Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The medieval toolchest: the awl and the gimlet

Awls or 'prickers' are small pricking or scratching tools used in woodworking, but also in leather working. An awl consists of a long pointed iron spike set into a wooden handle. The spike may be round or square. The awl is used to make (starting) holes (e.g. for drills or nails), or to scribe lines into wood. Awl spikes are usually round when used for scratching and square to pre-puncture easily split wood for nails. Awls have not been depicted in medieval miniatures for woodworkers, but plenty examples have been found, e.g. in Novgorod, Russia.

 An awl lies on the table of shoemaker Ott Norlinger (1476) from the Hausbuch of the 
Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung (Neurenberg, Germany). Folio 96 recto.

Awls found in medieval Novgorod: a, e = 13th century, b = 11-13th century, c,d = 11th century, f, g, h = 14th century. Iron points are between 45-100 mm long. Irons are round, square or rhomboid in cross-section. Image scanned from the book 'Wood use in medieval Novgorod' edited by M. Brisbane and J. Hather. Oxbow publishers, 2007.

The gimlet or 'wimble' is like a small auger and similar in size as the awl. The point of a gimlet is twisted like a screw. They are used to make starting cuts for the spoon bits of the brace and larger augers into the wood. However, the cutting action of the gimlet is different from an auger as the cutting edges pare away the wood, which is moved out by the spiral sides. This also pulls the gimlet further into the hole as it is turned. Unlike the awl pressure is not required once the tip has been drawn in.

Several drilling tools. The most left are gimlets, those on the right augers. 
Miniature from around 1410. Donaueschingen, Library Cod. 860.

Ludwich Schwerdtfeger (1547) from the Hausbuch of the Laundauer Zwolfbruderstiftung (Neurenberg, Germany) is blacksmithing augers and gimlets. Three gimlets are shown on the right of the miniature. Folio 36 verso.

Gimlets found in medieval York: 2267 is an iron fragment with rounded squared shank. the blade has three twists and a pointed tip. Length 35 mm, width 6 mm, thickness 5 mm. Anglo-Saxon period. 8193 has an expanded lozenge-shaped tang for the handle, a square cross-sectioned shank and a blade with 5 twists and a pointed tip. Total length 171 mm, blade length 40, shank width 8 mm. Medieval period. Image scanned from 'Wood and wood-working in Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval York' by C.A. Morris.

The awl from our medieval toolchest is completely home made. For me, it has been the only attempt at blacksmithing. I used a gas-burner to heat the tip of the iron red-hot, and then hammered to it a point on an 'anvil', the head of a big square hammer. Then, I sharpened the square point  with a grindstone. Finally, the wooden handle, made of leftover stock of an unidentified piece of wood was added. We use the awl mostly as a scribing tool, and occasionally to punch holes in wood, leather or other material. The gimlet was bought with wooden handle at Deagrad tools.

The awl (top) and gimlet (bottom) from our toolchest.


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