Birdcage awl

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Project by PioneerRob posted 02-06-2014 10:57 AM 3909 views 4 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ve been using the metalworkers approach for years to mark my drill and screw holes using a centre punch and hammer, until I read recently about the birdcage awl. The main features of the birdcage awl, I read, is that it not only marks the hole but can actually drill holes in some cases. Also, when it marks it would supposedly cut through the grain, not follow it the way a centre punch, screw, or drill does. Sounds pretty cool, so here’s a try.

Pictures and process
1. The finished birdcage awl.
2. Old screwdriver.
3. Jig for rough sharpening.
4. Hardening setup. I hardened the tip using instructions from here:
5. Handle material and my assistant’s (5 year old daughter) contribution, a little car she made out of scrap wood.
6. Turned handle.

This screwdriver is particularly special to me, as it one of a few tools I have from dad. The handle was left on to when shaping to make it easier to handle. I ground it to four sides on a belt sander. After hardening and tempering I sharpened it on water stones.

The handle is made from the handle of an ash turning gouge that failed me. It snapped right at the neck during gentle (I swear) use. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you tools, failure will not be tolerated. The cuts are test cuts to find the end of tang was. (Seems a little cannibalistic to turn the handle from a former turning tool.)

The ferrule is turned from a brass flare nut fitting. It was epoxied on to the handle

I finished the handle with Danish oil. This was actually the most frustrating part. I couldn’t get each coat to dry, even leaving it for a couple of days. Eventually I just left it for a couple of weeks and eventually it dried.

Feels great in hand. I was amazed at how sharp I got it, and how sharp it stays.

I have been using it for a few weeks now, and it lives up as advertised. It will cut accurately through grain and it can drill deep enough into oak to make an effective pilot hole.

I was marking some holes in oak today when the tip broke. I resharpened it, but not quite as well as the original shape. Instead of a millimetre wide secondary bevel, it became about 3 mm.

This now duller version slipped off the edge of the piece of oak and right into the side of my thumb. Well, it was still sharp enough to penetrate more than halfway through my thumb. Sigh.

Lesson relearned: dull tools are dangerous.

Another lesson relearned: stop holding the work piece so close to the pointy end of a tool.


-- Rob, Ontario

3 comments so far

View drbyte's profile


848 posts in 5348 days

#1 posted 02-06-2014 02:13 PM

Sorry to hear about the thumb, but you really nailed the awl! (sorry;-) ) Good to be able to save something and re-purpose something of your dad’s! Great ferrule! What size flare nut did you use?

-- Dennis, WV

View clieb91's profile


4264 posts in 5221 days

#2 posted 02-07-2014 12:39 AM

Nice repurposing and looks like it can be a useful tool. Hop you are able to get a tip back on it. Sorry to hear about the thumb.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View PioneerRob's profile


47 posts in 2898 days

#3 posted 02-09-2014 03:53 AM

Thanks for your comments. The thumb’s healing well. Doctor put me on antibiotics just in case. I’m hoping for an X shaped scar, I don’t have one of those yet.

drbyte: I used a 1/2” flare nut fitting.

clieb91: I’ve been pondering the new tip. Leaning toward a curved secondary bevel. Waiting for my thumb to heal a little more before I do too much sharpening.


-- Rob, Ontario

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