What is an Awl: Uses, Which Multi-Tools Have It, and More

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Ever tried making a tiny hole or marking a surface and thought, “This should be easy!”? I used to think the same. But, trust me, using the wrong tool can turn a simple task into a messy ordeal.

Have you considered a multi-tool awl? And wondering if it’s the right fit for every material? You’re at the right spot! Let me share my insights about this tool, so keep reading! 

What is an Awl?

Anyone in the woodworking industry knows an awl is one of the best multi-tools featuring a sharp point that can punch through several materials. If you comb through the market, you’ll encounter awl tool selections with different handle sizes, depending on their uses.

You may think it has the same purpose as a small knife, but the reality is it doesn’t cut in a straight line like a regular blade. Unlike swiss army knives, its tip is a durable metal that won’t break off with too much force. It’s also thicker and narrower in comparison to a knife. 


If you ask us, its main function is punching holes where you can start stitching, create a shallow groove, or hang an object. 

What is it Used For?


If you’re into woodworking, our DIY experts recommend having a scratch awl in your toolbox. You may not know, but this pointed tool can create a starter hole that serves as an entry point for your screw or drill bit. 

Besides getting the drill bit or screw started in those pilot holes, you can also use this simple tool to mark wood and create a cutting line for the blade to follow. 


Awls are not limited to job sites or just used for punching holes in wood. They are versatile tools often employed in backcountry camping. Other craftsmen on the road use them as ice picks or when they need to make holes for tent modifications.

person holding awls


As you know, an awl’s tip can pierce leather well. So if you’re on a trail, you can use awls to make holes for extra belt notches to keep it tight and prevent accidents. Besides wood and leather, its needle-point tips can also hole through sheet metal. 

Types of Awls

Bookbinder’s Awls

At some point in history, bookbinders utilized sewing awls to make small holes in materials like paper and board. This prepping method is used before sewing or lacing books together.

Bradawl or Pricker

Instead of directly drilling into the material, using a prickler or carpentry awl can mark an accurate starting point for your tool and prevent potential damage from tough boards.

Bridle or Harness Awl

Bridle or harness awl is one of the tools crafters use for drilling holes in leather[1] before stitching or sewing. If you look closer, it has a diamond-shaped point suited for creating a hole. 

Bridle or Harness Awl

Saddler's Awl

Saddlers are mostly made of leather, so it’s no surprise that there’s a specialized awl made for it. But instead of serving as a stitching awl, it’s used to adjust saddle stuffing. 

Scratch, Clicker's, Joiner's Awl

Scratch awl is a typical woodshop tool. Unlike a stitching awl, it has a rounded tip best suited for marking wood surfaces. It’s also called joiner’s awl for its ability to punch a small hole for bits and screws. 

Shoemaker’s Awl

Another version of a stitching awl is the one shoemakers use. Generally, it’s meant to sew the soles to the shoes’ uppers and make shoelace holes. 

Scribe, Scriber, or Scribe Awl

Although similar to a scratch awl, this tool isn’t meant to drill a hole. It’s mostly utilized for creating guiding marks in materials like textile, metal, or wood. 

Scribe, Scriber, or Scribe Awl

Stabbing, Pegging, and Sailmaker’s Awl, or Pricker

These tools come in round and oval varieties. And because it pierces well in textile, sailers also use it for adding punctures in their sails. 

Stitching or Leather Awl

You can identify a sewing awl if it’s designed with a threading hole. With this feature, you can stitch a thread in and out of the leather to attach two materials together. 

Do You Need an Awl in Your Tool Kit?

Yes, you do need an awl in your toolbox. Not only because it can create holes but also because it’s an essential part of marking before cutting the materials into your desired shape. 

How to Use an Awl for Scribing Lines

Before scribing lines, we suggest using a pencil for initial markings. From there, you can press the awl to create grooves your chisels and saws can follow. 

using an awl to mark measurement

How to Use an Awl for Making Holes

You’ll also need pencil markings for creating punctures. Once locations are marked, you can start pushing into the material to create pilot points and proceed to drill right after. 

Where to Buy an Awl

Since it’s a common tool, you can find it in local hardware stores. You can also check online sites like Amazon and eBay.

Things to Consider When Buying an Awl

Creating deeper punctures meant you need awls with bigger handles for better gripping. These tools also come with different steel tips, so it’s best to check if their width suits your project needs.

different awl sizes

What Can You Use Instead of an Awl: Top Alternatives

If you don’t have awls, use alternatives like large nails for markings or small screwdrivers for thread hole and groove-making. 

Multi-Tools with an Awl

Not all multi-tool awls include a threaded hole in their design, so it’s impressive when you see a product like Leatherman Signal in the market. 

Besides altering clothing, it can also aid in fixing equipment. Other options you can consider are Leatherman Juice CS4 and Gerber Center-Drive. 

Other Trivia and Tips about Awls

Here’s a fun fact about awls—did you know that it’s a part of the wild west history? Although it’s meant to deal with thick cowboy leathers, there are instances where you’ll need pliers to add pressure to the materials. 


Why is it called an awl?

It’s called an awl because it came from the Latin word sūbula, which means to sew. And since it ends with –l, its root meaning could also derive from “to produce, prepare.” 

How do you make a homemade awl?

You can make a homemade awl by fixing several materials together. All you need is a piece of wood for handles, copper pipping, epoxy, and a large nail.


Now that you know what an awl is, there’s no denying that it can come in handy in different situations. No matter what project or repair activity you need to work on, it can be the tool you can reach for. 

Rather than risking tool damage when dealing with tough material, I recommend using an awl to create an opening for drilling or markings for accurate cutting. 

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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