The gimlet hand-tool, what is it, why you need one and the best to get

Photo of a wooden handled gimlet

Another of my occasional posts on old-hand tools, this time the gimlet. What is it, why they’re so useful, why I use them and the best Gimlet to get now.

What is a Gimlet

A Gimlet is a hand tool that’s used for drilling small holes in wood. It looks like a screw with a pointed end and a handle, and it’s been around for centuries. They were described in Joseph Gwilt‘s Architecture (1859) as “a piece of steel of a semi-cylindrical form, hollow on one side, having a cross handle at one end and a worm or screw at the other” — you can just about see this hollow in the photo of my gimlet above.

They were particularly popular in the days before power drills existed because they allowed woodworkers to make precise holes without worrying about the drill bit slipping or going too deep.

The word “Gimlet” comes from the Old French word “guimbelet”, which means “small tool”. While their origins are a bit murky, it’s believed that Gimlets were first used by shipbuilders in ancient Greece, and they were eventually adopted by the Romans and spread throughout Europe.

It’s worth noting that while Gimlets are similar in appearance to Augers, they are different tools with different purposes. Augers are generally used for larger holes and can be used to drill through various materials, including wood, metal, and plastic. In contrast, Gimlets are specifically designed for smaller holes in wood and are not suitable for use on other materials.

While they may not be as popular as they once were, Gimlets are still used by woodworkers and craftsmen today. In fact, many hand tool enthusiasts swear by them, and they can be a great tool to have in your arsenal if you’re working on a small project or need to make precise holes.

Why use a gimlet

So why are Gimlets useful? Well, they are particularly helpful for drilling small holes in wood. Their small pointed end allows them to start a hole without any kind of pilot hole or pre-drilling, and their screw-like design pulls the wood fibers out of the hole as they go, which helps prevent splitting. Additionally, being easy to control, Gimlets are great for delicate or precise work.

I use mine around my layouts, where I need a small hole and don’t need the power of an electric drill, and slipping with a power tool could be catastrophic to track, scenery, and wiring nearby. And of course, they’re superb when starting holes in wood projects around the home – putting hooks into picture frames in particular.

So there you have it! A Gimlet is a handy little tool that, like the scratch awl, has been around for centuries and is still useful today. If you’re working on a woodworking project and need to drill some small holes, don’t overlook the Gimlet!

The best Gimlet in 2023

So having looked back at old gimlets and added one to my collection, what gimlet do I recommend if you want one today?

With a wooden handle just like my vintage one, the Wolfpack 2.0mm gimlet is a lovely tool that does what you want, when you want and gets my recommendation. There’s not a lot to be said, other than it works, it’s comfortable and feels lovely in the hand.

Get the Wolfpack Gimlet from Amazon.




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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