Scratch Awl W/ Case





Introduction: Scratch Awl W/ Case

The goal of this project was to help me relearn how to use the metal lathe and create a useful project. Basic lathe operations were used to create the scratch awl. The case and handle are made from brass and the point is made from tool steel. After making the point I hardened it and then heat treated it. I will include three youtube videos showing how I made each part.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials and Tools


You can use either 1/2" round or hexagonal brass rod approximately 6" long

3/8" O-1 tool steel approximately 5" long

JB Weld

Veggie Oil


Metal lathe w/ 3 jaw chuck

3/8"-16 tap and die

3/16" & 5/16" drill bits

Jacobs chuck

Hack saw

Torch (Propane, MAPP, Oxy Acetylene)

Oven - toaster oven works fine

Step 2: Create the Handle

The first step in creating the scratch awl is making the handle. Cut a piece of brass 2.25" long. This can be either 1/2" round or hexagonal stock.

Place the stock in the 3 jaw chuck and center drill. I like to center drill the end first so when I face the end of it, if my cutter isn't exactly on center, I don't end up with a nub in the center.

Turn the last .25" to .375" diameter. Use a 3/8"-16 die to cut threads on the end. Undercut the threads with a parting tool so that they will fit well in the case.

Drill a 3/16" hole in the end of the handle .5" deep

Reverse the stock in the chuck and face the end. Use a file to round over the end of the handle.

Sand the handle to the desired shine. I sanded through 800 grit and then used synthetic steel wool on it.

Step 3: Handle Video

Step 4: Make the Point

I start by annealing the O-1 tool steel with a torch. I heat the rod to red hot and allow it to slowly cool.

Chuck the steel in the three jaw chuck and turn it to .031"

Set the compound rest to 4 degrees and make sure the cutter is directly on the center of the work piece.

Start on the end that is going to be the point and start taking light cuts. Slowly work your way back taking longer and longer cuts. I keep a small bit of metal at the point to support that end.

Use a file to touch up the taper and then sand to desired sheen.

Step 5: Making the Point Video

Step 6: Heat Treat the Point

Once you have made the point, you should heat treat it.

Fill a tin can (or any other fire safe container) about half way with vegetable oil

Use the torch to heat approximately half way up the point end to red hot. Hold it at the temp for a little bit to ensure it is well heated.

Once it is red hot, plunge it into the oil and swish it up and down a bit until it cools.

The tip is now very hard (a file should skate across it) But also very brittle.

In order to make the point usable it must be tempered.

I use my toaster oven to temper with. If you use veggie oil harden the point there should not be any smell when you temper so your significant other shouldn't yell at you too much for cooking a scratch awl point where they make toast.

Set the toaster oven (a real oven works too) to 400 degrees and leave the point in for an hour. Turn the oven off and let it cool. Tempering is done.

I rechuck the point in the lathe and resand to clean it up

Step 7: Make the Case

Cut a piece of brass to 3.75"

Chuck it in the three jaw chuck

Center drill and face the end

Drill a pilot hole - used the 3/16" bit I already had in the chuck

Drill a 5/16" hole 3.3" deep

Use a 3/8"-16 tap to thread the first .5" of the case

Chamfer the hole slightly

Check the fit of the handle


If the faces of the hex bar don't align when the handle is screwed in - take VERY LIGHT facing cuts on the case until the flats line up

Once you are happy with the fit, flip the stock over and round over the other end with a file.

Sand to the desired sheen

Step 8: Making the Case Video

Step 9: Putting It All Together

After checking all of the parts for fit, JB Weld the point into the handle. You could also solder it or use some other type of adhesive.

If desired, buff the entire project on the buffing wheel

Put scratch awl in your pocket, it won't poke you, and use as needed.



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    21 Discussions

    For a newbie, how much should I expect to pay for a small metal lathe?

    4 replies

    Another $.002. Prices are, in my experience, very regional. And the more tooling, the more the package will cost. Along with Makerspace, see if there is a local metal working group. Members pass along sales from people they know who are moving, people who have passed and the family is disposing of equipment, etc. Sometimes with patience great prices can be had because the family wants to see the item enjoyed as their relative did. In the local Chesapeake group, one member just decided to get rid of most of his equipment at the upcoming "yard sale" and the prices are great. Join the Hobby Machinist forum, explore Yahoo! groups for Atlas/Craftsman, Logan/Powercraft (USA Montgomery Wards), small South Bends, Shirlings etc. Craigslist and eBay for local pick-up only. In 2014 I paid USD $700 for a 10" Logan with minimal tooling, but that is as much as is used in the videos. And I got great advice for inspection and moving it! Think space and what you "really" want to make. Many times you will find you are just fine with a 9" or smaller.

    For a decent one, anywhere in the thousands range. For an acceptable one from Harbor Freight that will work until it doesn't, the best one from them is about a thousand dollars. If you don't intend to use the tool a lot, or if you're just using it as a hobby, I'd recommend investing in a membership with a local Makerspace that has the tools. It's far cheaper than buying your own machines, and you'll have the benefit of instructors on hand should you have any questions.

    Thanks. That's a bit high for me. Your suggestion is good.

    Nice project, and nice lathe (along with your vice, polisher, etc. I'm jealous). Lathe model? Just another $.02 opinion/suggestion. Research out the lubricants called for in your lathe's literature. Pull those carriage wipes, clean them in kerosene/paraffin/spray penetrating oil (almost anything but WD-40, it leaves a residue to fight moisture you don't want in this application), and get some way oil on your bed. No lube there is one of the quickest ways to kill a bed. There are several sellers, one local to me, that sell nice packages of acceptable lubricants in small quantities for hobbyists. Drop me a note if you would like the vender.

    Best wishes for your future projects.

    Thank you, the lathe work is just what I need as I am just starting out machining, and then the heat treating loved it short and informative!!

    This looks a LOT like Jimmy DiResta's ice pick project. If you used his stuff, you should probably at least mention him.

    4 replies

    I just looked up his ice pick which is very nice. I was not aware of it before I created mine. While yes, they are both pointy and some of mine use brass hex stock, that's where I see the similarities end. I did mine strictly as a lathe exercise and nothing more. I just thought I'd share with the group since there aren't very many metal lathe projects on here. Sorry if you thought I copied someone else's work.

    Thanks for clarifying. And thank you for taking the time to share your work. I do appreciate it.

    Nice Instructable! I'm sure Jimmy would like it. You should also watch Giako Whatever's take using one of Jimmy's ice picks. His flips around and screws into the handle.

    Tim I don't think it has much resemblance to Jimmys Ice Pick Other than you used hex stock as the handle. Which isn't a new invention. Jimmy uses am off the shelf non tapered pick, with a tube/hoop cover.

    This is a turned and tapered insert, with a threaded cover. Thanks for putting this up though. The section on heat treating tool steel is a nice addition to a tradional lathe project.

    Neat little project, be careful wearing the watch around the lathe though, if it snags it'll twist an arm off in a heart beat

    Cool! Bu the lathe is a problem...

    Cool project...wish I had a lathe.

    Unfortunately, I'm not very proficient in the process and it takes me far too long to make one to make a profit. Plus, my regular job takes up way to much time from my hobbies as it is.Thank you for the words of encouragement though.


    1 year ago

    Nice, well written instructable and great looking project!