Awl – Scratching and Poking Your Way To Perfection

What is an Awl?

Awl is simply a long pointed spike (2 to 6 inches) with a handle attached.

An awl is a tool you can use to mark wood for cutting and drilling.  You can use it to scribe a fine line that you can follow when cutting with a saw or chisel.  Sometimes called a scratch awl, it is basically a steel spike with its tip sharpened to a fine point. The tip of the spike is drawn across the wood, leaving a shallow groove. You can use it to mark a point by pressing the tip into the timber.

This tool is generally used when dimensioning and for laying out with the grain. It may also be used across the grain, but a knife is better for cross-grain because it doesn’t tear the wood as much.

Two other types of awls you may see are a stitching awl which is used to sew heavy materials and a Brad awl that has a rounded point and is used to set nails into wood.

Typical Awl

Do you need an Awl?

Most of the time when remodeling your house it really doesn’t matter what you use to mark your wood or drywall before your cut it.  But if you are working with a fine wood at close tolerances (say making a jewelery box) the awl does a great job of making a delicate mark.  The awl keeps the wood clean, especially if the wood you are using is really porous and will soak up the ink from a magic marker easily.  The awl also works well to locate a hole to drill.  Just put the tip of the awl where you want to mark and give the end of the handle a rap with the palm of your hand.

I really don’t use an awl much anymore.  I keep a tapered pilot drill in my cordless drill/driver.  I use the taper drill to mark and start holes and a carpenter’s pencil to mark cuts.

Using One

Each type of wood will require a different pressure to make the mark you want.  If you are using pine you won’t have to use much pressure to make your mark but if you are using hard maple you will have to use more force to mark it.  Try the awl on a scrap piece first.  I use the awl in combination with a square or straight edge (ruler).  I lay the square where I want to make the mark and then pull the tip of the awl along the edge of the square to keep the line straight.

I’ve selected three awls for you that I recommend.

I will let you decide how nice of an awl you need.  Here are three for you to choose from.  You can click on the link and then order it from that website that pops up.  The are dozens of companies that sell awls but I only show you websites that I trust.  You know that my selections are based on many years of using tools both around the home and at work.

Basic Homeowner Grade – You use it every month or so – Good tool at a good price.

Empire 3-1/2 in. Scratch Awl

Remodel/Construction Grade – You use it every weekend – Better tool, will last you years.

Professional Grade – You use it everyday – When you only want the best.

Klein Tool 650 Cushion-Grip Scratch Awl with 3-1/2-Inch Shank

All Kinds of Awls

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