I decided to buy my son a knife for his 8th birthday. I had a hunch that he’d love whittling and 8 seemed a good age to start him off as he had good fine motor skills and I thought (hoped) had mature enough to be responsible with a knife. A friend who collects knives suggested I get him an Opinel. Opinel is a French company that has been around since 1890 and makes beautiful, sharp, functional and with many options under $15, VERY affordable knives. I chose the rounded tipped scout knife with the locking ring and had it engraved with my son’s name. The kid’s knife is a size 7 and is a good fit for my 8 year olds hand. Both my boys (I also have a 10 year old) are having a great time with the knife. it’s kept them busy on excursions to the park, a trip to grandma’s, even a dinner party that went on well into the night. They have mostly been making pointy sticks but have been also tried to carve little soldiers and knights, literal stick figures! Once they whittled a very authentic looking Harry Potter wand out of a real branch. So far no injuries, not even a nick or a scrape! I admit I developed a bit of knife envy, so I asked the boys to get me my own knife, with a pointy tip, for Mother’s Day. I found out that tip comes in very handy, for fine carving work and making holes. The 8 year old has been so careful using the pointy knife that I don’t think he necessarily needed the rounded one as a starter. We do keep an eye on the kids and from time to time have to remind them to cut away from their body, don’t brace the wood/stick against your leg…I’d recommend getting a book on whittling to give the kids some creative and technical ideas and safety tips from someone knowledgeable about carving. We picked up The Little Book of Whittling, which has been a great resource for us.
Serious whittlers will tell you that the best knives for woodwork are not folding knives but knives with short, stubby blades. I liked the idea of a folding knife for the kids as it’s easier to carry around, but the Mora knives from Sweden are an excellent option for anyone who wants a fixed blade. The knife pictured below is a Mora 120 and you can pick one up for around $20.
My friend Nigel Shafran wins the award for best whittling idea. Nigel is an avid hiker and camper. He and his family spend many weeks a year driving around the UK and Europe looking for a nice camping spot. At the start of each journey he picks a nice sized branch to use as a walking stick and carves a little into it every night. At the end of the trip he has a beautifully carved walking stick that is also a handmade memento of their vacation; a visual journal of their trip. Each stick is unique and the design made up on the spot. Almost makes me want to take up camping!