Monday, February 9, 2015

Roughing out an offset awl

Wood handle and iron awl in progress
I've started working on the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project reproductions.  I brought my notes and photos into the workshop to start searching for the best raw materials to begin shaping into the reproductions.  The set includes ivory, antler, wood, stone, and iron components.  I made the most progress on the historic awl.  These sorts of offset awls were introduced into the north by European traders and there is a good chance that the metal awl was made in Europe and fit with a handmade driftwood handle in the Arctic.  You can buy offset awls today (Ray Mears sells them for £24.00, without a handle), but I decided to try making my own out of an old nail.  When it is ground and hammered to the same size as the original, I'll chemically rust it with acid and the copy should be indistinguishable from the original.

By the way, I asked Dr. Lisa Hodgetts what Ikaahuk means, and she told me:
Ikaahuk is the Inuvialuktun name for Banks Island. It means "the place people go across to" or "where you go across to". Some people also use it to refer to the community of Sachs Harbour.

The awl blank is hammered and ground out of a square cut nail, identical to the one shown below it.  The wood handle and awl are 10-20% larger than the original artifact at this point, but I want to compare them side-by-side with the original piece before I continue shaping them.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. Is there a reason why the nail is offset? I wouldn't think they wanted to do that.

    1. I'm not entirely sure. The only explanation that I've seen comes from this page:

      It says; "The center is offset to prevent breakage, a trait that was typical of awls of English manufacture. Awls were fitted into a wooden, bone or antler handle by the user."

      Since the awls were sold/traded without handles, the offset may also help someone grip and use the awl without a handle.

  2. Hi there! I've been pondering and discussing the same question for a long time now. I have and use the offset awl that Ray Mears sells.
    Those people I talked to doubt that the offset is there to help the handle from splitting. The thing that strikes me is that on those few historic examples I'm aware of any existing handle doesn't go all the way down to the offset.

    The offset does really help when you use the awl without any handle.

    And that you actually have two working points on one awl seems really practical; the awl was such a precious object often not so easy to get hold of, good to have a reserve point.


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