Here at KC Tool we have some pretty specialized tools. Just look at the bewildering array of bits, screwdriver styles, and pliers, for example. For something different I thought we’d explore one of the simplest, and yet indispensable, tools: the awl, and its cousin the scriber.
In general, an awl is a handle with a steel shaft that tapers to a point. Handle styles vary slightly, but are generally rounded to fit comfortably in the palm of the hand, even while applying pressure, but also allowing good control. Although various cross-sections for different specific tasks exist, the two most common and useful styles are the scratch and the square awl. And while each is designed for a specific purpose, just having a slender, sharp pointy-thing around is always useful. As a former bicycle mechanic, I constantly reached for my round awl to reform the cut ends of cable housing (Bowden cable) or gently poke objects out of tiny crevices.
The round, or scratch, awl is the tool most people know. A round shaft, tapering to a sharp point, this tool is useful for making an indentation in wood, leaving a nice spot for drilling a hole, starting a screw, or hammering a nail or brad. Also, reach for this one for marking a clean, precise spot for drilling or a line for cutting. Many of the German Brands make good examples of this, including Witte, Wiha, Wera and Felo.
A second variation of the awl is the square awl, also known as a tapping, reaming or even birdcage, awl. The shaft on this awl is square and tapers to a point. And while you can use this tool to make an indentation, where it really shines is in enlarging a hole in wood, leather or soft metal. The relatively sharp edges of the tapered square shaft will gradually enlarge a hole to the desired diameter. Great examples from Wiha, Felo, and Wera are pictured above.
A scriber is used specifically for marking on metal. Where a pencil line might rub off and a marker leaves a wide line, the hardened steel of a scriber will leave a clean, precise line even on polished metal. A single-point version works like a sharp pencil (like this one from Gedore) while a dual point version has one straight end and one end bent at a right angle (also from Gedore), useful for marking in tight spaces. Carbide versions of these tools feature even harder, often replaceable, tips, for marking hardened steel, glass or tile.
As an awl will gradually become dull with enough use, a quick pass on a grinding stone or wheel while continually turning, will restore its original usefulness. Don’t try this on the hardened steel or carbide tipped versions, though, as you may cause the tool to lose its temper or break the extremely hard yet brittle carbide tip. Finally, a wine cork or short piece of vinyl tubing will protect the tip if you store your awl in a tool box.
Awls, Reamers and Scribes are great additions to your workbench or tool bag. And as always, get all the sharp pointy things you need at KC Tool.