Carving with children - guidance and tips

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Mar 29, 2016
Carving is great social fun for all and a inclusive task, but there are steps and considerations that are needed when working with young children, and even unexperienced adults.

There are a number of products, (Opinel 7, Mora children's model) are perfectly designed for small hands, of course safety precautions should still be observed. For me, I would always go for a for fixed blade or locking folding knife like the Opinel 7, as the tool can be used to strip bark and strike fire steels, while being closed and can even be locked in the closed position.


From what age should a child be allowed to use an outdoor knife?

That is a big question that many of us need to work out, as it is not a age veriable and no generally applicable answer to this question, as every child develops at his/her own pace.

As a basic principle, a child should be able to hold the knife securely and to comprehend and follow the safety rules for the use of woodcarving knives, and importantly understand that any sharp edge tool, is just that, a tool.

The most important thing is to provide the children with support in the learning process and to ensure that they abide by the ground rules right from the start, which will be listed later.

However, it is ultimately up to you to decide at what age your child can be considered"mature“ enough to handle a knife.

My personal view that carving tools/knives come out when the parent is also doing the same task, carving is a social experience.

If you still want a age, most children start between 5 and 8. However, this is only a rough guideline.

Tips for carving wood with children

Children have only limited strength in their hands and beginners may quickly reach their limits with their first attempts at carving. In order to avoid frustration and keep things as safe as possible, the knife should always be kept sharpened. It is easier to slip with a blunt knife. Soft wood, for example fresh green wood from a hazel tree or willow tree, is also ideal for starting out.

Besides, following the direction of the wood grain requires less effort, with the added benefit that the wood will not fray or split.

The projects should be kept simple for first experiences. A nice first project, for example, is sharpening a stick to use as a skewer to bake bread on a campfire. The knife’s handling can also already be practiced when making the bread, for example by letting the children chop up a few herbs to add to the dough. Some chopped tomatoes or diced ham will also make the dough tastier.

Once your child has managed the first projects and learnt how to handle the knife, you can then move on to more challenging whittling tasks.

At this stage, it is however still advisable to opt for simple shapes without elements that are too thin or requires complex controlled cuts.

Rules for children using knives

1.) Your child should always either be sat down or on there neeling, safe whittling, requires optimum control and an upright comfortable and supported pose is the number one rule!


2.) Correct posture whilst carving: To ensure a safe grip on the knife, your child should firstly always bear down and carve on a wooden block, with feet placed firmly flat on the ground, or if neeling without any obstructions or waste materials around them, and the upper part of the body should be slightly bent forward, with the arms resting on the thighs.


3.) Make sure that your child always keeps a safe distance of two arm’s lengths (approx. 1 metre) to anyone else whilst carving.

4.) Carving with a sharpened blade minimises the risk of injury as you have to exert less pressure on the knife.

5.) Any carving movement should always be directed away from your body, keep at the start all carving movements in a downward direction.

6.) The blade should always be safely re-sheathed or folded immediately after use.

As a matter of principle, wood carving should always be supervised by an adult. It is also essential here that parents act as exemplary role models: If you do not conscientiously follow your own rules, your child will most likely not observe the safety precautions either.

Example whittling task - hiking/walking stick

Children particularly love making hiking sticks. You just need a straight, dry branch from the woods and you’re ready to go.

The first step is to carefully remove the bark, a sharp spine of the knife is perfectly suited for this, as requires little skill to do and the results are great. Or use a peeler, on green wood this is the first tool that should be used for this very task with young children.


Then sharpen the narrower end of the branch and round off the broader end. The walking stick can then be decorated at will with all sorts of symbols and patterns.

If at hand, the stick’s surface can be finished with sandpaper. Going on a hike is even more fun when you can take your very own self-made walking staff along with you!

Quick tips

* Children’s knives should always be kept sharpened.
* Soft, fresh wood is easier to carve.
* Always cut in the direction of the wood grain.
* Keep woodcarving and outdoor activities simple at the beginning. You can move onto more challenging carving projects at a later stage.

Enjoy and have fun with your family :)
Last edited:


Nov 16, 2019
Vantaa, Finland
Sensible advice but you take all the fun out of it! ;) When I was 4 I was given a puukko and dropped to the deep end of the pool, survived. :D
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Mar 29, 2016
Sensible advice but you take all the fun out of it! ;) When I was 4 I was given a puukko and dropped to the deep end of the pool, survived. :D
I got my first knives at 5 years, and agree great fun. I have been asked a few times about whittling with children, so thought it would be better to put a post together....thus the reason for this
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Full Member
Mar 25, 2017
My first knife (age 5 or 6) was similar to the Mora Scout knife with finger guards in both directions, which helped if your hands got wet and slippery.

I think it's good to let kids carve freeform, just to get used to how wood behaves and to see what shape they "find" in the wood. Plus at that age (all ages?), it's just fun to reduce a stick to a bunch of shavings :) all good practice though.

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