Understanding UK Knife Law for bushcraft 8

As a responsible bushcrafter, it is important to be aware of current UK knife law and to make sure that you’re in compliance with it.

The guidance we provide here about UK knife law is given in good faith and to the best of our knowledge is correct, but we’re not lawyers, so take the time to do your own research into current UK knife law.  A good starting point would be here.   You can also find more useful information here.

Where we use the term ‘knife’ below, you should also be thinking ‘axe’ and ‘saw’.

Knives banned from sale under UK knife law

There are some types of knives that are banned from sale under UK knife law.  It’s covered by the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959.  However, if you owned one before it came into force, you can keep it, but you can’t take it outside of your own property.  These are:

  • Switchblades (where the blade springs from the front),
  • Flick knives (where the blade springs from the side),
  • Gravity knives (where the blade drops down under gravity),
  • Butterfly knives,
  • Push daggers,
  • Belt buckle knives,
  • Sword canes,
  • Disguised knives (i.e. a knife disguised to look like a pen,
  • Knuckle-duster knives,
  • Stealth knives (any knife which is not readily detectable by either x-ray or metal detection).

But let’s face it; none of these types of knives are particularly useful for bushcraft and so don’t warrant further discussion here.

Folding knives

The Criminal Justice Act (1988) Section 139 is about carrying knives in a public place.  According to this you can carry a folding knife with a blade length up to 3 inches long.

“It is an offence for any person, without lawful authority or good reason, to have with him in a public place, any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except for a folding pocket-knife which has a cutting edge to its blade not exceeding 3 inches.”

Even following this rule, you need to consider where you are when carrying a knife – there is no reason to take a knife to a football match, a pub, nightclub or school.

Lock knives

A locking knife is treated as a fixed blade knife (see below); an interesting point here is that a Leatherman or similar multi-tool is treated as a locking knife and may fall foul of this legislation.

Fixed blade knives

From the quote above, to carry a fixed blade or larger knife you must have ‘good reason’.  Accepted good reasons (or defences) are that:

  • You require the knife for your work, so for example a butcher carrying a roll of knives to work;
  • For religious grounds, for example Sikhs carry the kirpan; or
  • If the knife is part of a national costume, such as the Scottish sgian dubh.

In addition, to the defences above, it is also a defence in respect of the offence under section 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to prove that the person had the article for educational purposes.

So as a responsible bushcrafter, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have ‘good reason’ to carry your knife, although ultimately whether your explanation amounts to a ‘good reason’ or a ‘reasonable excuse’ is a matter for the courts to determine.

Public places

It can get a little confusing here, but we think our understanding is correct.

The definition of a public place is problematic.  However, in Knox v Anderton (1982) the court decided that a ‘public place’ included premises to which the public could gain access without hindrance, barriers or notices restricting access.  This is interesting; our camp is on private land, but a member of the public could potentially come into the woodland via the access gate.  In reality, if you are in a private woodland practicing bushcraft, you should be ok.

Our take on the law is that a private, ticketed event is still regarded as a public place.  So maybe we should all be a little more diligent at events such as the Wilderness Gathering and the Bushcraft Show!

Your car is neither a public nor private place, it is a ‘container’; so if your car is in a public place, so are its contents.  Make sure that your knife is not easily accessible when in your car.  That means you shouldn’t carry knives in the glove box or anywhere else that they can be easily reached.  Put them in the bottom of your rucksack and your rucksack in the boot.  We carry our bladed tools in a locked ammo box in the boot.  Don’t leave your knife in the car overnight; take it straight into your home.

After a few days of bushcraft, always check that knives and axes are packed away before you get back to a public place.

UK knife law and age restrictions

Section 43 of The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 amended Section 6 of The Offensive Weapons Act 1996, which itself is an amendment to section 141 of The Criminal Justice Act 1988.  Under this, it is illegal to sell a knife or axe to anyone under 18, punishable by up to 6 months in prison.  As far as we can tell, someone under 18 can be given a knife.

UK knife law | knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

We teach UK knife law on our IOL Bushcraft Competency Certificate training courses.

You can see plenty of photos from all of these courses on our Facebook page.

About Gary

Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

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8 thoughts on “Understanding UK Knife Law for bushcraft

  • Russ Littler.

    Having researched this subject in some detail, it seems to me that bushcrafters, fishermen,woodsmen Etc are still at the mercy and vagaries of any dull-witted policeman or procurator fiscal who is looking for an opportunity to “collar” and fine. You may use the excuse that it is for bushcraft, but unless you have “written permission” from the land owner concerned then you are still unlawful , regardless of your intentions. The law should be very clear and concise. It should “not” be illegal to carry a knife, saw, axe or any sharp instrument, ETC, but it should be illegal to use them as a “weapon”. I also think that “obvious intent of use” should be be taken into consideration when a police officer is trying to ascertain whether a law has been broken.
    I believe that the bushcraft, fishermem, scout leaders, or any outdoor pursuit community should start a united partition to have these laws amended ASAP, because if we allow the judiciary to decide what is and isn’t legal then where does it stop? Car bombing has been going on for the last 60 years or so, do we make cars illegal? Car deaths and injuries far exceed knife crime. Will it become illegal to purchase a car under 25? They are all inanimate objects, it is human intent that makes them dangerous weapons.

    • Mick

      The UK knife law, still doesn’t stop the people with intent to harm other people from carrying an illegal knife.

  • Chris Antix

    Hello, what is the law on throwing axes? Me and my dad have been throwing axes on our property for a while and were thinking of making our own throwing axes to sell. does anybody know the law on this? Thanks for your answers in advance. Chris.

  • Ian

    Hi, I think you’ve got the advice on folding knives wrong. You quote “… except for a folding pocket-knife which has a cutting edge to its blade not exceeding 3 inches.” So the important part is the length of the cutting edge. But you state – “According to this [ The Criminal Justice Act (1988) Section 139] you can carry a folding knife with a blade length up to 3 inches long.”

    • Gary Post author

      Hi Ian,

      You’re right, I’ve conflated the length of the blade with the length of the cutting edge and they’re not always the same thing.