After a year in which, thanks to various ailments, I’ve bought a lot more tools than I’ve used, I now have a fairly reasonable collection of awls.
No two have the same haft, and there are a few definite favorites in the collection. Most of the awls I have were obtained nth hand and all but a couple have vintage blades in them. Good awl blades are getting pretty hard to find new, but fortunately for medieval & renaissance shoemaking you don’t need modern curved awls and straight blades are easy to make.
The one new awl I bought was made by Dick Anderson at Thornapple River Boots. He makes some of the nicest modern shoemaking awls you can get. My one is a No.2 inseaming awl.The prices listed on his website aren’t current, so email or call him for up-to-date prices and to discuss what you’re after. If you enjoy owning and using tools that are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship in their own right, get yourself one (or several) of Dick Anderson’s awls.
My absolute favorite awl is this little one with a ball on the end. It’s turned from box and I plan on getting more just like it made. At some point someone has sanded a flat into the haft so it won’t roll around on the bench; I really should have paid more attention to the orientation of that when I put the blade in it but I still love it.
One of the things that appeals to me about second-hand awls are the stories they bring about their previous owners. Most of the old shoemaking awls I have have have traces of wax on them, usually around the shaft of the ‘button’ on the end of the haft showing where they’ve been used to pull the thread tight and they all have dings and marks and patination of age and use.
Some which I got from the estate of a leatherworker have deep pits and grooves all over the middle of the haft. It took a bit of staring before I realised these were the marks of years of being used like a sailmaker’s palm to push stubborn harness needles through leather.
It’s worth noting that you don’t need all these awls to make good medieval shoes. I made my first four pairs with one awl, a diamond shaped saddler’s awl shoved into a haft from a generic (I think Tandy) tool of some other kind.
You can make a better awl than this for medieval shoemaking for less than NZ$5 and some time if you have a belt sander and a dremel. The awl below is made from a masonry nail NZ$0.50c and a file handle from the hardware store NZ$2.50. It works better than the diamond awl above.
None of these awls are medieval, I’ll post about medieval awl haft shapes later.