What bradawl tips are available?
The three different tips found on bradawls have their own advantages and disadvantages.
For the purpose of differentiating between them, the chisel tip will be called the bradawl, the square tip will be called a birdcage awl and the pointed tip will be called the round-point awl. All three types are used in the same way, but the outcome can vary slightly.
When used correctly, the bradawl, because it has uneven sides, causes two tiers of movement in the wood fibres.
When the flat edge is parallel with the fibres, it simply pushes them apart. When the flat edge is adjacent to the fibres, it reams the hole.
The benefit of both separating and reaming the wood fibres is that enough fibres are left intact for the nail or screw to embed well. In addition, as a bradawl bores a clean hole, it is less likely that the wood will split.
The reaming action of the birdcage awl is similar to that of the bradawl. However, its square shape means that it continuously reams the hole instead of pushing and reaming like the bradawl.
The continuous reaming of the birdcage awl creates a clean hole. The tapered point means the hole is also tapered, which is beneficial for the insertion of the screw or nail.
The birdcage awl is often considered the most effective woodworking awl because it creates the roundest, most consistent holes.
The round-point awl is the least likely to be sold as a bradawl, but is most like other types of awl used for different materials (for example, leather or stitching awls).
Using the same method as the bradawl and birdcage awl on the round-point awl, by pushing and twisting, will achieve a similar result to simply pushing down on the round-point awl.
The round-point awl solely separates the fibres and makes a gap with its shank.
The round-point awl is the quickest and easiest to use, but also the most likely to cause splitting.
This is because once the fibres have begun to separate, they are encouraged to continue separating along the join by any further enlargement of the hole.
Which awl should you choose?
The bradawl and the birdcage awl are very similar. They produce similar results and whilst the birdcage awl is easier to use, the margin of difference is minimal.
The choice is down to personal preference as they both create effective pilot holes. The round-point awl is more likely to cause splitting, but can be used for other hole punching tasks if necessary.