Wednesday, January 06, 2010

making awls

One of the great pleasures in starting new projects in the woodshop is that of making the necessary tools. In this case, the students will begin making books next week, and I have been making bookbinding tools for them to use. It is far better to not have money to buy what is required. Working on the cheap provides the incentive to find pleasure and satisfaction in one's own work.

Skill imparts pleasure. These are quickly made. I turn the ash handles on the lathe from scraps left over from a handle factory, and size the ends to fit copper plumbing caps. Drill a hole about 1 inch deep in the end for a 10 penny finishing nail and drive it in place with about 2/3's the length of the nail still sticking out. The size of the hole should be just slightly smaller than the diameter of the nail. The copper cap prevents splitting, but also gives the tool a more "professional" look. Use the belt sander or grinder to shape the tip to a point. These can be made at a rate of about 8 per hour, so that is much more economical than buying them from an art supply catalog, and you can size these to best fit children's hands.

Besides book binding, these can be used in the woodshop. Make one. Your first foray into making your own tools might become addictive, and working with tools you have made yourself can provide a level of satisfaction unmatched by even the finest tools your money can buy.


  1. That is true...because a good and perfect tool is also a key to good and perfect is a satisfaction an an addiction to make them.

  2. I never realized that I would spend so much time making jigs and tools to enable the rest of my work to be done with quality. My tools won't complete with the finest tools that big tool companies can make in terms of perfect fit and finish. But that doesn't diminish the pleasure I can find in their use.

  3. The awls are beautiful! As a binder, I have to say that the awls with the squat handles look like they would have a great feel in the hand, giving you lots of control as you use them. Having wonderful tools makes the work that much more enjoyable, no question. Thanks for showing these off!

  4. The next step would be to teach your students how to make the awls.

    When my dad was growing up in the early 20th century in Nebraska, he took "manual arts" classes in the 7th and 8th grade. In metal working class the made sheet metal wastepaper baskets, they made hundreds of them for the two new high schools being built. The next year they made dozens of teacher's desks, again for the new high schools.

    When I took metal working class in the 1960s we made hundreds of sheet metal dustpans for all the school system's janitors.

    Do you see anything like that happening in the school systems today? I know it doesn't happen in my town. I was talking with the local trades teacher. You know what he said to me when I asked what his students were learning that they could actually use when they finished high school? He said, "I'm just babysitting, I don't want these kids to learn how to build anything because when I retire I plan to start a cabinet making business and I don't want any competition."

    --John Leeke

  5. You know, John, manual arts teachers tend to have some of the same attitudes as some of the worst teachers. Spending time until retirement. In Finland where they rank first in reading, science and math, teaching is an esteemed occupation, and despite poor salaries, they get the top 10 percent of graduates. Here, we have diminished the role of teacher to that of baby sitter and take our teachers from the bottom 20 percent.

    Shop teachers are looked down on by those in more academic subjects due to a gross misunderstanding of their mission. You are right, I could have had my high school students make the awls, but by making them myself, I can get to a higher standard. Maybe next time.