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?


> 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.


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