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Carrying totin' chit and firem'n chit cards

Lots discussion (that lasted five years) here on Bryan’s Blog.

When working with SM’s, I note:

  1. It’s a program for the troop to reinforce skills and safety.
  2. Your SPL/PLs should administer it. Their eyes are younger and sharper than yours – and there are more of them!
  3. It’s a big country. Taking a card in one place is as rude as cutting corners in another. A clipped corner is just a tally of how many times a scout said, “I’m sorry, I’ll do better.”
  4. A first class scout (concept, and I hope patch) is qualified to take his/her scouts hiking and camping independently with their mates. It certainly qualifies him/her to pick up a knife or axe. When you see a violation, challenging a first class scout to live up to his/her rank speaks volumes more than asking to see his/her card.

Some of our SM’s put a lot of weight behind the card. Other’s not so much. The reason there aren’t national rules about this, is that often the SM’s judgement is far better than any national pronouncement.

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Preventing a Scout from using knives/saws/axes until a future date (ie taking a Scout’s card), isn’t rude. It is removing their privilege of using a knife/saw/ax until some further date. Doing our best to assure the safety of Scouts isn’t about manners or rudeness.

As you sate as item #1: it is about the safety of the Scouts and others around them. If a Scout has demonstrated they are not safe; they must be retrained. For some, that retraining can be a correction to a poor choice, for others, they must start over.

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I don’t think that @Qwazse meant that removing privileges for safety sake is rude. And while I think the ideal time for retraining is immediately I also realize that this isn’t always practical for various reasons. (Though I think it should be done immediately if possible and as soon as practical in all instances.)

As others have pointed out though - there is no national standard on how units use the cards. From my (very limited) view it seems most summer camps require the card for purchase of a knife. I am sure much of that goes to their supporting the unit and not wanting to equip a scout not yet trained with a new knife. So far EVERY summer camp we have been to has wanted to do right by the unit even the one my troop won’t return to while I am SM.

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@Matt.Johnson, I find courtesy goes a long way in enforcing safety. For some boys, losing a card is such an affront that they may tune out whatever lesson you’re trying to teach. Cutting corners could be just as rude, but it depends on the delivery of the scout doing the cutting. (I never suggest an adult cut a scout’s card. This is a youth-led movement.)

Secondly, I don’t think there are any safety studies of either strategy. Nothing stops a cardless scout out of your line of sight from picking up the next knife or axe he/she sees. Nothing encourages a scout with a no-longer-rectangular card to be glib about blades or fire. We have a lot of rolling hills here, so patrols don’t have to go far to be invisible to adults.

I do believe that letting a scout keep his card – even to the point of being octagonal – is a great communications tool for the next youth who will need to correct him. Honestly, I have never seen anyone get more than two cuts. By then a scout has been “caught” twice and the PL/SPL/Staff has a sit-down and says, “Looks like you’ve forgotten this before. Wanna go over what’s on the card, before another clip?”

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Cutting corners is clearly a nationally prohibited action - by scouts or adults. It is considered hazing.

Let me restate the obvious: if a Scout isn’t using their knife/saw/axe safely, the should not be allowed to continued use at that time (card or no card). Since the card allows the Scout to carry and use edged tools, the card privileges should be revoked depending on the severity of the misuse. Even if that is an affront to the Scout.

As with any leadership action, including enforcing safety rules, it should be done with care and not rudely. Involving the troop’s Scout leadership is key to helping Scouts always maintain these expectations.

While I don’t agree with cutting corners, I’m not sure that it is nationally considered hazing. I don’t think it is a good idea but many would not consider this hazing


I suspect you are conflating Cub scouts Whittling Chip with Scouts BSA Totin’ Chip. The only national source that I could find affirms “the BSA doesn’t tell troops they must cut corners off for Totin’ Chip violations, but it doesn’t prohibit the practice either.”
There is no rational way to explain why retaining a previously earned card would not be hazing but cutting a corner would be hazing. Neither of them are hazing. One of them probably works better for your scouts than the other. National makes quite clear that SM’s have the latitude to decide which.
We should appreciate the urgency with you state knife safety, but it is not at all obvious that a scout applying an unsafe practice should “not be allowed to continue to use at that time.” Most times the scout should correct his/her actions immediately, carry on safely, and remember to do so in the future. I’ve seen clipping a corner be a very reliable way of making this happen. Others have found retaining a card for safe keeping to be equally reliable. (Although those people have not told me how well it works when the SPL/PL do the retaining.)

I wholeheartedly agree with involving the scout’s leadership, which would be his/her PL and SPL’s. It’s the best way of helping us all learn and grow together.

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I agree BALOO (2017) is the only national source I could find as well. I guess that is what I get by going on “word of mouth”.

https://www.scouting.org/awards/awards-central/totin-chip/ does state: The Scout’s “Totin’ Rights” can be taken away if they fail in their responsibility…"

Here is an article from 2013 that says it is up to the unit…

Unfortunately there are a LOT of word of mouth rules that don’t really exist. Another one is that scouts must travel in uniform for insurance reasons. As a note, I was under the impression that allowing a Venturer to earn Eagle without remaining in a troop is a recent change. I was informed by a professional that it has been that way for more than 14 years.


In the 80’s, before ventures existed, you could earn eagle from explorer posts without being registered in a troop

Then my guess would be that one could always earn Eagle as a Venturer without being registered in a troop. Interesting that they chose the timing of girls in Scouts BSA as the change to allow Crews and Ships to hold OA elections.

Not even thirty years and we’re thinking in terms of “always”, but yes since Venturing’s inception, a Boy Scout who had earned 1st Class in a troop could transfer to a crew and work on Star, Life, and Eagle ranks. This was the only path of many that had been open to Explorers in the 60s, but those other paths would have provided loopholes for girls to earn rank, so they were closed once girls could enroll as Explorers. The O/A then began to hang its hat on this rule saying that “because they can’t earn 1st class rank” rather than say plainly, “This is an honor society for boys only.”

The advent of Scouts BSA ended that charade.

But it is an example of how easy it is for one to think a practice in one program like Whitlin’ chip would apply identically for a parallel program like Totin’ chip. Getting down to the source and learning what’s the same and what’s different can be a hassle.

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Absolutely. Ventures came into existance in the early 90’s. They comprised the noncareer branches of explorers and originally kept all the explorer bylaws

1998 … we ain’t even a quarter century!

I try not to use word of mouth, but my memory is only so good!

Back to @JamesOkeefe1’s original question … we don’t give patches to our scouts. We do award Totin’ Chip cards – usually by the end of spring after we have covered knife and axe safety. Yes, we would like scouts to have them on their person, but are understanding when they don’t. If I asked at the next meeting, I doubt half of our scouts would be able to produce them. Most don’t even have wallets. I’m not sure that we award Firem’n Chit.

Before summer camp, I did explain cutting corners to our SPL/PL’s and left it up to them. I don’t think any of them did.

I did have a scout violate knife safety at World Jambo and nearly cause an international incident. We didn’t ask for his Totin’ Chip because:

  1. He was at least First Class rank and based on that should have known better.
  2. The scouts from the rest of the world would have no idea what that meant. Humble apologies were more appropriate.
  3. The minute that card was clipped, it would have been one of the hottest trade items in our subcamp. :astonished:

So, basically, I found it very useful for first- or second- year scouts. Anything that spares PLs from barking orders is a good tool for them to have. For seasoned scouts, I found simply calling them out and telling them we expect better is the more powerful tool.

P.S. - There’s always that scout whose going to cut himself. If your summer camp has family night, it will probably happen five minutes before his parents arrive. And there’s one scout who will do it once at every rank including Eagle … then years later when you meet his wife and bring it up, she’ll attest that he hasn’t changed one nick!


I’ve seen highly trained surgeons cut themselves with scalpels and Every Chef I know has a healed laceration to the medial side of their nondominant thumb (side closest to the fingers on the hand that they don’t hold the knife with). It isn’t always about failing to follow safety rules. Some times things just happen.


Coming from an industrial safety background, I would say “nothing just happens”. A principal of a safety culture is that safety can be managed and every injury could be prevented. The cuts you are talking about are due to the person putting themselves in the line of fire and were probably contributed to due to inattentiveness, rushing, and/or complacency. This assumes that the procedure/technique is able to be done injury free normally and that the procedure isn’t at fault.

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A point that was driven home during my AmTrak safety class was that the most experienced of rail workers suffer the most injuries and casualties. They become immune to the a train can come from any direction at any time.


That rhetoric sounds wonderful but just doesn’t jive with the real world where things do just happen some times.