how to use a sewing awl

How To Use a Sewing Awl

Punching holes through thick materials like leather, canvas, or plastic can be a hassle without the right tool. A sewing awl makes this task easy and precise. Here’s how to use one effectively:

  • Secure your material firmly on a stable surface.
  • Grip the awl handle and position the tip perpendicular.
  • Apply even pressure in one smooth, twisting motion.
  • Use a mallet for extra force on very thick materials.
  • Keep the awl clean and lightly oiled for best results.

Ready to take your leatherworking, sewing, or crafting projects to the next level? Let’s explore sewing awls in more detail!

Understanding the Sewing Awl

A sewing awl is a simple yet indispensable tool for punching clean holes through heavy-duty materials like leather, canvas, vinyl, and more. It consists of a sharp, elongated point and a handled grip.

The awl’s design allows you to apply significant force in a controlled manner, creating perfect holes for stitching, grommets, rivets or lacing applications. This makes it ideal for leatherworking, sail-making, upholstery work and other heavy fabric or material projects.

Types of Awls

While all awls serve the same basic function, there are a few different varieties:

  • Round Shaft Awls – The classic, all-purpose choice for general sewing and punching.
  • Oval Shaft Awls – The oval shape prevents excessive material rotation while punching.
  • Diamond Point Awls – With an extra-sharp, bevel-cut tip, these awls are suited for very thick, dense materials.

Most awls are crafted from durable stainless steel with wooden or plastic handles for a secure, comfortable grip.

When to Use a Sewing Awl

When to Use a Sewing Awl
Photo credit: pexels

An awl is an ideal tool to punch precise holes through heavy, unforgiving materials that would quickly dull a standard needle. Some typical applications include:

  • Leatherworking projects like belts, wallets, bags, and sheaths.
  • Creating or repairing canvas items like tents, tarps, and sails.
  • Punching holes for grommets, rivets, or heavy stitching.
  • Lacing with paracord, leather thongs, shoelaces, etc.
  • Heavy fabric or upholstery projects.

Techniques for Using a Sewing Awl

While simple in construction, there are some tips and techniques to use a sewing awl safely and effectively:

Proper Grip and Body Position

  • Grasp the awl handle firmly, using your whole hand.
  • Position the material securely on a hard, scratch-resistant surface like wood or marble.
  • Use a rubber mallet to strike the awl’s hand end for extra force.
  • Keep your body positioned directly over the awl point for optimal control.

Creating Clean Holes

  • Apply steady, even pressure in one smooth stroke
  • Twist the awl slightly as you push to prevent binding
  • Use an awl lubricant or beeswax to help it glide through waxed materials
  • Always punch from the front to the back for a clean exit hole

Awl Maintenance and Care

  • Wipe down the awl frequently with a clean cloth.
  • Use an awl cleaning brush to remove built-up wax or debris.
  • A thin layer of mineral oil or beeswax is recommended to prevent rusting.
  • Store in a protective sheath or roll when not in use.

Advanced Stitching with an Awl

One of the handiest uses for a sewing awl is to create beautiful, durable stitching on leather, canvas, and other heavy materials. Here are some pro tips:

Preparing to Stitch

  • Use waxed polyester, linen, or nylon thread made for sewing awls.
  • A curved needle or self-threading needles work best.
  • Mark your stitch line using a groover, creaser, or wing divider tool.
  • Make evenly-spaced awl holes slightly larger than your thread.

Popular Stitch Types

  • Saddle Stitch – One of the strongest, using two needles.
  • Lock Stitch – Each stitch loops through the previous one.
  • Back Stitch – Each stitch overlaps the previous one for extra strength.

Finishing Touches

  • Keep stitches nice and tight but not overly taut.
  • Bury loose thread ends into the stitching channels.
  • Apply beeswax or edge dressing to protect exposed threads.


How is an awl different than a regular needle?

An awl features a thick, sturdy shaft and an elongated diamond point designed to punch through very dense, inflexible materials that would quickly dull a thin needle.

Can I use a sewing awl on delicate fabrics?

No, sewing awls are meant for heavy-duty materials only. The sharp point and significant force required could easily tear delicate textiles.

Do I need a special thread for hand sewing with an awl?

Yes, it’s best to use waxed polyester, linen, or nylon thread designed for awl work. This helps the thread glide easily and resist abrasion.

Do different awls work better on certain materials?

Round shaft awls are generally the most versatile, oval shafts prevent rotation on leather, and diamond points excel at punching very thick, rigid materials.


Are you ready to use your new sewing awl skills? What leather, canvas, or upholstery projects are you looking to tackle?


Main image: pexels

Priti Nandy
Priti Nandy
Articles: 249

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