Column – Pocketknife handier than ever, but careful where you take it

Published 7:19 pm Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The youngest of our five grandchildren now has a pocketknife. That means all five are now equipped with one of life’s simplest and most useful tools.

This all started when the oldest of the grandchildren became a Boy Scout. One of the many useful skills scouts learn is the safe use of a pocketknife. As granddaughters came along, I realized that Girl Scouts also teach the same skills, as they should. Using a knife safely is one of the most basic skills any adult can have. Thus, when the time seemed right, I gave a knife to each of them. 

The scouting connection is longstanding. When my generation was coming along, our first pocketknives were often acquired as a Christmas gift soon after we joined Cub Scouts. They were cheap little knives, difficult to sharpen and wouldn’t hold an edge. My father used to say of such knives that you could ride to Smithfield on the blade without hurting yourself. But you could whittle with them — slowly — creating sourwood whistles and other do-it-yourself toys. 

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I clearly understand that this isn’t 1955. Today, a pocketknife is viewed as a weapon just as often as a tool. And so, as each grandchild has received one, it has come with the very stern warning that they must — absolutely must — leave it at home much of the time for years to come. Use it, enjoy it, but for gosh sake make sure it’s not in your pocket or backpack when you go do school. It’ll get you in deep trouble.

Of course, none of us can carry a pocketknife as freely today as we once did. Virginia law prohibits the possession in public buildings of a pocketknife with a blade more than 3 inches long. 

But shorter doesn’t help if you’re going in a courthouse. And if you’re planning on flying, leave the pocketknife at home or put it in a bag to be checked. I forgot to do that once and had to drop a beautiful Case pocketknife into a banned-goods bucket before reaching security. It broke my heart to do it.

And therein lies one of the simplest examples of the changes that have altered life for all of us, including children, during the past several decades. We boys carried pocketknives everywhere we went. We even played versions of mumbly peg during elementary school recess. That simple little game involved each boy tossing his pocketknife end over end and sticking it in the ground, aiming to stick it closest to a target, often his own feet. 

We quickly progressed to better pocketknives and, of course, hunting knives, but even as the knives got sharper, and potentially more dangerous, we never once thought of them as weapons. They were tools, and they still are, particularly the small pocketknife. 

A pocketknife’s uses are just so numerous. The back side of a blade can serve as a screwdriver if you’re very careful — and the screw isn’t very tight. Need to cut the tags from new clothes or shoes? Use your pocketknife. Got a corroded battery terminal? Scrape it with the pocketknife. Can’t get the protective plastic off a medicine bottle? Your pocketknife comes to the rescue.

How else can you cut a length of string to tie up something? Or cut through the rugged tape that Amazon uses to deliver packages? Of course, there’s a paring knife, if you happen to be in the kitchen. But a pocketknife is always there, always ready.

Just please, please, kids. Don’t take it to school, or to court, or an airport, or lots of other places. 


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is