Ask the Expert: Is cutting corners off the Totin’ Chip allowed?

Ask the Expert: What happened to Bugling merit badge?Play around with a knife, lose a corner on your Totin’ Chip. In my troop growing up, it was that simple.

If a Scout lost all four corners of his Totin’ Chip (essentially a Scout’s license to carry pocketknives, axes and saws), his blade-carrying privileges were revoked until he re-earned the card.

It’s all part of Boy Scouting’s well-reasoned approach to teaching boys to see pocketknives, axes and saws as tools, not toys.

But it’s the corner-cutting business that was on the mind of a Scouter who asked to remain anonymous. He sent me this email: 


I just got back from [Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills training], and in the ax, saw and knife section of the class, the topic of Totin’ Chip came up. Participants and staff mentioned how in their troops, they cut the corner off the card when a Scout commits an infraction.

It was my impression before attending this session that, although popular procedure before, that this is no longer allowed in the Boy Scouts of America.

What do today’s official rules say on this matter?

Yours in Cheerful Service,


Great question, Anonymous. And thanks for the email.

I checked with Bill Evans, the BSA’s subject-matter expert on all awards and recognitions. He pointed me to the last line of the BSA’s Totin’ Chip guidelines: “The Scout’s ‘Totin’ Rights’ can be taken from him if he fails in his responsibility.”

“This is all we say,” Bill said. “Period.”

In other words, the BSA doesn’t tell troops they must cut corners off for Totin’ Chip violations, but it doesn’t prohibit the practice either.

This is a decision for troop leaders, and I’d recommend including your senior patrol leader in the discussion as well. Set a standard, and enforce it.

See also

The Whittling Chip, which is for Cub Scouts

Ask your question

I can’t track down all the answers, but send your Ask the Expert questions to me and I’ll do my best.

Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by herzogbr

55 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: Is cutting corners off the Totin’ Chip allowed?

  1. For “minor infractions,” you make an appropriately firm, on-the-spot correction and make it a teachable moment. For major infractions (and one would hope these would be very uncommon), the adult leader should take reasonable steps to address the situation, which typically means telling the youth that he no longer has permission to handle cutting tools until he completes training.

    What is the value of asking the Scout for a card so that you can permanently deface it, memorializing their minor transgression so long as they possess the card? Cutting corners off the card serves no legitimate purpose other than to reinforce martinet-like behavior among those youth or adult leaders engaged in the cutting.

  2. “Martinet-like behavior”??

    Actions have consequences and the potential for harm when woods tools are used improperly can be great. A couple of things are needed to make corner-cutting an effective teaching tool.

    1. The procedure should be spelled out at the time a Scout is awarded the card.
    2. Those leaders – youth and adult – authorized to clip the corners have to have a clear understanding of what constitutes a “clippable” event. In our Troop it has to be something clearly dangerous. (Running with an open knife, for instance.)
    3. You get the “teachable moment” when you explain what you saw that was wrong and clip the corner of the card. It should start with, “What was wrong or right with the way you were handling …?”
    4. Since, in my experience, many boys are very excited bytheir ability to carry and use woods tools; they get careless in their handling of the tools an d need a firm reminder of procedure. Some will quickly demonstrate they do not have the maturity to use woods tools properly and the corners will dissappear quickly.
    5. The procedure should also include a policy that (name your criteria) after a corner is clipped, the Scout can be issued a new card without having to go through your Units Tot’n Chip procedure.
    6. In my Unit, youth leaders can clip the cards of careless adults. This engenders a sense of fairness and prevents adults from getting sloppy.

  3. I can see the need for addressing safety with boys when they behave in an unsafe manner and certainly repeated transgressions should require some kind of reteaching/re-earning of the right to carry a knife.

    Here is a situation, thought, that highlights why I have an issue with the corner clipping:
    A Scout was goofing around at a district event with the butter knife from his mess kit (playing like it was a sword but not within arms reach of anyone else) when an adult leader from another unit took his totin’ chip and clipped a corner. Was the Scout in the wrong? Yes. But was this the correct kind of action for the infraction? Did it reinforce correct knife handling in a positive way or did it serve to embarass and belittle the Scout? Too often this kind of correction is punitive rather than focused on positive teaching.

    • File under: “Why my scouts avoid district events.”

      If SM and SPL feel like it, just discreetly give the boy a new card! Life really isn’t that traumatic.

    • Maybe I’m being territorial. What right does someone from another troop have to make ANY decisions regarding yours unless the boy’s ‘sword’ fighting was aimed at or with one of HIS boys.

      Even then, it should have been addressed to you, and between the two of you a decision made. I would have been hard pressed to hold my tongue in front of the boys. They would probably have had to walk up push my lower jaw back up to my upper jaw! Unbelievable!

      I would definitely have taken that leader aside and given him a few words, then went to my boys and try to correct a horrible situation. SAFETY IS FIRST AND FOREMOST, but the situation you are describing is ludicrous…you said it was a BUTTER knife.

      Yes, inappropriate, but not dangerous. Now steak knife with a point and serrated edges would be different. But still not the business of the other unit leadership. Ok, let me use a caveat….unless your troop (not saying you specifically – any troop) was known to let dangerous things occur with no repercussions.

      But I can honestly say I do not know any troops who do that, but I’m sure there are somewhere.

      • It makes no difference if it is a butter knife, or a plastic knife from some fast food restaurant. All knives should be treated the same, if not then it can lead to scout not learning how to handle a knife. I still use proper knife etiquette to this day regardless of what kind it is. Butter knives can still penetrate the skin if someone is stabbed with them. In our troop we not allow that kind of goofing around with it. I think other SM was fully justified in his actions.

        • I see your point. But I think the issue for me is that if they are playing (or not playing) in such a manner that a butter knife could cause physical harm (as in pretending to STAB someone)…I would be more concerned with the MENTAL issues of that child more than the item they are using. It would take tremendous force – especially for a child – to do physical harm with a butter knife – it could later be a ball bat or tree limb which DOESN’T take a great deal of force if they are mentally ill as in WANTING to cause physical harm.

          I don’t say that lightly. I did the research. A nurse was stabbed 39 times with one in an ER and only had minor injuries – and that was to the arm, back and neck. Lots of discussions out there on this, but one example given over and over is 100 psi and that was with a SHARP instrument. Would take more with a dull one. Again, a wound is a wound. It’ just the difference between lethal and non-lethal.

          NO INJURIES IS EVER OK – NO AMOUNT OF PRETEND fighting is ok, My only point is that it isn’t the same. And I still think, in this particular situation only, the current SM should have been approached FIRST. If the SM did nothing, then that’s a whole different story. If there was imminent danger, that is a different story.

          I think inconsistency between troops confuses kids greatly, especially if they have friends in different troops. It really comes to light at camps and camporees. I’m not for demanding all troops be alike, but it does get confusing. Here’s a few examples:

          Our troop HATES the camp tents. We bring our own as do many others. However, there are many troops who require the boys to use the camp tents. Some let the boys have phones (we do – when used only in their tents at night or for contacting them if need be throughout the day – not for games, or contacting momma), but many do not. Some let the boys bring food and keep it in the troop trailers NOT THE TENTS, lol…. (ours do), many don’t. Some allow their boys to ‘visit’ or attend things with other troops (we do if we know about it and exactly where they are at all times – safety reasons of course AND if it doesn’t conflict with our troop activities or their badge work … in other words – free time)….some cause the boys not to make friends outside of the troop because they DON’T allow other troop interaction.

          Sorry, got off topic. But it comes down to the issue of the knife thing, too. Knife safety should and is taught in our troop. We don’t allow ‘playing’ with knives at all. This knife would have been removed from the child. My issue is the other SM stepping in without even approaching the troop’s SM……or any other leader there.

          According to the story, he was not being aggressive, so there was no immediate danger that needed to be addressed that couldn’t have been addressed 5 minutes later after talking to the troop SM. That’s my only issue. It appears from the story that the other SM is power hungry.

          Do not think for one minute that safety takes a back seat in our troop. It absolutely does NOT. But unless there is imminent danger, we don’t react with hysteria…well, we don’t then either…serves no purpose other than to panic the boys. Safety first. Period.

        • A bit harsh and inflexible. Scouts are boys and boys play fight with anything they can get their hands on.

      • I had a young man pick up an axe and take it into the woods without authorization. he wound up cutting off two fingers. All tools should be treated with respect be it a butter knife or an double headed axe. I would not have cut a corner. I would have taken the card and returned it to th SM with a message about knife safety.

  4. Now, if we could only get BSA Supply to change the Totin’ Chip, Fireman Chit, and Whittlin’ Chip patches from the current shapes to something else in order to make it clear that these are not to be worn on the pocket flaps.

  5. We found it more of a learning tool when the adult does not remove the corner. After the scout is educated on what was done wrong and the correct way it should have been done, the scout is then asked to give the adult one of his corners. If the scout has to remove the corner himself, it makes him think about what he did and learn from his mistake. The rate of problems have slowed down doing this.

  6. In my troop we don’t use the card. When we detect improper behavior we ritualistically parade the young man to the front of the meeting, let him pick a finger and then, with a meat cleaver, we chop off that finger, down to the first knuckle so he’ll have a permanent reminder of his mistake and a symbol of his shame for all too see. We then let the kids learning fire skills, cauterize the wound, and the kids learning first aid skills bandage the wound to prevent nasty things like infection, gangrene, etc. It serves as a pretty effecient deterrent. Most of the troublesome kids never usually have to lose more than two or three fingertips before they learn.

    • At first I was going to ‘berate’ you for humiliating the kid, and then realized where this was going. Now I’m laughing my head off. YEP, wouldn’t take but a few for them to learn, lol.

  7. What would Baden-Powell do? Yes it matters. Scouting has been setting social standards in America for over 100 years. Softening and diluting them hurts everyone.

  8. Why is that badge shaped like a pocket flap? It always has been, and it shouldn’t be. It is not a pocket flap.

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s