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In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), the organization has for one year only brought back four retired merit badges: pathfinding, signaling, tracking and carpentry.

The requirements for the Carpentry Badge are from 1911, which predates the powered home shop. Accordingly, the skills that must be demonstrated are wholly from the hand tool world:

  1. Demonstrate the use of the rule, square, level, plumb-line, mitre (sic), chalk-line and bevel.
  2. Demonstrate the proper way to drive, set, and clinch a nail, draw a spike with a claw-hammer, and to join two pieces of wood with screws.
  3. Show correct use of the cross-cut saw and of the rip-saw.
  4. Show how to plane the edge, end and the broad surface of a board.
  5. Demonstrate how to lay shingles.
  6. Make a simple article of furniture for practical use in the home or on the home grounds, finished in a workmanlike manner, all work to be done without assistance.

The majority of these skills get used in our shop on a daily basis (Editor Christopher Schwarz is quite fond of the clinched nail) , though we don’t have much call for plumb lines or laying shingles. And we’ve now heard from several troop leaders who are using our I Can Do That projects for No. 6 , a simple, practical piece of furniture. (In fact, that’s one of the driving reasons behind that column , the projects, which use dimensional lumber and a small kit of tools, are great for beginning woodworkers , and they’re also a great opportunity to introduce young people to the craft.)

While the Carpentry Badge is only on the books for this centennial year, BSA does have a “modern” Woodwork Badge available, and it’s interesting to look at the differences between the old and the new , and frankly, the new badge sounds harder to earn. Not only must a scout demonstrate that he can use tools to make a wooden project, he must also know how to sharpen and care properly for his tools, demonstrate safety and first-aid knowledge for the shop, know the cycle of timber from a seedling to the lumber yard and interview a cabinetmaker or carpenter. The named tools are still mostly hand tools: A saw, plane, hammer, brace and bit, and a lathe.

So I’m curious , would you qualify for either of these two badges with the skills you have right now (check out the full list of requirements for the modern badge here)? I’ll give you a pass on the interviewing of a professional cabinetmaker or carpenter.

I think I’d be OK…if it weren’t for those shingles.

– Megan Fitzpatrick

p.s. The badge picture at the top is not the Boy Scout badge , that’s one Chris was awarding to readers five or so years ago. The deal was, you had to correctly set up a jack plane, then send Chris a shaving. If it passed muster, he’d send a badge. I’m proud to say that today I was awarded my Jack Plane badge. Now if only I could find my old Girl Scout sash…

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Showing 11 comments
  • Jacob Bank

    Omg, I really don’t know Historic Carpentry Badge. Now, I have to take care 🙂

  • charles

    Yeah, no problem with shingling, it’d be a rare year I don’t put cedar shingles on something. It’s a bit of a coastal massachusetts thing – the rare thing is a house without cedar shingles.

    Easier than a hatchet is a razor knife!

  • Tim Johnson

    Megan – Thanks for writing this up. I signed up to be a merit badge counselor the same day the badge was published. Should be pretty cool. I’d have to work a bit to be able to pass it myself but that’s not a requirement to be the counselor – you have to be able to *guide* the boys through it and help them get the resources (training, expertise, etc.) to complete it. I’m fortunate enough to know plenty of woodworkers to fill in the bits where I am lacking – so the boys will have no problems getting what they need.

    Anthonyshopguy – Yes, they are referring to the sliding bevel layout tool. The merit badge book talks about its use.

    Scout Leader Tom – I’d like to keep in touch, share tips, coordinate, etc. What council are you with?

    Paul Stine – not only would they fail the woodworking badge but the first aid and lifesaving badges as well as violating major components of the scout law and oath!! They don’t get their Tot’en Chip (certification to carry and use knives, axes, etc.) if they cut themselves during training. 🙂

  • Jon Johnson

    Megan, the shingling is pretty straight-forward except for trimming the shakes with a hatchet. I’m certain you could handle it. By 1911 most wood shingles were sawn, no longer split. Slate roofing is a bit trickier, though!

    Clinching nails is sort of like stapling paper except you have to bend the nail points over and drive them back in from the reverse side of the boards. I would find THAT frustrating!

  • Anthonyshopguy

    As a former middle school shop teacher I’m proud to say that at least the 10% of my 6th grade classes could have passed the old test. I wish I could say 100% but the reality of 27 6th graders for 7 weeks say’s no. As for my self I believe I would pass both badges. Like Merlin above I helped my father replace cedar shingles on the sides of our house when I was a teenager. As a Middle school teacher my primary emphasis in the 6th and 7th grade was hand tools not until the 8th grade did I give the students permission to use the power tools. There is no better way to learn about tool use than to teach it. I was also wondering? On the old badge section one, it seemed to be referring to layout tools making me believe the reference to "bevel" would have to be the proper use of a sliding T Bevel. A tool not needed very often but when it is, it is very useful time saving device.

    Anthony Prough

    Former middle school teacher

    PS the are you smarter than a boyscout comment above gave me the best laugh I’ve had in weeks.

    Don’t get me started about table saw safety!!!

  • Tom

    Another leader and I just presented Carpentry Merit badge to the Troop last night. We were encouraged at how many boys attended. Thanks for mentioning it on your blog.

  • Jonas

    Thats OK, I’m not even sure if I can set up a jack plane correctly, but it was worth a try.

  • megan

    I’m sorry to say it, but no. We have only a handful of those badges left. Maybe if there’s enough demand…

  • Merlin Vought

    I never was a scout, but when I was 11 years old back in the 40’s My father and granddad started me with the lessons on we what today is called flipped an old house. We did tear off the cedar shingles but replaced them with asphalt, but I was given a chance to learn how to install the cedar on another project. Before I was 13 I was taught to file hand saw and two man crosscut. I doubt that I could still do one today even if I had to although I still have most of the tools. I’ve become to adapted to the power equiptment and really enjoy useing them. As to the present controversy my worst injuries were with hand tools that I always thought I could get one more cut even when they were too dull. I still don’t want to take the test, but it’s brought back some fond memories.

  • Jonas

    I would qualify for both the new and the old, even though I like the old one better. As long as you don’t have to plane the shingles out of wood yourself. Laying them isn’t that difficult.
    I’ll have to check with the Danish KFUM scouts if they have a carpentry badge, and then get my children to earn it.
    By the way, does Chris still award those badges?

  • Paul Stine

    Something tells me that if you were to attempt to rip a 1/2" piece of oak flooring on a table saw with the blade raised to 3" and no fence or guard, you would FAIL the Woodwork Badge.

    Are you smarter than a Boy Scout?

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