Here is a simple and enjoyable venture appropriate for starting turners in addition to anybody who wants an axe. Awls make a nice reward for anybody with a toolbox! Why are they helpful? Woodworkers use scratch awls for scribing traces and making beginning holes for screws or drill bits. Leather employees use awls for punching holes in leather-based for stitching.

Pinning template to bowl blank with awl
An axe has many makes use of, corresponding to holding sawing templates in place on bowl blanks. Be certain it’s pushed deeply sufficient to not come unfastened.

As a woodturner, I exploit an axe to mark the middle of a spindle-turning clean, and I exploit a small devoted axe to carry my bowl templates in place as a substitute of a nail or screw. And, with a longer shaft and a longer, straight deal with, you may have an ice choose as a substitute.


Two examples of birdcage awls

See what matches your hand finest for the axe’s meant use. If you might be a comparatively new turner, I might counsel utilizing some department or scrap wooden and experiment with the deal with design by apply-turning some shapes. This will cut back your anxiousness when turning that costly unique or particular scrap of spalted or figured wooden you propose to make use of for the deal with. I want a giant spherical deal with that matches within the palm of my hand for a normal-function axe. I are likely to make mine about 5-1/4″ (13cm) lengthy general, with the deal with about 2″ (5cm) in diameter and a pair of-half of″ (6cm) lengthy and the metallic shaft about 23/4″ (7cm) lengthy. Scratch awls and ice picks are typically a bit longer than a normal-function axe, possibly 7″ (18cm) with a smaller diameter deal with.

Project Wood

Almost any dry hardwood clean roughly 2″ sq. and 4″ (10cm) lengthy will do, relying in your design desire. I’ve used cedar elm, cherry and maple laminated collectively, Osage orange, dogwood, mesquite, and pear, in addition to a number of exotics corresponding to bocote, zapote, zebrawood, Yucatan rosewood, jatoba, and lots of extra. Figured wooden and wooden with outstanding grain look good, however plainer woods like maple, dogwood, and pear lend themselves to embellishing with burn rings and texturing.

The Shaft

You ought to use a piece of excessive-carbon metal for the axe shaft, as it’s robust and exhausting; don’t use an strange nail. If you propose to make just one axe, you would use an previous drill bit by burying the fluted finish into the deal with, however it might have to be longer than an strange bit. However, making these is addictive, so I like to recommend shopping for some rods of music wire, also referred to as piano wire or spring metal. Music wire is manufactured from excessive-carbon metal that’s pulled by means of a die at room temperature to kind a skinny wire, then warmth-tempered. The finish product is a wire that may endure excessive quantities of pressure and stress repeatedly with out shedding its power or elasticity.

Music wire, usually used for touchdown gear on radio-managed mannequin tairplanes, is offered from passion outlets, some {hardware} shops, and on the Internet (at websites like Amazon or eBay). I purchase Okay&S Music Wire 5/32″ (4mm) diameter by 36″ (91cm) lengthy. It sometimes is available in a pack of seven rods for about $18, together with delivery. If you like a sturdier shaft, you may get 3/16″- (5mm-) diameter rod, additionally in 36″ lengths.

Using a small rotary cutter to trim music wire
Cutting music wire is finest completed with a rotary software with a cutoff wheel whereas holding the rod in a vise.

For a normal-function axe, I reduce the shaft about 4″ lengthy. I place the wire in a vise and reduce it utilizing a rotary software with a cutoff wheel, however you would additionally reduce it with an angle grinder with a metallic reducing wheel or a jigsaw with a metallic reducing blade. Cutting music wire with a hacksaw is a problem—the wire’s hardness tends to trigger the blade to skate over the floor. You ought to have the ability to get at the very least eight shafts from one 36″ rod. So for about 32 cents per shaft, music wire could be very value-efficient. The low-carbon, chilly-rolled metal you would possibly discover on the bigger dwelling-provide shops is simply too gentle to make use of for an edged software.


Brass plumbing fittings for awl
Options for making ferrules embrace copper pipe, brass shell casings, and brass plumbing fittings.

You could make your ferrule from a vast number of supplies, corresponding to a piece of copper pipe, a brass shell casing, or a brass plumbing becoming like a 3/16″ (4.8mm) flare or compression nut. I’ve additionally used the interior ball-bearing race from a worn-out bearing from my bandsaw.

Bandsaw bearing used as an awl ferrule
Even an interior bearing ring can be utilized as a ferrule. This one got here off a bandsaw.

If your brass becoming has exterior threads or flats you need to cut back or eradicate, you may simply file these off by hand with the work held on the lathe. Alternatively, you should utilize a sharp HSS scraper or parting software to form the brass.

Removing piping threads with a parting tool
You can use a parting software as a scraper to take away threads or flats from brass plumbing fixtures.

Safety Note: Keep the lathe pace about 600 to 700 rpm and take mild cuts. After finalshaping, progressively sand the ferrule as much as 600 grit to take away the scratches. Be cautious to not switch the darkish metallic oxides from the sandpaper onto the wooden.

Turn the Handle

Marking center of awl handle blank
Mark the middle of the clean, then mount it between facilities.

The turning instruments you will want for this venture are a small spindle gouge, a spindle-roughing gouge, a parting software, and maybe a skew or level software to chop V-grooves. Use a ruler to attract traces diagonally from nook to nook to establish the middle. Use an axe to mark the middle on every finish the place the traces cross. (If you don’t but have an axe, a nail set and even a nail will do to punch a middle gap.)

Cutting tenon in awl with parting tool
Rough the clean to spherical, then use a parting software to make a tenon for remounting in a chuck.

Mount the clean between the drive and dwell middle. Use your spindle-roughing gouge or skew to show the deal with clean spherical. Use a parting software to show a tenon on one finish to suit your scroll chuck.

Cutting ferrule tenon in awl handle
With the clean now mounted in a chuck, use a parting software to form the tenon for the ferrule.

Reverse-mount the clean within the chuck utilizing the tenon you simply reduce. Now reduce a new tenon on the tailstock finish together with your parting software, this time as a floor to simply accept the ferrule. Use the ferrule you’re going to use as a information for marking the size. Add an additional 1/16″ (1.6mm) so the tenon will simply sit pleased with the ferrule even after any sanding. A ferrule prevents the deal with from splitting and offers a easy transition from the shaft to the deal with. Put a slight chamfer on the top of the tenon to make it simpler to slip on the ferrule and for a refined remaining look.

Fit the ferrule to the deal with tenon. “Sneak up” on sizing the tenon so you should have a cosy match. When you obtain a good match, use epoxy to connect on the ferrule. I often go away the clean mounted within the chuck and easily unscrew the chuck from the lathe for this operation. This will make sure the clean will run true once you put the chuck again on the lathe. After the glue has cured, you may end shaping the deal with. Moreover, you may form and polish the ferrule as needed.

Cutting space for awl handle shaft
Drill the opening for the metallic shaft.

Next, put a drill bit 1/64″ (0.4mm) bigger than the wire shaft dimension in a drill chuck. (Tip: To middle the drill bit within the chuck, insert and tighten it off the lathe.) Now mount the drill chuck within the tailstock and with the lathe turning at about 1000 to 1500 rpm, drill the opening 1-1/4″ (3cm) deep. Clear the chips usually and preserve your left hand on the drill chuck when retracting. This will guarantee you may shut off the lathe in time to forestall harm should you discover the drill chuck being pulled out of the tailstock. You will glue within the wire shaft later, after finishing the deal with and eradicating it from the lathe.

Shape the deal with as you see match with a spindle gouge. Remember, on a spindle venture, reducing “downhill” from giant diameter to smaller diameter yields the cleanest reduce. Carefully form the deal with to the sting of the ferrule so there might be a easy transition. A bead right here is a pretty characteristic. It additionally helps with reverse-chucking, as we’ll see shortly. Finish sanding by means of the completely different grits as much as about 320 for home woods. You could need to go as much as 600 grit for exotics that don’t take a end however will polish properly. When sanding, don’t press too exhausting or flip too quick, or you may overheat the wooden and get warmth checks, particularly with dense-grain exotics.

Insert installed and burn rings made on awl handle
The deal with after remaining shaping, with ornamental burn rings added and the ferrule polished earlier than parting off the lathe.

If you want, you may embellish the deal with with beads, V-grooves, burn rings, or texturing. Sand the ferrule as much as 600 grit to shine it, as properly. Do not reuse the sandpaper after sanding the ferrule or the black oxides from the metallic can stain your wooden. Now half off the deal with, or half down a lot of the manner and make the final reduce with a nice-toothed noticed with the lathe off. I wrap a piece of tape across the ferrule and reverse-chuck the deal with by clamping it on the within of my chuck jaws with a bead snugly pressed up towards the within of the jaw faces.

Installing ferrule end of awl on the lathe
Reverse-chuck the deal with for ending its backside. The bead on the prime of the ferrule acts as a bearing floor towards the entrance face of the chuck jaws.

With this chucking technique, a bead or another shoulder characteristic is required to get a robust sufficient maintain on the clean. This permits me to simply end-sand the butt of the deal with and add an non-obligatory textured characteristic with a texturing software like a knurling software, Sorby micro-spiraling software, and even a chatter software.

Adding decoration to the base of birdcage awl
A knurling software is a method so as to add a contact of embellishment. Note that this axe deal with is held in a collet chuck, which is a good various to a 4-jaw scroll chuck.

Use a knurling or spiraling software at a pace no greater than 400 rpm. Start texturing about 3/32″ (2.4mm) to the left of middle. Notice that I used to be ready to make use of a collet chuck instead, safe holding technique. A knurling software with 16 tpi works higher in very exhausting woods than 12 tpi. A non-woven abrasive pad like a inexperienced Scotch Brite pad is a nice solution to clear off any frizzies left by the texturing software.

Different options for decorations on birdcage awl handles
Quite a lot of textured handles, framed with V-grooves or beads and embellished with metallic wax.

I like to border the textured space with a small bead or V-groove reduce with a level software or the tip of a skew on its aspect. It is a good concept to apply your texturing method on an endgrain scrap earlier than utilizing it on a venture. Adding a little bit of metallic wax to the texturing as a remaining contact actually makes it pop.

Birdcage Awl Grind

Sharpened edge of birdcage awl tip
Close-up of a birdcage axe exhibits the microbevel pyramid tip and the clear, sharp edges. This axe grind is beneficial for shortly reducing a gap in wooden.

The time period birdcage axe refers back to the software’s unique use for boring numerous-sized holes within the building of birdcages, again when woodworkers generally made every type and sizes of birdcages for holding and transporting unique birds and poultry. The birdcage axe is able to producing a tapered, spherical gap in wooden by really shearing the wooden fibers with its reaming motion.

To make a birdcage axe, merely grind the purpose with a lengthy, sq. pyramid form from the purpose again 1″ to 1-1/4″. The 4 sharp sides all act as reducing edges once you twist the axe into wooden.

Make a Steel Shaft

Clamping metal shaft in birdcage awl handle
Clamp the shaft within the deal with whereas the glue is curing.

Cut the music wire for the shaft with a rotary software outfitted with a reduce-off wheel. The size is determined by your axe design. I want to chop mine 4″ lengthy, which permits me to bury the shaft in a 1-1/4″- deep gap, leaving a 2-3/4″-long uncovered shaft. To guarantee a good glue bond of the metallic to wooden, tough up the inch of metallic that might be glued by rotating it whereas drawing it shortly alongside the sting of your grinder. Mix the epoxy with the top of the wire shaft that can go into the opening, and push it in or faucet it in with a mallet. I exploit the 5-minute set epoxy, however virtually any selection will do. The glue will are likely to push out the shaft whereas curing, so I clamp it to forestall that from occurring.

Grinding the edge of birdcage awl on a sander
Shape the axe tip with a belt sander, creating 4 flat sides with bevels of equal size.

Let the glue remedy absolutely earlier than sharpening. I exploit a felt-tip pen to mark 1″ (25mm) to 1-1/4″ on the tip. I discover it best to make use of a belt sander for shaping the tapered level on the top of the shaft. I do that with out a jig by grinding opposing sides and frequently checking to make sure all sides is flat and of equal size. You also can form the tip on a grinding wheel, however should you do, I like to recommend utilizing a scrap of wooden with a gap in it to help the axe shaft on the grinding platform.

Sharpening tip of birdcage awl with a grinder
If utilizing a grinder to form the tip, a jig produced from scrap wooden helps to carry and information the shaft safely.

Unless you might be shaping a tip from a excessive-pace-metal (HSS) clean, watch out to not overheat the tip and spoil its mood. Grinding with a CBN (cubic boron nitride) wheel will generate much less warmth than an aluminum oxide wheel, and the excessive-carbon music wire is not going to harm a CBN wheel. Whether utilizing a belt sander or a grinder, use a mild contact and quench the metallic in water usually to forestall bluing.

Sharpening birdcage awl with a sharpening stone
Use a hone for nice-tuning the tip after tough-shaping.

Because of the fragility of the tip, I exploit a sharpening stone or diamond or CBN hone to nice-tune it by including a tiny micro-bevel on the very tip. Polish the shaft with sandpaper as much as 600 grit. I want to make use of a “birdcage awl” grind with a 4-sided taper. This grind is significantly better than the usual, spherical-tapered tip for creating starter screw holes.


Use the end of your alternative on the deal with. I sometimes use a couple of coats of Minwax Antique Oil, making use of it off the lathe and letting it dry twenty-4 hours between coats. An oil-and-beeswax end is a good possibility, too. For unique woods that don’t take a end very properly, corresponding to African blackwood or lignum vitae, you would possibly simply sand to finer grits to deliver up a shine. I at all times put a wine cork on the tip as a security measure if I’m giving one away or storing it in a toolbox.

Mike Peace is energetic in three woodturning chapters within the Atlanta space. He is a frequent demonstrator and recurrently uploads woodturning academic movies to his YouTube channel, Mike Peace Woodturning. Before retirement, Mike labored as a software program venture supervisor. After serving on energetic obligation within the U.S. Army, he continued service within the reserves, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

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