What is an Awl and 3 Best Multi Tools with an Awl Tool 2023

Last Updated July 12, 2023
Outdoorsman Toolkit is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

The basic tool loadout of most multi tools hasn’t changed much over the years. You’ve got pliers, a knife, a saw blade, scissors, screwdrivers, a can/bottle opener, and a file. One tool a lot of people don’t recognize right away is the awl. What is an awl, you ask? Most people probably just assumed it was a weirdly shaped little knife, if they thought about it at all.

Today we’ll explain what an awl is designed for, how you can use it, and cover some of the multi tools that have high quality awls built right in.

What is an Awl

Awls are tools that are used to punch holes in leather, wood, and other materials. They’ve been around since ancient times and often come with a small thread hole built right in. The purpose of an awl is to puncture a material in a way that doesn’t create a cut line. This gives you a useful hole you can now stitch, grommet, or use to hang an object from.

Leather workers especially are familiar with awls as they are generally used instead of a needle and thread. The awl allows them to make a row of stitching holes that they can then thread heavy leather cord or another strong material through.

Awls are made to puncture materials, and they do this job very well. If you’ve ever found yourself needing to add a hole to your belt you might have noticed a knife is a really poor substitute for a good metal punch. The tip of any knife is the weakest point on the blade and will often break off or chip when too much force is applied to it. The width of the blade also makes it hard to cut a useful sized hole.

Awls are significantly thicker and much narrower than standard knife blades. They do a great job standing up to hard downward pressure and can punch right through tough materials.

Different types of Awls

There are as many different kinds of awl’s as there are materials. In its most basic form an awl is a just thin piece of sharpened metal that you can push through a material to make a hole. Beyond that you can find different shapes, thicknesses, notched vs solid, and a whole host of other features. Some of the most common types of awl include:

  • Bradawl
  • Diamond Awls
  • Tapered Awls
  • Threaded Awls

On multi tools you’ll usually find a basic awl that’s shaped like a narrow but thick rounded knife point. Some have a thread hole for stitching while others don’t. The rounded shape of the awl makes it possible for you to puncture something then twist it around to smooth and round out the opening.

Uses for an Awl tool

So now you know what an awl is, but what do you use it for? The most common thing people use multi tool awls for is to add a hole to their belt. If you’ve have an especially delicious lunch you might feel a little tightness from your overworked leather belt. Having an awl on your multi tool makes it easy to add some much needed room to your jeans.

Because awls are designed to stand up to hard impacts they’re excellent for breaking or chipping ice. If you’ve ever gone camping in a northwoods winter you know the unique annoyance of melting the layer of ice off your morning water pot. An awl lets you quickly shatter the top layer without risking your expensive knife blade.

Need to get a screw started in wood? Multi tool awls work great for creating a precise little hole to securely plant your screw. They’re also well sized for scouring out things like grit, corrosion, or built up gunk from screw threads, spark plugs, or other (disconnected) electrical contacts.

If you’re in the building trades you probably find a lot of situations where you need to mark wood or another material. An awl is a great way to make a small scribe mark without dulling your main knife. The thickness of the awl’s blade prevents it from being damaged even when used on harder materials like sheet metal or hard woods.

Don’t tell my wife this, but they also make pretty great tools to clean under your fingernails and can even be a makeshift toothpick in a pinch.

Best multi tools with an Awl tool

Awls are a mainstain on Swiss Army Knives and other classic pocket knives. Sadly they aren’t as well represented on modern multi tools, to their detriment. Most major manufacturers seem to go the route of an extra screwdriver or other tool instead of the trusty old awl.

Thankfully, new multi tool offerings from several major manufacturers are giving the awl a comeback.

Leatherman Signal

The Signal is Leatherman’s first entry into the ‘survival’ tool market. Its tool loadout is focused on providing things that will be useful during backcountry camping or an actual survival situation. One of the best decisions they made to that end was the inclusion of a high quality awl with a thread loop.

It’s difficult to exaggerate the benefits an awl provides in a true survival situation. It lets you modify your clothes, repair damaged equipment, and even process animal hides to create new garb or hide blankets. You can bore a hole or carve a notch through wood without risking your essential knife blade.

Read our full Leatherman Signal review

Buy from Amazon

Leatherman Juice CS4

The Leatherman Juice CS4 looks a lot like Leatherman shoehorned a pair of pliers onto an old school Swiss Army Knife. It’s a great little multi tool with 15 useful features, including a very nice awl. It lacks the thread hole of the Signal but still does a great job punching through leather, wood, and other materials in the backcountry or on a job site.

One thing to keep in mind though is that the Juice’s awl is a true awl. It lacks any blade surface and is only useful for puncturing materials.

Buy from Amazon

Gerber Center-Drive

The Gerber Center Drive is one of the only tools from Gerber that includes an awl. This makes sense from the company’s perspective as the Center Drive was designed with workman, contractors, and other extra handy types in mind. The awl on the Center Drive has a distinctly triangular shape compared to most other pocket tool awls but still does a good job punching through tough materials.

The blade on the Center Drive’s awl is a bit smaller than on the Leatherman Signal but still gives you several options for scouring, scribing, and starting screws.

Read our Gerber Center-Drive Review

Buy from Amazon

FAQ: What is an Awl Tool?

Are you curious about the awl tool and its applications in the camping world? In this section, we provide answers to some commonly asked questions about awls. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or new to the outdoors, understanding the purpose and versatility of this handy tool can enhance your camping experience.

From explaining the basics of an awl tool to exploring its various types and practical uses, we address your queries to help you make the most of this essential camping companion. So, let’s dive into the frequently asked questions about awl tools and discover how they can be a valuable addition to your camping gear.

What is an awl tool?

An awl tool is a handheld tool commonly used for piercing or making small holes in various materials. It consists of a pointed metal or wooden shaft with a handle at one end. Awls are often used in crafting, sewing, leatherworking, and other activities that require precise puncturing or marking.

What are the different types of awls?

There are various types of awls available, each designed for specific purposes. Some common types include scratch awls, sewing awls, brad awls, and stitching awls. Scratch awls are primarily used for marking or scoring materials, while sewing awls are designed for stitching leather or heavy fabrics. Brad awls are used for starting nail holes, and stitching awls are used for sewing heavy materials like canvas or leather.

What materials can be worked on with an awl?

Awls can be used on a wide range of materials, including leather, fabric, wood, plastic, and paper. They are especially useful for working on materials that may be difficult to pierce with a regular needle or for creating small holes without damaging the surrounding area.

What are some practical uses of an awl tool while camping?

When camping, an awl tool can be quite handy. Some practical uses include repairing or sewing tents, awnings, or backpacks, creating holes in leather belts or straps for adjustments, making repairs on shoes or camping gear, and even crafting or creating decorative items using natural materials like wood or shells.

Is an awl tool easy to use?

Yes, using an awl tool is generally straightforward. The sharp point allows for easy piercing of materials, and the handle provides a comfortable grip. However, it is essential to exercise caution and use the awl tool responsibly to avoid accidental injuries.

Can I use an awl tool for survival situations?

Certainly! An awl tool can be a valuable addition to your survival kit. It can assist in tasks such as creating small holes in materials to fashion shelters, repairing gear or clothing, making fishing lures, or even improvising medical tools in emergencies.

Where can I purchase an awl tool?

Awl tools can be found in various hardware stores, craft stores, or online marketplaces. Camping supply stores often carry them as well. When purchasing an awl tool, consider the type of work you plan to do and choose a tool that suits your specific needs.

Remember to consult local regulations and safety guidelines when using an awl tool, and always follow manufacturer instructions for proper usage and maintenance.

2 thoughts on “What is an Awl and 3 Best Multi Tools with an Awl Tool 2023”

  1. Leatherman surge as well, it’s pricey but the highest rated Leatherman sold on Amazon, it has a thread hole in it’s awl


Leave a Comment