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I Forge Iron

Sewing Awl for Leather Work

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Strictly speaking this project does not involve forging... though it could.  I think it might be useful for smiths who also make scabbards or other leather projects though.  I made this sewing awl to punch sewing holes for my needles on leather pieces where the throats of my punch pliers is not deep enough to reach.  It was about a 15 minute job repurposing an old straight blade screwdriver with my belt grinder and another 20 minutes or so to make the little scabbard for it.  I used a ceramic belt and was careful not to overheat the point... so that I could preserve the original temper of the tool.  

The four sided grind makes a sort of self healing hole that recloses pretty nicely around the thread.  You might need to adjust the taper for different leather weights.  Longer taper for thicker leather, of course.  This works well for most of my work.

You can see where I have used it in the detail of the attachment reinforcing grommet.

Manual screw driving is rarely used now, in comparison with the old days.  So, many nice screwdrivers are available at bargain prices in antique malls and flea markets.  I rarely pay over  $1.50 for one and get quite a few at around $.50!  They also make nice small chisels, which I use to make slits for my lacing.  






BTW I have found this tool to be superior to any that I've seen offered by the leatherwork suppliers that I am familiar with!  It is already a favorite!  

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1 hour ago, ThomasPowers said:

Now make one without the handle that you can chuck in your UNPLUGGED drill press and use the nice drillpress handle to punch with.

That is so refreshingly lazy or shal we say effort effective. A tip of my hat to you for a darned good suggestion Thomas.

Thanks. Frosty The Lucky.

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This tool is really SHARP!  It takes little effort to push it through the leather by hand.  If I can get a backer behind it I'll use a small plastic cutting board with sticky foam sheets built up to the right thickness to get just the right penetration.  If I can only get fingers back there I am careful to feel for the point and align it to pass between my fingers.  Best technique is to wiggle and twist it while pushing gently.  Where I can get the backer in position I can just shove it through.  The square corners cut as it penetrates.  It is way easier to push through than a round awl!  I can punch many more holes by hand than I could with a drill press because of far greater speed in alignment.  Even punching through three layers of leather plus a zipper tape is no problem at all.  So it really makes a tiny + shaped hole.  The holes reclose so quickly that I sometimes have to repunch them to find them on the back side.

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On a semi-related note, I've seen people take steel forks and grind the tines to make stitching chisels.  If you grind them to a square point, then rotate each tip 45 degrees, they punch diamonds like your awl, but all will be at the same spacing.

If you repeat the above exercise with several forks, you can cut off a tine or two from the others so you have one, two, three, four, and five stitch chisels so it's easier to maintain spacing going around curves.

Using one tine as a "follow" in a previously punched hole allows you to keep the next set of stitches perfectly spaced.

The steel forks are rarely high-carbon but I suppose it's possible to case harden them so they stay sharp longer.


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5 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

The drill press trick is an old armour making one where people might be sewing several layers of sole leather together.

I can see that.  I mostly use buckskins and light to mid weight leathers.  Even upholstery leather can be the devil to push a needle through... pre-punching is essential.  This awl slices right in though.  Each corner cuts like a knife blade.

i used to have some trouble keeping the stitches neatly spaced... now my brain is wired... I can often hit an invisible hole from the backside, just by knowing where it ought to be.  I mostly lace things together, but for zippers, I need glue and stitching.  Also some fine details like the leaf grommet are a bit small for lace attachments.

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