The scratch awl and its uses

Scratch awl, what are theyFor reasons I can’t explain, I love old tools and one of my favourites in my tool box is the scratch awl.

What is an scratch awl

A scratch awl is used to scribe a line  or occasionally starting holes wood, leather or other materials, prior to working with another tool.

It’s basically a metal spike with its tip sharpened to a fine point. The tip of the spike is pulled across the material, leaving a shallow groove that can then be used as a guide for cutting with another hand tool or knife.

They date back thousands of years (they are mentioned in the Bible, Exodus 21:6, and were instrumental in the creation of Braille writing system) but mine is a little newer although it’s still quite old, with an aged wooden handle worn smooth over many years. You can almost feel the labour of love, sweat and tears previous owners have poured into it over its many years.

I use them for marking holes in baseboards of my layout for track pins and occasionally marking Plasticard when cutting and bending it. I don’t use it much but the feel and comfort of its handle always makes it a pleasure to work with.

Most of my old hand tools came from my Dads or Grandads sheds or I’ve rescued them from boot fairs. This one however came from online somewhere and I love how it feels in my hand. The size of its blade is just right for the kinds of projects I work on too.

Many awls sold today tend to have plastic handles that just don’t feel the same or the blades are made from low grade metal and don’t last as well. The closest I’ve found to mine are these. With a beech wood handle, brass ferrule and steel tip will hopefully wear and age just as well. Time will tell.

What old hand tool do you love to use, what makes it special to you?

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.  
Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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