Scratch Awl

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Forum topic by Don Johnson posted 661 days ago 1564 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Don Johnson

604 posts in 1379 days

661 days ago

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


2829 posts in 847 days

#1 posted 661 days ago

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


1466 posts in 871 days

#2 posted 661 days ago


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


1988 posts in 2131 days

#3 posted 661 days ago

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.

-- what a long, strange trip it's been...

View Smallcrafter's profile


36 posts in 697 days

#4 posted 661 days ago

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 855 days

#5 posted 661 days ago

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


11638 posts in 2287 days

#6 posted 661 days ago

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 1291 days

#7 posted 661 days ago

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

1640 posts in 1521 days

#8 posted 661 days ago

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.

-- In God We Trust

View waho6o9's profile


4747 posts in 1176 days

#9 posted 661 days ago

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


87 posts in 1212 days

#10 posted 652 days ago

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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