I like making awls. I have quite few around my shop in various sizes and configurations. A few years ago I decided to make an awl in the bird cage style and it has been my all around favorite ever since. I have no idea why they are called bird cage awls. Perhaps they were a critical tool for making cane bird cages in years gone by. Here I am going to make another one. I start out with a bar of O1 tool steel from McMaster-Carr. It is 3/16” square in cross section. This is the ideal size for me. I have tried 1/4” stock and it just seemed too “fat” for my taste.
I like to have a blade that extends 2 3/4 to 3 inches from the handle and I want to have at least 2 inches of the steel bar buried into the handle so I start with a 5” length. The first thing I do is locate the center on one end of the stock, this greatly aids in filing the point.
Shaping the point is critical at this stage. Tool steel as it comes is pretty soft and it files and shapes easily, this is the time to file the point because after it is hardened it is way harder. I also mark a line around the base of the point as a visual guide. I file the point free hand, it takes some practice to be able to file a symmetrical point.
After filing the first side I go to the opposite side.
I then finish up on the other two sides, There is a lot less metal to remove on the last two sides and it goes really quick. I like to take some extra care here and get the point as close to final shape as possible. This saves a lot of work later when it comes time to final hone the hardened point.
Once I get it to final shape it is time to harden the steel. That will be the next blog entry.
-- Bondo Gaposis