A Simple Bird Cage Awl #1: Starting with High Quality Steel

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Blog entry by bondogaposis posted 02-08-2016 03:04 PM 3078 reads 11 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of A Simple Bird Cage Awl series Part 2: Hardening Steel »

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

3 comments so far

View HokieKen's profile


14023 posts in 1911 days

#1 posted 02-08-2016 03:30 PM

Great idea for a blog. I made on of these from an old, hardened screwdriver with a square shaft about a year ago and it is the bee’s knees for marking holes. I’ve had in mind for a while to make a smaller one so I’ll be anxious to see the rest of your process!

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2780 days

#2 posted 02-08-2016 04:50 PM

Will be interested in seeing what you come up with. I’ve made a few myself. I think I put some in one of my blogs.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1114 posts in 3085 days

#3 posted 02-10-2016 05:18 PM

Very interesting. Thanks for posting

-- It always looks better when it's finished!

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