Scratch Awl

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Forum topic by Don Johnson posted 10-02-2012 10:44 AM 3727 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Don Johnson

704 posts in 3016 days

10-02-2012 10:44 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question scratch awl

When watching Matthias Wandel’s excellent videos, I often see him using what looks like a scratch awl to punch location marks with a hammer or mallet.

This looks a much better technique than the way I do this using a metal-working centre punch – which is shorter and has ‘blunter’ point, so is more difficult to place accurately.

I see various scratch awls advertised over here in the UK, but wonder if they are all suitable for use as a ‘punch’ as well as for marking out, so my question is – do I have to look for a specific type of scratch awl that will also be suitable for making location marks ?

I was finally prompted to pose this question by one of the responses in the Walnut Handled Scratch Awl from Scratch project which indicated that TrBlu’s awl would not be hit with a mallet.


-- Don, Somerset UK,

10 replies so far

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2484 days

#1 posted 10-02-2012 01:10 PM

You don’t really need to smack an awl with a mallet. A nice firm press will give you a location mark. I do hit one with a mallet when preparing a piece to turn between centers on a lathe. The hole should be about 1/8” deep.


View GrandpaLen's profile


1651 posts in 2508 days

#2 posted 10-02-2012 03:09 PM


A Scratch Awl is a handy tool to have around for the purposes you have stated.

The only requirements for an effective awl is a, round shank, norrow, sharp tip. These attributes allow you to make your mark or detent exact and will not be prone to be deflected by the hard growth grain into the softer grain.

I carry a very Special 16 penny nail, sharpened as stated above, in my shop apron. Its quite handy for this purpose and at times it doubles as a nail to hang something on, and then I just grind down another Special 16 penny nail and put it in my apron pocket.

I must give credit for this invention of a disposable awl to my Grandpa who passed it on to me.

I hope I have explained the design reasoning and purpose of the scratch awl and not buried it I my attempt at a little humor this morning.

Best Regards. – Grandpa Len

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View hairy's profile


2783 posts in 3768 days

#3 posted 10-02-2012 03:46 PM

It’s an easy tool to make. You could take an old screwdriver and grind it to a point. You could sharpen the point on what you are now using. They also do well as a scribe and marking knife. I use mine a lot, rarely do I need a mallet.

-- My reality check bounced...

View Smallcrafter's profile


36 posts in 2334 days

#4 posted 10-02-2012 04:28 PM

I use either the tip of a new single edge utility knife blade to press small marks into the wood or use the scriber that came with my really old and still used steel combination square. A far cry from my shipyard days when I would use a piece of white soapstone that would make a line 1/8” thick. But I was using a cutting torch and not a Japanese razor saw!

-- 'The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.' - Chaucer

View Steven Gaffin's profile

Steven Gaffin

31 posts in 2492 days

#5 posted 10-02-2012 09:35 PM

Birdcage Awls are great for starting holes. Unlike a scratch awl, a birdcage awl is square in shape that tapers to a point so you can push the tip into the mark and rotate the awl to cut the surrounding fibers.

View Dusty56's profile


11830 posts in 3924 days

#6 posted 10-02-2012 10:32 PM

I’ve made several from worn out Phillips screwdrivers…what else can you do with them ? LOL

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View jamesicus's profile


132 posts in 2927 days

#7 posted 10-02-2012 11:22 PM

We used to call them bradawls and indeed we used them to avoid splitting (especially) thin wood when driving small nails (brads). Mallets were not used for hand pressure was all that was required to make the indentation.

Actually, bradawls (at least the ones we used) were not sharpened to a point (like a bodkin) but instead like a very tiny sharp screwdriver. The starter hole for the nail was made by rotating the tip of the bradawl to cut through the wood surface fibers.


View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2688 posts in 3158 days

#8 posted 10-03-2012 01:10 AM

I have used a scratch awl as a sheet metal worker. I like the kind with a big roundish handle. I would place the point on the metal (or wood) and strike the handle with the palm of my hand to make a mark. No mallet required. This works well with light metal or wood.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Website>

View waho6o9's profile


8539 posts in 2812 days

#9 posted 10-03-2012 01:29 AM

Making one out of a 1/4 inch drill bit and some scrap laying
about will end up being more useful than one can imagine.
Have some fun and make one.

View JSilverman's profile


89 posts in 2849 days

#10 posted 10-11-2012 11:08 PM

shopnotes had a nice article a year or so ago on how to make several types of awls… their index is online at august home publishing.

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