Monday, April 09, 2012

Awl that and more

So there's been some discussion on The Porch concerning bradawls. Well actually it was about gimlets originally, then bradawls cropped up, then someone said a bradawl and a birdcage awl were one and the same, and then I opened my big mouth to ask if that was actually so ('cos I thought not) and why would I need both. Then the next thing I know...

Well first let's talk about birdcage awls, which I like, and use. They have square shanks coming to a point, and they kinda ream out the hole and are generally just brilliant. I have a nagging feeling that it was John Brown who brought my attention to the birdcage awl, enthusing about it compared to a bradawl. So that's what I went for, by-passing the screwdriver-like bladed bradawl completely. In hindsight, this is a bit like skipping owning a battered old Mini and going straight to the new Jaguar; frankly I recommend it.

My birdcage awl is the Crown tear-drop handled jobbie on the far left. I'd like to extoll the virtues of this Sheffield-made tool in an unusual burst of patriotic tool worship, but, well... the blade isn't in straight (or central) and the ferrule's split. So... But the handle's lovely and comfy, so I forgive it quite a bit.

Next to the birdcage awl are the two bradawls (only two!) I seem to own. That's after I tidied the blades up on Friday, because hitherto they'd been sitting in the To Do pile being continually ignored. Well look at 'em. Are you stirred? Even a little bit? I'm not. I suppose some radical cleaning work on the handles might help. 

On the far right is the twist gimlet, the other two being shell gimlets. Honestly, I think I like the shell ones more but the twisty ones are generally regarded as preferable as far as I can tell. But I really don't use any of them; I like my wheel braces too much. And push drills. I love push drills. Have I mentioned that before? I think perhaps I have. The world needs more push drills; it does not need wrist-busting gimlets.

Anyway, I'm not sure anyone really ever explained why you'd need both types of awl, but there was a general vibe of "They're dead easy to make, so what are you waiting for?" Thus I found myself at the lathe, cursing the sticky tailstock which no amount of dismantling, reassembling, greasing, oiling or swearing at will remedy. But I digress. Discovered a turning blank I'd tentatively labeled "Padauk?" was actually She Oak, and that a very long, very thin, very bent screwdriver from the pile of stuff that was supposed to go to the dump approximately a twelvemonth ago and has mysteriously turned into a source for endless useful bits instead was just the ticket to provide blade fodder. Et voilĂ :

Being me, and an idiot, I only looked up about awls after the event - turning to volume one of The Practical Woodworker, wherein Mr Jones' information leads me to confirm my suspicion that the bevel is on the long side. He sez 1/4", should you be eager to know. Apart from that, I'm fairly pleased. And it's very comfortable to hold, to such an extent that I had some trouble getting various members of my family to put it down. Awls awl round for Christmas, then...?

Pop quiz: What's the other name for a bradawl?


  1. Howard in Wales4/09/2012 06:04:00 pm


    ..... not only a cocktail, but a Gimlet, perhaps.

  2. I share your preference for the birdcage awl, Alf. No need to worry about splitting thin wood which can happen with a bradawl.

    Don't like gimlets at all. They can also split thin wood and their handles tend to be too small. I've sometimes wondered if they were ever a serious tool, more likely a superfluous inclusion in an old time "standard" tool kit, perhaps?


  3. Thanks, Evergreen. Six years later, and you've just saved me from buying a set of gimlets to go with an ordered set of birdcage awls. I also like my old Stanley push drills despite a tendency for the thinnest bits to bend.


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