How to Make a Scratch Awl




Introduction: How to Make a Scratch Awl

About: I love making all kinds of things, with a bent toward woodworking. I do projects for clients, improvements around the house and even some furniture pieces. Follow along!

In this project, I took one blank I glued up and turned it into two different shapes of scratch awls.


I didn't really need a scratch awl. Well, I could always have one that has a better handle like this, but for these in particular, I had a couple of people in mind to whom I wanted to give these. I wanted to make two different scratch awls out of one piece of wood, and make them shaped differently, just for some practice at designing on the lathe. I also used two different methods to hold the piece compared to where the ferrule would go, so that was another experiment. If you follow along or watch the video, you'll see that one of the methods is not preferred. It was a good experiment to learn this, and as you follow along, let me know if you have any comments or questions.


Step 3: STEPS

First, I glued up the blank. I had some honey locust pieces and I glued them into a blank that was approximately 4"x4".


Next, I took it to the table saw to turn the blank from a square into more of an octagon. This is a good idea to get rid of the sharp corners. It makes the roughing out part at the lathe much faster and smoother.


It is actually a better idea to mark for center while your piece is still square. All you have to do then is connect opposing corners, and the intersection should be the center. However, since I had already cut this into more of an octagon, I had to draw a line between more than 2 of the corners to find center.


I brought the blank into round and then used my detail tool to split it into two pieces. I went almost all of the way through and used a pull saw to finish the cut.


Then, I chucked one of the pieces back up in the lathe and started to turn it. The tools I'm using are the Easy Wood Tools carbide cutting tools. So far, they've been great! I got the full-size cutters, since I am pretty tall and have a pretty large wingspan. ;)


On the first one, I started shaping it and the part that would hold the ferrule (that metal piece you see on a lot of tools) I had toward the chuck. This is NOT the right way to do this, but I'll tell you why a little later on. I used a pencil to mark the places where I wanted the shape to change.

I used the detail tool to get the material down to where the ferrule would fit on. As I mentioned a minute ago, this is not the best way to go about this...having the ferrule be fit on after the piece is cut off of the support. The reason: well, from my experience, you have to do a lot of test fitting to get a really tight fit, and you can't put it back on the lathe in the orientation I have it. Once you cut it off of the support, that's it.


Next, I sanded it down and then added some lacquer for a finish. I put on a quick 3 coats or so. When I'm spraying lacquer onto a piece that is not on the lathe, I usually have to sand between coats. However, I have found when I wipe on a finish, even lacquer, while a piece is spinning on the lathe, there is no need for sanding between coats.


On to the next one.

For the second piece, I wanted to try a different shape, and I wanted to show a different method for adding the ferrule. As I mentioned above, this was the correct way to do this, because while it is still chucked up in the lathe, I can test fit the ferrule, and take a little more off if it doesn't fit just right.


I measured the amount of copper I would need for the ferrule, and cut it out of a larger copper pipe. Copper pipe is pretty inexpensive and you can get many of this type thing out of just one 5-foot length of pipe. I usually just buy 3/4" copper pipe. I used some simple pipe cutters, and it takes less than a minute to do it this way. It is very easy.


Then, I attached the ferrule I just cut out with some CA glue. I'm usually pretty generous with the amount I apply since I'll be sanding afterward. I went back and started shaping it, making sure to flush the wood with the copper. It can be really any shape that you would like, so if you make one of these, have fun with the design. For this particular one, I wanted the end to be kind of large so it would sit in your palm well as you used it.


I did a bit of shaping to it after adding the ferrule, making sure to flush the wood to the copper. After sanding it, I added a few coats of lacquer to it. Then, I cut it off of the support piece, and finished off the end on the orbital sander. I sprayed this little part with some lacquer so it would match the rest of the scratch awl.


So, remember when I was saying it was not the right way to put the ferrule toward the chuck because you were not able to check the fit? Mine didn't fit, so I had to take it to the belt sander to try to get that part a little smaller. This didn't go well, and the belt sander dug in a little bit, which was TOTALLY frustrating!

Step 15: RESHAPE

What I ended up doing was creating a make-shift jam chuck with some paper towels. This was tough, because whenever you chuck something up in the lathe, it is never quite in the same spot. Therefore, I had to do a bit more shaping on the piece, but after I made sure the ferrule fit. Ultimately, I was able to get it to look good, so that's all that matters. I'm actually pretty proud that I was able to troubleshoot this issue, and come out with a nice finished product.

Step 16: GOOD AS NEW!

After adding some finish to this newly shaped part, I cut off the piece that I originally messed up.


Now, it was time to get the metal pieces for these scratch awls. I used some 20 penny nails for this. I cut off the heads of the nails with a cutoff wheel on the angle grinder. Then, I chucked the nails into my drill, and used a belt grinder with an aggressive grit belt to sharpen them. I kept a cup of cool water near so I could make sure the metal was not getting too hot. This worked quite well. So well, in fact, that they were too sharp! I didn't want someone getting hurt on these, so I brought them back to a little less of a point on the belt sander.


I drilled out some holes for the nails by hand. If I had to do this over again, I would have used the drill chuck on the lathe. That would have been much more of an exact method. These were not perfect, but that's ok. I secured them in place with some 5 minute epoxy.

Step 19: TEST

I had to test it works great!


I really like the way these turned out! I learned a lot by trying to shape them in different ways and trying to use the lathe in different ways. I'm finding that is a lot of using a lathe...just knowing how to hold something and what steps to do first or last.

Thank you for following along with this project and watching the video! I appreciate your support. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below. Also, if you want to interact with me, I'm probably more active on Instagram, so go there and say hi. (@Brudaddy) I'll see you on the next project!



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    12 Discussions

    This is great! I love the look of your handles. I've been meaning to make an awl myself. Did you heat treat the nail at all? I'm wondering if it would lose the sharp point after a bit of use.

    6 replies

    Thanks! I did not heat treat the nail. It might go dull after a bit, but I don't plan to use this on metal, just wood, so I figured it was not worth the time to heat treat it. I think it will hold up just fine. I believe the 20 penny nails I got were "hot dipped" (whatever that means), so they seemed quite tough from reading about them. Tag me on Instagram @Brudaddy when you make one...I'd love to see it!

    "Hot dipped" means the nails are rust proof.
    Hot dipping nails in Molten Zinc is acknowledged by most authorities as the best way to apply a heavy uniform Zinc coating to nails. In this process, the nails are completely immersed into a vat of molten zinc, similar to "French Frying" potatoes. This not only gives an outer coating of pure zinc, but also provides a tenacious inner coating of zinc-steel alloy. It prevents stains in wood from steel oxidation (rust).
    Grinding, or sanding to a point, removes the protection in that area.

    Good information. I really didn't know what hot dipped was. Even with removing the protection in that area, I don't have a super sharp point that will erode quickly, especially since these will not be used on metal. The steel is still plenty strong for most wood applications.

    You can still easily harden it if you want to, and it's probably worthwhile doing. Steel has pretty poor thermal conductivity so you can heat the tip in a gas flame (propane, stove, etc) until it's glowing as hot as you can get it. If you do it reasonably quickly, you won't even melt your epoxy. Then plunge it into some cold oil.
    It's not 100% but it'll make a difference.
    You can touch up the hardened tip on a stone.

    NO. Nails designed for wood are LOW CARBON, which can NOT be hardened. If you want to harden a nail, you need carbon steel nails. Concrete nails (MUCH different than cement nails) are carbon steel and can be hardened.

    I will concede to your superior metallurgical knowledge on this.

    I have an 8" nail that I beat to a pulp with a ball pein hammer, edged with a file, hardened in my kitchen stove and sink, then honed on a whetstone.

    It's been an amazingly useful and resilient tool, but I cannot speak of its carbon content nor its origin.

    in Step 9.

    You still need to sand between coats as the first coat will raise the grain and that will make the wood feel prickly. Finer grade sandpaper each time.

    1 reply

    Actually, lacquer does not raise the grain, so there is no need for this.

    Can't you just go to a yard sale, buy a phillips screw driver for $0.25 and sharpen a point on it with a grinder?

    1 reply

    That would be another way to do it. I don't know about in your area, but around here, I never seem to be able to find screw drivers at yard sales.

    Lacquer doesn't raise the grain on wood. I do raise the grain on other pieces that I am sealing with mineral oil that will come in contact with water, such as cutting boards.