What is an Awl & How to Use It (Ultimate 2023 Guide)
If you’re a woodworker or work with leather, you likely already know what an awl is and how it works.
But for others, it can be a little more confusing.
Awls can be extremely useful tools with many different purposes that can make completing your next project a breeze.
In this post, I’ll detail what an awl is, what an awl is used for, and much more. Let’s dig in!
In This Article:
What is an Awl?
An awl is a simple tool that consists of a metal shaft with a sharp point on the end. It’s that simple.
There are various types that you can use for certain materials.
For example, if you are using a material such as canvas or leather, that’s when a stitching awl can come into play.
However, if you are woodworking, a regular scratch awl can do the trick.
This kind of tool can be used for the purpose of marking surfaces or piercing small holes in wood.
You can also create scribe lines in case you are using tools such as a chisel or a hand saw.
If you are using a drill, you can create holes so it can fit a drill bit of your desired size.
Awls have many different use cases and are extremely useful for a variety of tasks.
How to Use an Awl to Create Scribe Lines
A scribe line is a line that is created on the surface of a material in order to mark where you need to cut.
This way, you can use the scribe line as a guide when using tools such as a chisel or hand saw.
Scribe lines that are created will create a shallow groove that will help keep the hand saw or chisel in place instead of letting it wander around.
Likewise, with holes, you want to push the awl tool into the face of the wood. This will allow you to create a hole that will keep the drill bit in place so it doesn’t wander across.
With that said, we’ll share with you the following instructions on how to create scribe lines and holes. Let’s start with the lines:
Creating Scribe Lines
- Mark the location of the scribe line with a pencil.
- Scribe the line itself by dragging the awl tool across the line
- Make the cut with a hand saw or chisel
- Mark the location with a pencil.
- Create a starting point with the awl.
- Position your drill bit and drill the hole.
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Can You Use a Hammer with an Awl?
Using an awl with a hammer is a routine process to start a hole in various types of wood. This can be useful for drilling or even nailing.
What is an Awl Used For?
Aside from creating holes and scribe lines, you can still use an awl for other purposes. It doesn’t have to be for wood and materials like leather and canvas. Here are some other uses to consider:
Use it as an ice pick
Thinks can get frozen. It can be door handles, windows not opening, or something else. If you are in a rush, use an awl as an ice pick to easily bust through it. You may not be carrying it around all the time in the winter, but it’s nice to have in the garage when you need it.
Pipe and tube cleaner
If a pipe or tube is narrow in size, chances are the awl can be used to clean it out. Depending on the gauge and the size of the pipe, just put the steel part inside and scrape or clean out any debris. They can be stuck to the pipe’s sides and need to be loosened up.
While it may not be as a good as a regular pry bar, if the awl is thick enough it can be useful for prying open certain things. It maybe small closures such as a suitcase or even a metal box. It might not be good enough for opening up safes or anything large and heavy.
Opening for adhesives and caulk
If you need to open up any adhesives or caulking of previously sealed holes, an awl can get to work on that. You can create large enough holes to where you can dig through the rest of it. This will become useful when you believe that the adhesive or caulk is no longer serving its purpose.
This is used for scraping off small shavings. If you need to make a few scrapes of wood without having to alter the wood by a lot, then you can use an awl for this purpose.
If you are in a rush, there are alternatives to an awl tool (if you don’t have one).
First, you can use a nail. Or you can find a Phillips screwdriver and use the point of it to make a hole (if it has a sharp point).
There is a knife, which is self explanatory. The sharp tipped edge will be useful in creating scribe lines. A butter knife might not do the trick, but a regular knife could fare better.
You can also use a compass tool.
This is the kind of tool you may have used in your math classes growing up. Just use the pointed tip if you need to mark a hole and you should be good to go. Or you can use it if you need to make any necessary markings.
One more tool to consider are tweezers.
Some tweezers can be a good sharp pointed tool that will work to your advantage if you don’t have an awl and need to create holes for drilling.
What are the different types of awls available?
As we’ve mentioned earlier, there are different types of awls that exist. A scratch awl is used for woodworking. You can also have a sewing awl or stitching awl if you are working with leather materials.
Then you have the following awls, which come in different shapes, sizes, and all kinds of additional features. They include but are not limited to:
- Diamond awls
- Threaded awls
- Tapered awls
- Multi tool awl
Awl Tool Considerations
As mentioned before, awls come in different types. They come in plenty of sizes, handles, and gauges. Don’t forget your project will be appropriate for one awl, but not for another type. With that said, here’s what you need to look out for:
The length of an awl will play a role in the selection process based on your needs and preferences. How deep do you want the hole to be? Can it be something for wood that is found in hard to reach places or is recessed.
The length can be great for when you need something that will give you the best usability possible.
You can find handles that will give you the best grip possible. Plus, you can find some that are designed for ergonomic-friendliness. These handles will come in various sizes, so you’ll want to find one that will be best handled when you press it up against your palm and create holes in hardwood.
This is the width of the spike that is part of the awl. It will also determine the size of the holes you’ll create in the wood. Once again, the size of the gauge will be based on your personal needs and preferences. Also, take into consideration the gauge size if you are planning on using the awl to mark holes for drilling.
One thing to be certain is that awls are not that expensive. Granted, the highest price for one is $25. That’s the price for a Japanese awl. Other than that, you won’t have to spend any more than $6 for a basic scratch awl or anything related.
Even on a budget, you can still get a woodworking tool that is reliable if and when you need it.
Do You Need an Awl?
Awls are not very essential in terms of tools that you’ll find for every project you can think of. However, it may be good to have around whenever you need it. It can also depend on the line of work you’re in as well.
Those who make wooden products, shoes, or work with leather materials will find that awls will be an essential part of their tool kit. They could use a leather awl, a stitching awl, or even a sewing awl depending on your line of work.
In other words, in one craft it will be essential and others not so much.
If we’re talking about woodworking, then getting an awl is up to you. Considering that it’s not an essential tool, it explains why it may not be as costly as some other woodworking tools you’d use often such as saws, sanders, and other power tools.
Final Thoughts on What is an Awl
Owning an awl can be a tremendous tool to help you create scribe lines, a starter hole, or complete other tasks that may come up while you’re working with wood.
It’s a handheld tool that comes with a pointed end so you can make precise markings on a surface or make a small hole to start driving a screw.
Awls come in different shapes, sizes, and all sorts of additional features and there are many different kinds of awls like scratch awls, sewing awls, and stitching awls.
Awls are very affordable and can be a handy tool for any woodworker to consider.