Awls are such helpful leather working tools. Picking out the best one for your projects can be really easy, I’ll tell you “awl” about it 🙂 Some recommendations include paid links to products that I trust.
I really like the Kyoshin Elle awls, made in Japan. I also generally prefer having individual awls instead of a single haft with multiple blades. Recommended is having one diamond awl (click here to view on RMLeather), and one round awl for scratching and marking (click here to see it on RMLeather). On that page there is a dropdown option to select the round awl, even though it has the “diamond” awl heading.
Kyoshin Elle makes quality product at fair prices, and they often outperform most entry level tools. These are solid awls.
A few basic awls are all that most leather workers need. Sharpness of the edges, like with any bladed tool, is always key. Though as your skills and projects evolved, there are some speciality ones that can also be helpful. Let’s check out when they might come in handy.
Overview of Awls
Awls are tool with a sharp metal point used for marking or piercing leather. They can be used to impress a small mark such as where belt holes will go, or even dragged across leather to leave a mark such as when tracing pattern templates.
Some come fixed with a single point, others allow points to be interchanged. Points include rounded and diamond shaped, where the diamond shape cuts the leather in such a way that it is easier to stitch through, and also leaves a hole in the leather that can sit more flat once punched.
Awls are a relatively versatile tool for the leatherworker, it’s common to have more than one over time. So here they are, in alphabetical order.
A leather awl haft is essentially a handle that can fit interchangeable awl blades. This allows you to have a single handle and multiple blades, instead of many separate awls taking up space on your workspace.
For an awl haft, it’s important that the handle is sturdy, and fits comfortably in your hand. The size should feel good. the top of the haft (where it might be struck with a hammer or maul), should have some sort of abrasion protection such as a metal or leather end. This will keep the wooden part of the handle from being damaged when used for a task that requires hitting it with a maul.
Hafts are a handy way to widen your leather working tool set in an efficient way. A haft doesn’t need to be expensive, it just needs to feel really comfortable. The blades are key for a great result, so make sure if you choose a haft/blade combo, that the blades are high quality.
Since usually one haft will be used and blades added over time, it can make sense to get a quality one. Barry King awl hafts are made from exotic cocobolo wood, and hardware that’s brass and steel. It can also handle awl blades of many sizes. Click here to view it on RMLeather. When looking for awl blades, the Barry King ones are also exception in finish and sharpness (click here to see them on RMLeather).
These are usually used by saddle makers. Collar awls feature a long tang (about 8″-10″) with sharp cutting edges on the end. They pierce leather, creating a slit that will allow you to either push or pull thicker lacing through. Since these are generally used for larger holes through ticker leather, the longer design of them helps provide the leverage needed to make the work easier.
This Osbourne collar awl has polished edges and a 6” blade (click here to view it on ZackWhite).
Curved awls are very helpful for creating holes for stitching rounded or curved leather pieces together (as opposed to those that are flat). When joining two pieces that will be over a curved surface, the curved awls create an opening that will more naturally reflect the curve of the final stitch, allowing for tighter stitching and more overall control.
These awls also work well when you don’t want to fully penetrate the leather. You can use adjust the pressure applied by hand and go only as deeply into the leather as needed. The curve allows for more agile precision with this task.
The Vergez Blanchard Diamond Curved Awl is a reasonably-priced, fixed blade option (click here to see it on RMLeather).
Diamond Tip Awl
When looking for a tool that can make a hole in leather without leaving a large opening, try a diamond tip awl. They are awls with a diamond-shaped (think 4 corners coming to a point) blade and a very sharp point.
The sharp point allows it to cut into the leather, while the diamond tip pushed through. The result is a tiny “x” cut in the leather. Due to the material flexibility of the “x” cut, when thread passes through along with the additional space needed for the needle, it forms a tight seam. This is better than just a hole punched into the leather, as holes created like that would often be larger than the thread used and leave a loose-fitting seam once complete.
Diamond tip awls come in various sizes so the crafter can choose what size hole is most appropriate for the project. This is definitely a recommended leather working tool.
A very nice, fairly-priced, versatile awl I’d suggest is the Kyoshin Elle (click here to view on RMLeather).
This type of awl is used for pulling leather lacing through holes. The tip usually has a small hooked end, or an eye (like on a needle). The lacing awl is pushed through the material, lacing hooked onto/through the end, and it’s pulled back through the material (with the lacing with it). This is repeated for each hole the lacing will be pulled through.
This Weaver 10” lacing awl has a riveted tang and wooden handle (click here to see it on Weaver Leather).
Needle Awl/Stitching Awl
A needle awl is an awl with a pointed needle end and an eye on it. This allows threads to be passed through the needle and pushed through leather material when stitching two or more pieces together.
This CS Osborne stitching awl comes with two points and a wooden handle (click here to see it on amazon).
Saddler’s Harness Awl
These awls usually come in an elongated diamond shape. Primarily used by saddle makers, they help make holes in thicker leathers for stitching and sewing. Often available in different sizes, they can be either single awls, or awl bladed that can be fit into a universal awl haft.
This CS Osborne saddler’s harness awl is a solid one (click here to view it at WeaverLeather).
Scratch awls are pretty universal leather working tools. They have a sharp, rounded point and are used for piercing holes in leather. Coming in a range of sizes, they can be used on thinner leathers or thicker leathers. the holes made can be used for stitching, or most other uses for pierced holes.
These awls can also be used for scratching, or marking, leather. Sometimes when cutting leather or planning where holes will go, it’s helpful to leave a mark. Where a pen or pencil might not be the best choice, the scratch awl can be used to leave point marks (for example where a hole might go), or lines (where a cut line might be). Just apply less pressure to the awl by hand and push or drag it across the leather.
Scratch awls are universally helpful leather craft tools. I’d suggest the Koyshin Elle round awl for scratching and marking (click here to see it on RMLeather). On that page there is a dropdown option to select the round awl, even though it has the “diamond” awl heading. They’re sharp, quality tools that perform well and are comparatively not overly expensive.
For a more modern looking alternative, Barry King makes a steel “Stylus” model awl (click here to see it on his website). Alternatively, on the same page, he has some really nice “Marking Awl”s in different sizes that would serve as great scratch awls.
A sharp and comfortable awl can make detailed leather work easy and enjoyable. Hopefully you find one that works great for your preference and working style.