Old hand tools: the scratch awl

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?


Did you know, you can get all my latest tips, reviews and guides direct to your inbox? It's completely free. Just subscribe to my newsletter and I'll do the rest. Join 36,000 other model makers who follow me and sign up now. Click here to start. Thanks Andy, creator and founder of MRE.


Affiliate notice: Some links on this page will take you to carefully selected businesses, including Hornby, B&Q, Rapid Online, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, through which you can buy products mentioned. These links are made under their affiliate schemes which means that although the price to you doesn't change I get a small commission on the orders you place. Please see the disclaimer for more details.

Add Comment

Required fields are marked *. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.