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Chips and Chits: Scouts BSA Awards for Outdoor Skills


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One thing that can unnerve a Scouts BSA parent is seeing their Scout earn the privilege to use wood tools and matches. “Dangerous!” might spring to mind. But our Scouts are growing up, and with that comes the opportunity to show more responsibility.

The Boy Scouts of America encourages Scouts to learn skills that will help them survive in the outdoors, and offers several awards related to that achievement. Your Scout can begin earning them as soon as s/he joins a troop. Campouts or a class during a troop meeting are a great time for him/her to work on these skills under supervision. Below is a discussion of some of these awards.

Totin’ Chip

Your Scout may have earned the Whittling Chip as a Cub Scout, which gave him/ her theBoy Scouts Awards for Outdoor Skills right to carry a pocket knife to certain Cub Scout functions, like a campout. As a Scouts BSA, s/he can now earn the Totin’ Chip. This award gives the Scout the right to tote (i.e., carry) and use wood tools such as a knife, ax and saw.

There are six Totin’ Chip requirements a Scout needs to demonstrate to earn his/her certification. Once done, his/her troop will present him/her with a signed wallet-sized certificate known as the Totin’ Chip card. The Scout should sign the card and carry it along whenever s/he carries a pocket knife or other wood tool. There is also a temporary patch the Scout can wear on his/her uniform.

Firem’n Chit

Earning the Firem’n Chit allows a Scout to carry fire-lighting devices (e.g., matches and lighters) and to build campfires. “Firem’n” of course stands for fireman, and a “chit” is a short official note.

There are eight Firem’n Chit requirements for the Scout to demonstrate. As with the Totin’ Chip, the Scout will be presented with a signed wallet-sized certificate that s/he should sign and carry with him/her to campouts. As well, there is a temporary patch s/he can wear on his/her uniform.

Loss of Rights

A Scout’s right to carry wood tools, or to carry fire-lighting devices and build campfires can be taken away if s/he “fails in his/her responsibility.” For both awards, this is clearly stated after the requirements. Some troops will cut off a corner of the Scout’s award card with each violation, and after four corners are cut the Scout will lose his/her card. The Scout would have to earn the award again to regain the lost rights. Other troops may confiscate the item for the remainder of the troop activity. It is up to each troop’s leadership to decide how to handle this.

When I was at summer Scouts BSA camp with my son, a Scout who was walking around with his pocket knife opened had it confiscated for the rest of the day. Adult leaders will take incidents like this seriously, because the consequences of improper use of wood tools and fire-lighting devices can be serious.

Paul Bunyan Woodsman

The Paul Bunyan Woodsman award, which has three requirements, recognizes that a Scout has used wood tool skills to accomplish a project. A Scout must have earned the Totin’ Chip. Additionally, one requirement involves helping a Scout or patrol earn the Totin’ Chip; and the other involves performing an outdoor project using wood tool skills.

As with the other awards mentioned above, the Scout will receive a signed wallet-sized certificate, and there is a temporary patch to display on non-uniform apparel (e.g., backpack, blanket).

Final Words

The Totin’ Chip will undoubtedly be on your Scout’s radar first. Most kids think it’s Totin' Chippretty cool to have a pocket knife. The BSA sells them at its Scout shops, and you’ll find them for sale at Scouts BSA camp stores as well. My son earned his Totin’ Chip while working on his Scout rank, and he managed to acquire three pocket knives and a sharpening stone before the “euphoria” wore off. They make a great gift when your Scout has achieved a rank advancement or other milestone.

Awards can easily be forgotten with all the focus on earning merit badges and achieving rank advancement. But I encourage you, as parents, to let your Scout know about all the opportunities there are for earning Scouts BSA awards, including the ones highlighted here. You and your Scout can visit the BSA Awards Central page for a list of all its awards. Each award is linked to a page providing detailed information.

Your Scout can choose one or two awards to work towards, and then keep a copy of the requirements with his Scouts BSA Handbook. That way, when s/he has some free time during a campout or other troop activity, there may be a few requirements s/he can work on and have a leader sign off on. Before s/he knows it, s/he’ll be sporting a new patch or pin on his/her uniform, sash, or other apparel (the BSA Lifeguard Award patch, for example, is worn on the front right side of the swimsuit). And with that accomplishment, your Scout can set his/her sights on a new award. There is sure to be one that will spark excitement and include new adventures.

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll share it with a friend!

P.S. Do you wish being a Scouts BSA parent was a breeze? It is with the Smooth Sailing eGuide, Planner and Organizer for new and continuing Scout parents! Updated January 2020.

Smooth Sailing Through Scouts: Guide, Planner & Organizer for Scouts BSA Parents

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