Making a simple awl

Using an old tent peg it is possible to quickly and easily fashion a simple awl useful in all sorts of craft projects.

The only tools you require for this ‘up-cycling’ of one tool into another is a pair of pliers (a multi tool works fine) and a good metal file. Out of these two the metal file is perhaps the less likely to be carried by the modern outdoorsman.  Not so long ago however a good quality metal file was essential for all manner of wilderness repairs of metal ware as well as keeping the all important axe edge shaped and sharpened correctly.

5Top to bottom: Removed top section of peg, metal file, wooden handle, multi tool, completed tent peg awl.

* It is recommended to wear welding style gauntlets to protect you from the fire and the heated bits of metal during this process. Have plenty of cold water on stand by to control the fire and for the treatment of accidental burns.

Often it was just the metal file blade with a long tang that was carried to save on weight and space, the handle could be fabricated on the trail easily enough.

As usual your most important ally will be fire during this process which will allow you to soften the tent peg for shaping before re-heating to give a good hard temper.

Tent pegs are already a fairly malleable metal as you will no doubt be aware after bending your fair share in the ground on camping trips! However its good to go through the process known by metal workers as annealing – rending the metal softer and more easily workable by tools like metal files, power tools etc.

Step 1

Build a good hot fire with plenty of glowing coals in the centre – it is recommended here to use good hard woods like Oak or Beech to achieve this.

Step 2

Plunge your tent pegs into the heart of the fire and wait until they are glowing red – by wafting the fire and increasing the oxygen in flow you can greatly speed this process. Ideally this step is done in the evening round the camp fire, the fire will the die down through the night gradually cooling leaving your pegs more effectively softened.

Step 3

The following morning remove the pegs from the fire and with a metal file shape the very tip of the peg into the desired edge you require. Note: diamond or square profiles with corner edges are great at acting like little drill bits for boring holes through bark, wood and bone. A smooth, conical edge coming to a sharp point is more suited to any hide work projects as it will not rip fibres as it forces through the skin. You can even achieve micro chisel profiles for very fine carving work.

2Filing at an angle to create awl profile.

3Diamond profile achieved by filing at an angle on four sides until a central point is established.

Step 4

With your tent peg tip shaped you can now trim the length of the peg down – you are looking for a few inches to extend beyond the handle plus a good 3 inches or so to plunge into the handle to act as the tang. Simply score all around the section of the peg where you want to break it using the corner edge of a metal file. With a couple of pairs of pliers holding above and below your scored line, bend the peg back and forth until it breaks cleanly at that point.

Step 5

Select some hard well seasoned wood for the handle and proceed to heat the tang of your awl repeatedly in the fire and with pliers force it into the end grain of your wooden handle. Do not worry about shaping your handle before this step as it can be done once the awl is set. Once you have burnt a depth of at least 3 inches wiggle the heated peg around in its handle socket to create just a little extra space for a strong epoxy glue such as araldite.

4Using heated tang to burn a socket into the handle.

Step 6

Re heat your peg one last time in the fire, concentrating on getting the sharpened point of the peg as hot as possible. Remove from the fire with pliers and submerge the end inch only into cold water. This part of the process is known as tempering and is a huge topic of skill and discussion which I leave for far more talented and knowledgeable individuals!

The aim in this project is to very simply and effectively make the cutting tip of your awl harder and less malleable than the remaining section of peg and tang. This means you will have a durable hard cutting tip but a none brittle tang which will tolerate some leverage and force without breaking. Allow the peg to cool completely before the next step.

Step 7

Mix a garden bean’s worth amount of epoxy and using the end of the cold tang force it into the burnt socket. Insert the tang and wipe any excess glue that is forced back out away with a damp cloth. Make sure your peg awl is aligned with the handle and centralised when viewed end on.

Step 6

Leave the resin glue to set for at least 24 hours before shaping your handle to fit your hand. Sand and oil the handle. A simple protector for the tip of your awl can be improvised the next time you enjoy a good bottle of red!  Have a go at transforming other common camp site leftovers into more useful craft tools…

6Completed awl on right, improvised crooked knife from tea spoon on left.

Adam Logan.