I can’t remember a recent project where I didn’t pick up a bird-cage awl. From marking the location of spindles or screws to actually drilling holes for tiny screws, a bird-cage awl is essential for installing hardware, deepening marks left by your dividers and even cleaning out junk from the corners of deep mortises.
I’ve used a lot of bird-cage awls, and this year I finally found the one I like the most: The 803 from Matthias Fenner Toolworks. This awl is – best of all – easy to use, skillfully made and sharp. But it is also gorgeous.
The business end of the tool is a round O1 shaft that’s 8mm in diameter. And it ends in a 7/8”-long tapered tip. It’s a great shape for drilling holes (just rotate the handle as you press the tool into the wood). The solid ferrule strengthens the tool and fits seamlessly onto the shaft. The walnut handle meets the ferrule smoothly, continuing the inside cove shape on the handle.
The handle itself is quite ergonomic. The crisp point on the lower end of the handle allows you to exert downward pressure as you drill. And it fits neatly right outside your thumb and index finger when you grip it.
Matthias makes these tools to order, and it can take a little time for him to make them and for them to arrive from Germany. But they are worth the wait. If your awl can’t make it here for Christmas, perhaps it can be a Groundhog Day gift instead.
The awls are 49.90 € (about $58 U.S. today). They are well worth the price.
— Christopher Schwarz
Read other entries from The Anarchist’s Gift Guide here.
14 thoughts on “Anarchist Gift Guide Day 14: Matthias Fenner Awl”
you are kidding right?
Interesting. I would have thought 8mm diameter to be awful big to drill out most holes for tiny screws. If those dimensions are correct, scaling up the photo shows that at a mere 3/8″ of depth, the hole would be 1/4″ diameter at the surface of the wood. I must be misunderstanding something…
This has got to be the “Anarchist” tongue in cheek tool selection. You could have included instructions on how to sharpen a common nail (all the versions for people worried about sizing), as an alternative. But it is a tool.
Man. Where did all the nice folks go today? It’s a Gift Guide for crying out loud. Who wouldn’t want one of these as a holiday gift? Just be sure to wipe mine off after you take it out of Chris’s back.
As the world rushes by, seeking the best short-term “deal”, whilst chomping away at the “$5 pizza”; it’s really nice to see those who truly honor craft. Generational tools are always worth the investment… and in this case, there’s a fine German toolmaker who appreciates your support.
Any easy comparisons to draw between this and the Czeck Edge Awl?
I’m slowly realizing I need one or the other, but could use help with any quick distinctions beyond the steel types.
My ignorance is embarassing, but I hope I’m not coming off as critical. I certainly appreciate the value of anything well made. I’m just unfamiliar with how a tool like this would be used to drill tiny holes. I’ve read of them being used to drill pilot holes for nails too, I think in the Joiner and Cabinetmaker book, but I’m confused about how that works given the thickness of the tool. It seems that in very little time the hole would be way too wide for the shaft of a nail or screw, either that or you’d have to stop drilling in so short a distance that the “drilling” would be superfluous. Do people generally keep different sizes of these awls?
Don’t think of it as drilling pilot holes. It’s really a hole starter.
That along with the Czech edge looks beautiful. If I weren’t a “starving” professional musician who has to carefully choose which primo tools to buy, I would have gotten one of them instead of picking up a $10 narex birdcage awl kit and made my own handle. I love it and use it all the time. Was a great alternative being on a tight budget. Do I get the fancy birdcage awl and try to find a vintage Stanley 60 1/2 or make my own awl and go with a Lie-Nielsen 60 1/2???? I went with the latter.
Despite the name, I’m using the awl bit that comes with my “ Megapro 141HVAC-U 14-in-1 HVAC Driver”. Works great and the rest of the bits are Standard and Phillips.
While this dedicated awl is a beauty, I love the versatility of the MegaPro.
I like the look of the awl. You get what you pay for. I’m more interested in the official definition of ‘dorkwad’ as in Australia dickwad is thrown around more commonly. Would they be directly interchangeable? This is purely in the interests of cross cultural communication and ensuring that misinterpretations do not occur.
Pretty much, yes.
It’s simple really: wad meaning small or crumpled; and dork, being a bull whale’s reproductive organ. Much like the word politics: poly meaning many; and tics, those blood sucking vermin.
I’m reminded fondly of this classic Onion article: https://www.theonion.com/gaywads-dorkwads-sign-historic-wad-accord-1819565037
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