Hi awl, and thanks for looking at my first Instructable!
Sorry for the awlful pun, but I just couldn't resist. I have had the idea of getting a sewing awl for quite a while, but like every good cheapskate maker with a little spare time, I decided to make one out of scrap just to try it out. I found some Instructables mentioning sewing awls, and I found a few Youtube videos showing how to use one. By watching and reading, I figured out that the fancy little thread bobbins are just a convenience, you can do the sewing with a much simpler awl.
Here are a few videos I found that show you how to sew using a sewing awl.
The real thing you need is a sturdy needle with a hole in the end, set in a handle. That's what I set out to make.
Step 1: The Needle
The type of needle you use depends on the type of material you wish to sew. For sewing medium-weight fabric, you might use a heavy sewing-machine needle. I wanted to sew heavy stuff, like vinyl upholstery material, and I did not find any needles heavy enough at my local store. I also wanted to use very heavy thread, cotton twine, in fact, so I needed a very large hole.
I took a number 3 finish nail and flattened the end by pounding it with a hammer. Finish nails are commonly mild steel, so you don't need to heat it in order to flatten it. I set mine on a small anvil to pound it, but about any smooth, hard metal object could be used as a makeshift anvil.
Once I had flattened the tip of the nail, I drilled a small hole. The edges of the hole were a little rough; rough enough that they would have snagged any thread or string. I tried a few different things to deburr the hole, including using a larger diameter bit as a deburring tool, and using fine sandpaper. I eventually got the the edges smooth.
Finally, I took a small file and sharpened both ends. The business end for obvious reasons. But the back also end needs to be sharpened enough to drive it into the handle. It helps to hold the nail using a pair of Vise-Grips when filing. You could also clamp it in a vise to file it. I was away from my shop so I had to make do.
Step 2: The Handle
The handle was simply a whittling job. I used my pocket knife and whittled the handle out of a piece of cedar. In the pictures, you can see where I whittled it to shape while still attached to the stick, then cut it off. I find it easier to whittle when you have a good size handle to grip. I just guessed at the shape and chose a size that is comfortable to my hand. Besides this sort of "Screwdriver handle" shape, I have seen awls with straight handles, and ones with ball-shaped handles, but most or all sewing awls have a handle something like this. Try whatever you think will suit you; you can always change it!
Step 3: The Needle Goes in the Handle
Once the handle is cut loose from the stick, drill a hole slightly smaller in diameter than the needle, then drive the needle in. I didn't use any glue. Depending on the fit, your needle may or may not need some glue.
I clamped the needle in the jaws of my Vise-Grips, worked the handle on partway, and then smacked the whole thing down handle first onto my bench to seat the needle. For me, that got the needle tight enough.
On the other hand, it was no where near straight. I don't know if the nail just drove in crooked, or if I did that bad a job of drilling the pilot hole, but it was quite crooked. But we all know how easy it is to bend a nail, so I just gripped it close to the handle and bent it until it was pointing straight.
Step 4: Start Sewing
I had to play around a while to really get the hang of sewing with an awl, and even now I am just a beginner, but I have managed to sew some upholstery. I have made a cushion for a chair and another for a footrest. I have also done a couple little repair jobs on heavy material. A commercially-made awl needle would be sharper and thinner, and would probably do the job quicker, but for my few jobs, I have been very satisfied and have not bothered to upgrade to the factory-made stuff.
Earlier in this Instructable, I mentioned a few videos that can show you how to sew with an awl. One thing about those videos: When doing the "Backside" of the stitch, they just poke the bare thread through, and you can do that, especially if you are using waxed thread. I have seen other instructions that show using a regular large sewing needle for the backside stitching. It makes it easier to do the stitching, particularly If you are using regular heavy thread instead of waxed thread.
The picture shows a little test stitching I did, and you can see how the awl is on the string on one side of the work, and the needle is on the string on the other side of the work. Again, check out those videos and search the web, and you will figure it out.
Good luck to you awl (oops, I could not resist one more)!