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.

Awl collection

My shoe­mak­ing and leather­work awls. They live in a can of beeswax to pro­tect the points.

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.

Dick Anderson awl

A No.2 inseam­ing awl by Dick Ander­son of Thor­napple River Boots. One of my favour­ite shoe­mak­ing tools.

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.

boxwood awl haft

My favour­ite awl. There’s noth­ing quite like box­wood for awl hafts and the shape is beau­ti­ful.

A previous owner has filed a flat into the haft of the awl to stop it rolling on the bench.

A pre­vi­ous own­er has filed a flat into the haft of the awl to stop it rolling on the bench.


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.

This haft bears the scars of years of being used to push needles through leather

This haft bears the scars of years of being used to push needles through leath­er

Another haft bought from the same person as the more square grooved haft shows that using the awl to push needles was a habit, not just something he did with one particular awl.

Anoth­er haft bought from the same per­son as the more square grooved haft shows that using the awl to push needles was a habit, not just some­thing he did with one par­tic­u­lar awl.

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.

A diamond awl blade in a generic tool handle. I made my first four pairs with this awl.

A dia­mond awl blade in a gen­er­ic tool handle. I made my first four pairs with this awl.

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.

Awl made from a ground down masonry nail and a file handle

Awl made from a ground down masonry nail and a file handle

None of these awls are medi­ev­al, I’ll post about medi­ev­al awl haft shapes later.

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