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Thread: Experts: Birdcage v. Scratch Awl?

  1. #1

    Experts: Birdcage v. Scratch Awl?

    I've read a little about Scratch Awls for marking with the grain. And Birdcage Awls for pilot holes.

    - Do you consider these two types of awls essentially interchangeable?

    - Assuming no, for what tasks are each suitable/not suitable? For example, is a birdcage awl appropriate for marking pins or tails?

    - Which is most versatile?

    Thanks for imparting your wisdom.

  2. #2
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    There are actually 3 types of Awls,

    Scratch Awl with a fine tapered point for marking lines.

    Birdcage Awl, with 3 or 4 sides and sharp edges where the sides meet, for making holes in thin bamboo or wood strips for fastening together with fine wires or thread the parts of a bird cage.

    Brad Awl, no taper to it, but with a chisel sharpened end, to make holes in Cedar Siding among other things, usually for predrilling nail holes. put the chisel point across the grain and moving it a half turn back and forth while pushing in.

    The first two can be used for marking. but a marking knife sharpened with a bevel on one side only is best for marking dovetails.
    Last edited by harry strasil; 08-03-2009 at 9:35 PM.
    Jr.
    Hand tools are very modern- they are all cordless
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    Be who you are and say what you feel... because those that matter... don't mind...and those that mind...don't matter!
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  3. #3
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    I'm not an expert and I didn't sleep at a Holiday Inn last night but I can tell you that I haven't picked up a standard scratch awl since getting this birdcage
    http://czeckedge.com/bc_awls.html
    Up until yesterday when I traced a circle with it, I've only used it for marking hole centers to be drilled. I always use a knife for anything needing a line marked.
    Use the fence Luke

  4. #4
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    That's kind of a cute short pointed awl, a real birdcage awl is tapered the full length, so it can gradually increase a hole in thin material near its end without splitting.
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    Last edited by harry strasil; 08-04-2009 at 7:54 AM.
    Jr.
    Hand tools are very modern- they are all cordless
    NORMAL is just a setting on the washing machine.
    Be who you are and say what you feel... because those that matter... don't mind...and those that mind...don't matter!
    By Hammer and Hand All Arts Do Stand

  5. #5
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    Danny et al,

    I suppose the terminology has modified over time, but I thought it might be useful to look at the basic classification of awls as found in (Edward) _Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary_, 1872. Attached, below, is an image of part of the entry for awls. As can be seen, at least at that time, the birdcage awl was for creating a hole of uniform size throughout most of its depth; sized, I presume, according to the gauge of wire being used by the wire-worker, when constructing a birdcage, or whatever.

    Tapered awls of square cross-section (in effect, small reamers) were, apparently, developed at some point for some usage, but not necessarily for wire-workers.

    Don McConnell
    Eureka Springs, AR
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  6. #6
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    The leather workers diamond shaped awl can be used on wood. It is faster than a square birdcage for making holes, but it leaves a rougher surface. There is also an awl pattern that has a cross section like an hour glass, that is used to predrill holes in harder woods. Sort of like a drill bit, but not spiral. As far as using a bird cage awl as a scratch awl, I find that a rounded awl is slightly less likely to drift with grain while marking so I prefer it. Not so much that I won't go ahead and use a birdcage if that is all I have nearby though.

    Bob

  7. #7
    Sounds like the scratch awl is more in line with the kind of work I do.

    Interesting . . .
    Czeck Edge has gone with a variation of what I assumed was the traditional awl head shape--i.e., short and fat head. But Blue Spruce has gone with two completely different options: a chisel handle and a marking knife handle.

    Were the traditional awls always handled the like Czeck Edge's?

  8. #8
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    I have the birdcage version of the Blue Spruce Awl. It is really good for marking holes for drilling - like a center drill in machining.

    Accurately marking the holes requires very good light to pivot the tip at the center of your measurement lines. It takes very little force.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Don McConnell View Post
    Danny et al,

    I suppose the terminology has modified over time, but I thought it might be useful to look at the basic classification of awls as found in (Edward) _Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary_, 1872. Attached, below, is an image of part of the entry for awls. As can be seen, at least at that time, the birdcage awl was for creating a hole of uniform size throughout most of its depth; sized, I presume, according to the gauge of wire being used by the wire-worker, when constructing a birdcage, or whatever.

    Tapered awls of square cross-section (in effect, small reamers) were, apparently, developed at some point for some usage, but not necessarily for wire-workers.

    Don McConnell
    Eureka Springs, AR
    While I can't say how old the term "birdcage awl" is, square or triangular awls for making small holes are at least hundreds of years old. They are referred to in Moxon back in the 17th c. and are probably significantly more ancient since they are a very simple tool.

    I've never heard of an awl being used/developed to make holes of a uniform size other than by eye - then again I don't work in bamboo or with wire! I'd be interested in hearing more about the historical evidence for this.

    On the original topic, I would never use an awl for marking a line. My preference is for a small single bevel unhandled marking knife like those sold by Ron Hock (violin knife, left & right handed) or available from some Japanese makers. A knife will hold the line much better than an awl which is easily deflected by some grain.

    The birdcage awl is great for marking points for drilling or for making small pilot holes. In that sense it is the more versatile of the scratch awl vs birdcage awl. It also has less tendency to split the wood when making a small hole.

  10. #10
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    My Favorite Awl is this one,


    Made from a diamond file. Instructions here.

    I have a great fondness for Japanese Socket awls, for marking, scratching, layout, and hole starting. The picture shows two of these right along with a more conventional western awl.



    One great advantage of the Japanese version is that you can mark a point, leaving the awl sticking in the board while you get together and putting in position the straight edge for marking a line.

    Bob

  11. #11
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    The round blade awl with 1 flat side would actually have an advantage over a 3 or 4 sided awl: You can selectively worry away wood on 1 side of the hole in order to move the hole a small amount if there was a little error in the initial location.

    Some violin peg hole reamers are made with 1 blank side. You twist the reamer enough to cut away the wood in the direction you want the hole to move,but keep the blank side of it on the side of the hole which you do not wish to move.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by george wilson View Post
    The round blade awl with 1 flat side would actually have an advantage over a 3 or 4 sided awl: You can selectively worry away wood on 1 side of the hole in order to move the hole a small amount if there was a little error in the initial location.

    Some violin peg hole reamers are made with 1 blank side. You twist the reamer enough to cut away the wood in the direction you want the hole to move,but keep the blank side of it on the side of the hole which you do not wish to move.
    Dang it! Yet another wheel I've reinvented. I have been using one I made several months ago and thought I was going to be able to introduce a new idea. It works great for fixing a started hole that is slightly off, before drilling. I grind a bit of a face flat, and then file that flat where the side meets the edges with a triangular file.to make it a touch more aggressive.

    Bob

  13. #13
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    Oh,well,someone else stole the idea for making spring lotion for your bandsaw's blade tension spring,to make it work smoother. This would have been another EXPENSIVE accessory(or product) you could spend your money on,along with all those sharpening gadgets.

  14. I have been making birdcage awls with 3 sided, long slow tapers. I like the aggressivness of the 3 sided tip over the 4 sided tip. I also prefer the slightly wider face and better line of sight that the 3 sided tip provides for using as a marking tip- place a flat side against the rule and tip down pretty steeply and only one corner is in the wood, much like a marking knife. also useful somewhat like a small machinist's 3 sided scraper.

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