clip-on' mask or tie a length of sacking around the blade.

© 2019 Troop 685. Pflugerville, TX