Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fingers in the Till - Bradawl

Is this tool really worth talking about?
Last fall, I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to build Welsh stick chairs in Denmark with my good friend Jonas from Mulesaw.

We met at a woodworking course at Dictum in which we built the Anarchist Tool Chest with Christopher Schwarz as the instructor.  It was cool.

Jonas brought his dad along, who entertained everyone the whole week long.  What a neat experience, and what a cool couple of woodworkers to know.

A moment of rest while building chairs.  We are consuming Jens' favorite beverage:  uhhh... Orange juice!  Yeah.  That's it!

When I was at Jonas', Jens, his dad, came with a box full of tools he brought along from his auction hunting in Sweden.  Needless to say, I bought a bunch from him.  I call that pile of tools, the Swedish Hoarde.  Incidentally, he told me an awesome story about the Milkman's Workbench.  If you remember, the Schwarz bought the original from him and then wrote about it in Popular Woodworking.  Jens told a story about it that was absolutely hilarious, and said that Christopher Schwarz didn't even know this story.  I'm sorry, but he asked me not ever to tell.  You'll have to wait until you see me, and get a coupla beers down my neck.

Back to work.
The Swedish Hoarde in it's entirety.

In this hoarde was this tool:
This is a bradawl.  Note the double bevel tip.  Don't confuse this tool with a screwdriver for your eyeglasses!
If you watch Roy Underhill, then you probably know how this tool should be used.

Basically, never as a screwdriver.  This tool drills holes.

The way you do it is to put the blade of the tool across the grain, push down and twist back and forth.  Or, forth and back if you are Danish.
Place the blade crossways to the grain,

push down,

This sinks a hole rather quickly. 
Here are a few holes I did in spruce this way.
This is a light duty tool, so in this case it went through soft 3/4" spruce easy as could be.  I have used it in hardwoods before, but it works best there with holes no deeper than about 3/8", depending on your specific tool.

My Swedish bradawl has a nicely shaped wooden handle, of something that reminds me of boxwood, but probably is hornbeam (Carpinus betulus).  If you buy one, focus first on a comfortable handle, and then that the tool is firmly seated in the handle.  Mine is a little wobbly, but is secure in that when I turn it, the tool does not spin in the handle.

You'll love this tool, and if you are like me, you will find yourself using it all the time when you never knew you needed one before.


  1. About 6 months ago I got a LV chisel point birdcage awl and have likewise been impressed. What I like about it is all those spots where I really know I should drill a pilot hole, but am tempted to risk going without it. An awl seems to eliminate that, because it's so fast and handy.

    1. One wouldn't think chucking a drill bit in a hand drill would take all that long, but just grabbing the bradawl and going to work seems so much easier.

  2. We need to make another "something" building extravaganza again.
    It was a great time.


    1. Indeed. Perhaps it would be easier to just meet up in your shop and talk about tools for a few days. That woud be fun, without the stress of trying to finish something!

    2. That could also be an idea.
      We could take some field trips to see Olav's house and tools, and there is a rather famous octagonal meeting house in the neighboring town that has got some impressive timber framing.
      But it might feel too much like a holiday that way..
      My sister in law works at "Den gamle by " (The old town ) in Aarhus . She might be able to get us an appointment with one of the joiners or carpenters there so we could get a grand tour.
      We could also make a smaller project, according to your blog - a Rorkhee chair is doable in that sort of time.
      Or we could refurbish some old tools, make nice new handles etc.
      Eat some barbecue and have something to drink.

    3. You have a sister who works at an open air museum? The more I learn about your family, the more I like it!

      I think we should probably make a tradition of booking 12 days worth of work into a three day weekend.

    4. Well she is my sister in law.
      So technically she isn't my real sister.
      I think she works in the propaganda division of the museum.