A Tool for Awl Seasons
by Damien Andrews
There is one advantage that a beginner do-it-yourselfer has over an experienced do-it-yourselfer or a professional. The do-it-yourselfer who is just getting started can go to the hardware store and vastly improve the contents of his tool bag and workbench by spending little more than $35-40. As the years pass, the committed do-it-yourselfer builds up his stock of hand tools and all things less costly. Then it's time to look at bigger, more expensive items like table saws, radial arm saws, 36" wood lathes, and so forth.
The *awl, however, might just give even the most skilled and well-equipped do-it-yourselfer the thrill of adding to his toolkit for a paltry sum. The awl is frequently called a scratch awl. I don't like to call it that because it leaves one with the impression that the only thing the tool is good for is scratching things. An awl most assuredly will scratch things. And it is likely used for that purpose more than any other. Personally, I'm convinced that is because of the name given to it, not because the tool is inherently limited to that purpose.
*SEE PHOTOS BELOW
If you've ever worked with metal, even light gauge metals such as ductwork and drip edgings, you know how difficult marking with a pencil can be. Actually, marking metal with a pencil is easy, seeing and/or reading the marking is the hard part. An awl makes an excellent tool for marking metal. If you're new to the use of an awl, don't press too hard while marking metal. In the hands of a skilled user, an awl also makes a highly precise marker for woods. I particularly like using it when marking sheets of Masonite.
An awl in your tool bag will serve many purposes beyond marking metals or certain woods. Here are just a few of the additional tasks it performs well:
• It makes short work of removing large (or small) packing staples. Slide the blade under the center of the staple, pry a tad and remove with pliers. No more trying to grind the nose of the pliers in under the staple.
• Pre-punch canvass, leather or plastic for riveting.
• One of my favorite uses for an awl is to start screw holes for small screws. You can use it on drywall and wood. It can save a LOT of drilling time, and also encourages making a hole for a small screw.
• Not everyone has brad-tipped drill bits. Use an awl to make a starting hole for your high speed drill bits. This will make sure your hole starts precisely where you want it to – no more skating at the start.
• It makes a great line-up tool for small hardware and wood parts. Insert the awl and move it forward and around until the two or more parts are aligned as you want them, then do your attaching. This is invaluable when assembling some of today's –some-assembly-required furniture.
• The tip will easily clean out threads that have rusted or are filled with wood chips and glue.
• An awl makes a great ice pick at the jobsite. Since block ice costs me less than cubed ice, I really appreciate this one.
An awl has hundreds of uses. I have only listed a few. If you keep one in your toolbox, I guarantee you'll find uses for it frequently. While an awl is not an indispensable tool, it is one which makes many jobs easier and many tasks more convenient. Get an awl, keep it in your box, and see what you think.
In the photo below, several styles of awl are featured. As you can see, they come in as many sizes and designs as screw drivers. They also come angled and curved, which are not pictured. The two photos offset in the lower right hand corner are of sewing awls. These are great for sewing heavy materials such as carpets, carpet pads, leather, vinyl, and so forth.