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Bird-Cage Awl

In the spirit of, “I got ta hab me one a doze….” I decided I wanted a bird-cage awl. Yes, I learned about this tool from Christopher Schwarz and like many of you woodworkers out there, I’m becoming quite a tool junkie. A simple yet eloquent tool it looked like something I would use on almost every project and the only problem was where to buy one. Arguably the gold standard might be this tool from Czeck Edge but at $55 I figured I’d try my hand at making one. What he heck, we like building things right? It would not be as beautiful but I was hoping for a tool that would be serviceable.

I started by laminating two pieces of scrap cypress 1×2 together to form a billet for the handle. Why cypress you ask? It was the most “precious” wood I had on hand. I don’t have a lathe so the handle was carved using a spokeshave, utility knife and the occasional file. I also used the band saw to form the basic shape. I used the 4″ scratch awl as a general guideline for shape. Note: if you want to save yourself this trouble Grizzly Tools sells a 4″ rosewood tool handle for $2.95 and a 5 5/8″ rosewood handle for $3.95.

For the blade I was looking for something inexpensive yet basically ready to go. I actually looked in the store for something that would fit the bill but came home empty-handed. I was thinking I could buy a screwdriver with a square shaft and just chop off the end. I decided to use what I already had on hand an 8″ square file that cost me $1.99 (Sorry Bill, I know you hate cheap Chinese junk). This approach offered a 1/4″ square blade that was surprisingly hard, so hard in fact I couldn’t cut it with my jig saw nor my hack saw. Finally I ended up using a Dremel with a cut-off wheel and was able to severe the steel. Continuing in the “Git-r-Done” spirit I took the tool over to the bench grinder and with a cup of water handy, I ground the tip to a pyramid. I have know idea what angle I ended up with. My first bevel I felt was too steep so I shallowed the angle a bit and kept grinding until it felt right. The pseudo-ferrule is non-functional and fortunately the blade is quite secure without need of it. If I find a copper pipe cap I might try modifying that, assuming I can find a size that fits. So this is my new tool.

Turtlecove Bird Cage Awl Turtlecove Bird Cage Awl

I flood on a couple of coats of teak oil to the handle and called it finished. It didn’t really come out as a work of art but I think I’ll get a lot of service from this tool. I tried my best to keep from bluing the tip but it is very easy to do with hard steel and a conventional (high-speed) bench grinder. The reality is that this is tip doesn’t need to hold a fine edge as say a chisel would and this tip is really sharp and much harder than any would it will encounter!

Step Stool Repair

Shopping at home I found lots of odds and ends including a very small step stool that was used by our kids to stand at the bathroom sink. It had been outside on the porch for many years and was a bit worse for the wear but I rescued it and brought it inside where someone immediately used it and snapped the middle stringer. It really wasn’t anyone’s fault, the wood was weak and it broke along a knot line. If this stool didn’t have sentimental value, I wouldn’t have bothered but it didn’t take much work and it gave me something to do. Using cypress, I cut a piece to approximate length then ripped it to width on the table saw. I used a spoke shave to soften the exposed edges and then attempted to use some masonry nails to attach it. I pre-drilled and hammered away and….. spit the stringer.  So I got the opportunity to repeat the process, hey it’s good practice right? This time I wisely used 6 d bright finish nails without incident. I attempted to use the wide nails because I thought it would better match the staples originally used when this thing was built.

Step Stool Repaired Stringer

I noticed the dowel stretcher had also pulled loose on one side so I pinned it with a 1/4″ dowel from underneath.


Finally I spent a fair amount of time with scrapers and sand paper to remove most of the grey mold covering the stool and finished it with (you guessed it) a generous dousing of teak oil finish. I was tempted to just build a new stool using this as a template but I didn’t like the design, so when I do build a bench it won’t be of this design. This simple repair will suffice for now.

But wait there’s more…

Once a fella gets going in his shop, he just don’t want to stop. Bolstered by a couple of successful projects I boldly reentered the world of the Thien baffle build. Not the small baffle mind you but the LARGE baffle. I’m hung up because I don’t have a clear design in mind. Fact that everything needs to be vacuum tight is also intimidating. Looking around I see all these massive 4″ DC fittings and hoses cluttering up my shop along with my router and circle cutting fence. I’m going to give it a go (and no, I still don’t have a clear build design but I’m moving forward anyway). First to cut a plywood disk to the diameter of the inside edge of the 30 gal trash can. Lots of measuring ensued with several adjustments of the large compass and many trips back to the can for reassurance. I need a 20″ diameter disk to get me close. I draw it out with the compass and then take it over to free hand cut on the band saw. Next I have to “jig up” a tool that I have never used and I got to tell you, routers scare me. Here is what I came up with.

Circle Trimming with the Router

Spacers made from 3/4″ MDF under both pieces of ply support both the circle and the plywood off cut. As you can see the off cut is secured to the bench and provides support for the router. In this setup, the router is held stationary and the disk is slowly rotated and trimmed using a flush cut bit. Crude but I was happy it worked as well as it did. Unfortunately the disk was just a tad (1/4″) too wide to fit in the can. Using calipers I measured how much needed to be removed then I transferred this to the disk and halved it (because the jig is a radius and the measure was diameter). Once again I trimmed the edge, taking my time.

It Fits

This time I got lucky, it fits! Now I need to figure out if I want to cut another larger piece of ply for the outer lid or whether I want to modify the metal lid ala Stumpy Nubs.  I really think it would be easier to make another larger disk and laminate them together than to cut holes and form metal although I like the idea of the potentially better seal with the metal lid. I’m afraid what is gained by sealing around the rim might be lost in leaks bonding the wood to metal.  Oh well, if it all fails at least I’ll still have a great metal garbage can for the shop!

You have been reading an excerpt from the shop journal of the Turtlecovebrewer.

  1. October 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Funny story, I recently disposed of every Chinese made hand tool I owned, which fortunately wasn’t many. They were mainly some old wrenches and sockets I had from my former job. When I say disposed of I mean that I dropped them at a goodwill store. I’m still not completely “China-free”. I have a Ryobi surface planer which my dad got me for Christmas a few years ago that I will hold on to.

    As far as your awl, I use one from Klein Tools, when I use an awl that is. Your tool looks much more like a woodworking tool than the Klein. I really like your handle, and the fact that you shaped it. I keep saying that I’m going to drive to Woodcraft and pick up some ironwood or cherry to make some handles and I never get around to it. Like you, my stock of “precious” wood is low, and at the moment consists of a fair amount of roughsawn 5/4 Walnut that I’ve been saving for….something.

    How do you like your router circle cutting jig? I’ve never used one. It seems like a handy tool, but I don’t use a router all that often. And before I forget, don’t listen to my ramblings too seriously, I may be on a crusade to rid myself of Chinese made objects, but I would never ask somebody else to rid themselves of theirs. Chinese made stuff is serviceable enough, but I have an ulterior motive…

  2. October 28, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    The Klein awl looks pretty heavy duty and very serviceable. A few of my toys are respectable woodworking tools and the rest are ….well….. let’s say the best that I can afford for now.

    The circle trimming was basically the only way I could think of to easily set the beast up and route safely. The Bosch circle jig is actually pretty nice although I hated paying $50 for it. It is also an edge guide with a micro-adjuster and vacuum attachment (Bosch RA1054). Routers scare me so I’m getting familiar with them at a slow pace. The other issue is that bits are expensive and I don’t very many so again, I make do.

    Love following your work, good look on your newest project!


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