Awl | Bookbinding Tool 101

What is an Awl?

According to Wikipedia, an ‘Awl’ is a long, pointed spike.

Use of Awl in Bookbinding

In bookbinding, we use the awl to punch holes in our book signatures. This will ease the process of threading the book signatures.


What to look out for when selecting an Awl

There are many different types of Awl available in the market. Here are some from a quick Google Search:

Types of Awl

So how do you choose an Awl for your Bookbinding projects?

Here’s 3 things to look out for!

1.Type of Awl

There are many types of Awls in the market created with different material in mind. Some are more suitable for wood work (these are generally tougher and thicker), some are more suitable for leather craft, others are for general purposes.

For bookbinding projects, I tend to go for the general purpose Awls or paper Awls. These are usually cheaper and are sufficient for punching holes in book signatures.

paper awl

Example of a paper awl

2.Diameter of Awl

Depending on the thickness of the thread that you’d be using in your bookbinding project, you’d want to select an awl that will allow you to create a hole size that suits your thread.

When in doubt, I prefer to go for narrower Awl diameters that allows me the option to adjust the size of the final hole should I need to.

Using an Awl with too large a diameter can result in huge holds that may be unsightly.

Some product descriptions may not list the diameter of the awl. In such cases, look for awls with a gradual increase in diameter. This allows you to control the size of the holes you make.


3.Length of Handle

Look for something that is easy to grip. Using an awl with poor grip results results in aches in your hand after numerous rounds of hole punching.

I find the following awl handle great if you are making a book with loads of book signatures:


Click to purchase at Amazon

The Awl we use at our workshops (and for our own project)

Most people are not used to gripping an oddly shaped handle, we find that the straight handle is the best for new bookbinders. It allows them to start using the awl efficiently without having to figure out how to grip it. Experienced bookbinders may disagree.

Also, such awls are easier to store and transport for our workshops 😀

paper awl
Click To Purchase At Amazon


Alternative Tools to an Awl

The awl is used primarily to punch holes on our book signatures during a bookbinding project.

It only serves a single purpose. Hence, we often get the question, ‘is an awl really required?’.

The answer is no.

There are many alternatives to the awl, and you may already own some of them!

1. Compass Tool

compass tool

Image Source: Amazon

The compass tool is used to draw circles. Many of us would remember owning one of these from our secondary school days. The tips of the compass tool is usually sharp to hold the compass tool in place. The tips can be used to punch holes in your book signatures.

The only disadvantage is that the compass tool is very difficult to grip and may slow you down if you have to prepare a lot of book signatures.

2. Tweezers (with sharp tips)


Image Source: Amazon

Tweezers are another commonly found tool that can be used to punch holes in your book signatures. Make sure the ends of the tweezers you choose are sharp and fairly durable.

You can also find these at Daiso 🙂

3. Thumbtacks

Source: Amazon

Thumb tacks are an easy way to punch holes on your book signatures. Look for those with a flat head to spare your fingers from pain.

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