Scratch awls are useful tools for starting screws, marking the location of holes to be drilled, scribing guide lines for cutting tasks, and other such kinds of things.
They’re often small and somewhat screwdriver-shaped.
Shown here is Irwin’s “demolition” scratch awl, with a beefy multi-zoned handle. There’s a smooth section – a stabilizer zone – a heavily textured “high torque” zone, and a lightly textured “low torque” zone towards the end of the handle. At the very end is a metal striking cap.
Irwin says that the solid steel core and strike cap is suited for heavy impact in demolition work.
First things first, I really like Irwin’s newish screwdriver handle design. I bought a set of their screwdrivers from Lowes 2 or 3 years ago, and they feel great in-hand. That was just around when Stanley Black & Decker first acquired the company, and I’m happy to see that they’ve kept this design unchanged.
Now that I’ve said that, let’s talk about how this is a demolition scratch awl. Doesn’t that seem contradictory? A scratch awl is usually for precise layout work.
Judging from this product photo, the “demolition scratch awl” description is fully accurate. Yes, Irwin is saying that this scratch awl is suited for demo work.
This seems a little odd to me, but who am I to argue? It seems like it might be useful for demo work, with the only disclaimer being that I don’t think it’d be useful for demo work AND layout work. It won’t take much for the tip to roll over a little bit, or blunt down a little, limiting its use as a traditional scratch awl.
Then again, my Dasco Pro scratch awl ($6 via Amazon) always seemed to be “too much tool” for simple hole-starting applications.
Buy Now(via Amazon)
Would you use this for hole-starting tasks, as a heavy duty demo tool, a little of both? Or none of the above?
Hmm, Klein Tools makes a demo scratch awl too, and it’s a little higher priced even (via Amazon).
I don’t do demo work, but for screw-starting tasks, there is a vast selection of awls available for around $5. I’ve also known some folks to make their own improvised awls out of large framing nails.
If you need an awl to pound on (as in demolition work) – the Dasco that you link to or the more expensive all-steel Klein would seem to be stronger:
I use CS Osborne scratch awls for marking lines on sheet metal, and for marking/ starting holes in leather etc. Ther can be handy when working on gutters and downspouts too. The only thing I “demo” with such a tool is a block of ice – and when what I want is an ice-pick – on the boat etc .- I use this one:
Traditionally machinists use a centering punch and a prick punch which is basically the heavier duty version of the same thing. The prick punch is used for scribing deep lines. The centering punch leaves a deep dimple to hold a drill bit so that it doesn’t wander. Sometimes they are used in tandem. If I mark lines and center punch it then realize I missed, I can take the prick punch and drag a line over to where I meant to drill and then repunch it with the centering punch.
As you said, scratch awls aren’t the best tools to use. They are thin and easily damaged as a centering punch and barely cut it as a prick punch. My guess is that a “demolition awl” is basically an attempt to make a single tool to do both jobs and probably fails spectacularly.
I’m no precision machinist – but was taught to use a center punch to mark a the spot to start a drill point and help prevent wandering. I often use a Starrett 818 automatic center punch.
They (other too) make different models.
I learned to use a prick punch for locating a hole, and then a center punch to prep for drilling.
It sometimes depends on what you are drilling (hardness etc.) and how precise the hole needs to be located and drilled.
Sometimes you might drill a pilot hole – a second hole and then ream to final size.
Sometimes a jig holding a drill guide bushing helps.
Picking the right drill bit to start a hole is sometimes a good idea – as in using spotting drills, center drills or machine screw length drill bits that may wander less than longer twist drills.
Sometimes you avoid the whole magilla and just drive a self drilling fastener close to where its needed.
Other than as some kind of styling and marketing tack I do not understand why you would want to take a tool traditionally used for precision work and make it so you can hit it with a hammer. In the days before power tools became everyday items the way to start screws particularly in hard woods was to use a bradawl not an awl and I still have a set somewhere (imperial as they predate metric) given to me by one of my uncle’s with the rider do not be a butcher of wood. I have been known to use them even now for hinges and like a lot of carpentry hand tools there is a good feeling just from using them (or is that just me).
Brad awls – looking more like small flat blade screwdrivers – were (as I recall) used in a twisting (rather than punching) motion to shear the wood fibers.
Here is a discussion on Stuart’s Community Forum:
The tools I was referring to have a screw tip and generally a T handle and match screw sizes. If I knew how to post photographs on here I would as I said these are old tools and I am not sure they are still available.
Apparently they are also called gimlets and can still be purchased at least as individual tools.
Lots of focus on woodwork here, but I could see the use for this to mark up masonry/brickwork for drilling. I’ve used a stout nail and hammer for similar tasks in the past and it gets tiresome pretty quickly.
Not quite ‘demo’ but I think you need to look beyond traditional woodwork/craft awls to see the application for this.
I have a hand tool called a Rawlplug tool designed to create a hole for a wall plug complete with different sized bits for different sizes of plugs it is surprisingly light and does not need a heavy hammer to drive it. It lives with gimlets, a hand drill (as in hand powered) , an original impact driver and a several planes in a rarely used box however they all possess the advantage they do not need electricity.
Why doesn’t Irwin make a number 3 philips screwdriver in the new style? At least i can’t find one if they do…….
Koko the Talking Ape
I am sure this is terrible technique, but I have used biggish masonry nails to start holes in softish metals. Masonry nails are harder and tougher than ordinary nails, but are still cheap as (wait for it) nails. If one is not quite sharp enough, a few scrapes with a file or on a concrete sidewalk will shape it. When it is too dull to work well, toss it aside.
They make great nail sets too.
That picture is misleading though. They are advertising the strength of the awl but in the picture, they are clearly using a Philips screwdriver. Irwin has the “plus” marking on the back of the tool to indicate what it is when removing from your tool bag. Not sure how Irwin missed that one.
Good catch! I completely missed that too.
I’m assuming that they had demo screwdriver product family photos, and used that one instead of photographing each tool in the same application.