Make Your Own Bookbinding Awl




Introduction: Make Your Own Bookbinding Awl

About: Pretty much all of my interests focus on applying everything that I learn to create usable crafts... usable things... plus learning from others is quite high on my to-do list.

I recently started learning about the art & craft of bookbinding and quickly realized that although the tools for the process last a long time, the cost can add up to quite a big hole in ones pocket.  After doing a bit of research, looking and shopping, I decided that I could make some of the tools myself with materials that I already had at home.  

So here is my first one... the versatile and easy to make bookbinding awl!

The awl is used to make perforations on paper and materials such as grey board.  Then, those perforations are used as guides for the needles when "sewing" together the books/notepads/etc.

This is how you can make your own.

REVISION: Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions! Please check out the last step of this instructable for some extra suggestions plus reads the comments below.

Step 1: Materials and Tools Required

For this project you will need:

- one embroidery needle (I used one that was 1 3/4 inch in length)
- a paint brush with a long wooden handle (I needed a brush for glueing during the bookbinding process and found the one on the picture with a 12 inch handle.  The handle was too long for what I needed so I decided to cut it and used the far end of the brush for this project)
- white non-toxic glue that dries clear
- embroidery thread (I happened to have black thread left over from another project)
- a hand saw (I got this funky one for another project and it did the trick for this one too)
- a hand drill and small bit - the bit needs to be about the same diameter as the needle (for my project I used a .046 bit)

other useful tools:

- a pair of small needle nose pliers
- a piece of fine sand paper

Step 2: Cut a Handle for It

The length of the handle is really up to you.  I watched where I was naturally holding the brush while gluing some paper and marked the handle a bit farther from where my hand sat.  The part that I was left with for the handle of the awl was approximately 4 1/4 inches.

After you cut the handle, you can use some sandpaper to smooth out the ends of the paintbrush and of the awl's new handle.

REMEMBER:  Be careful when using any cutting tool!  Always be aware of how and where are you holding the piece that you are cutting.

Step 3: Mark & Drill the Holes for the Needle and the Thread

Now use the eye of the needle to measure and mark the hole through which you will run the thread.  Keep in mind that the thread will hold the needle in place so you want to do the mark for the hole right by the top edge of the eye of the needle.

Then do a mark on the center of the end of the handle where you will insert the needle.

When it comes to drilling the holes, you will have to be both patient and careful.  First, drill the hole for the thread, the one that goes across the handle.  Then, you can insert another needle or a nail of a similar size to guide you when you drill the hole for the needle at the top end of the handle.  If you drill slowly, you will feel when the drill bit hits the nail/needle.  At that time, take out the nail/needle and drill just a little bit more into the handle to accommodate for the tip of the needle above the eye.

Note:  If you have a table top vice, you can hold the handle on it while you drill it.

Now it is time to insert the needle!  This is one of the tricky parts.  Make sure that you insert the needle with the eye facing the hole that you made across the handle.  Remember that later on you will be running the thread through the hole and the eye of the needle.

Note:  When inserting the needle two things can be helpful, (1) a small needle nose pliers to hold and push the needle in the hole and (2) to have a bright light right in front.  The light will help you see if you have cleared the path for the thread or if you have to re-position the needle.

Step 4: And the Thread Goes Through It

Yes, this part is quite tricky so take your time and patience!

Now that you have the needle in, slowly run the thread from one side of the hole on the awl's handle to the other side.  It took me several tries and reusing the drill to define the whole a bit more before I got the thread through.  However, it is possible and the satisfaction of making your own tools is quite priceless.

So carry on!  You are almost done!

Once you have the thread through (or before), file some groves on the sides of the handle to anchor and run the thread.  I did not think of making this grooves until after I did my victory dance for running the thread through the hole and that is why the photo of the grooves is on this page.

Now make a couple of knots with the ends of the thread tight and close to the handle.  This will keep the thread in place while you wind the length of thread around the handle.

NOTE:  Pull on the needle before you wind all of the thread around the handle to make sure that the needle is in deed being held in place by the thread.  

The length of thread depends on the width of the handle.  I would say that I used approximately two feet of thread.

When you are getting to the end of your thread, tuck the end of thread under the winding part of the thread so to tie it up.  Do the same another two times and cut off the end.

At this point, test the needle again!  Pull on it to make sure that it stays in place.  If it is set and does stay in place, get some glue on one of your fingers and run it over the thread.  Make sure that you get glue on all of the thread and set it to dry for at least a couple of hours.

Step 5: Testing Time = Happy Times

Once the glue is dry, your awl is ready for action!  Try it out by perforating some sheets of paper and continue working on your bookbinding projects.

Step 6: An Easier Way to Thread

Ok, so redskyie suggested something really cool... and something that gave me a "duh!" moment. With the same idea yet with a different tool here is how you can thread the awl easier...

You will need a needle threader (redskyie suggested to use a beading needle... use whichever you have available). It is a small piece for wire with a handle which you slide through the eye of the needle, then put the thread through the loop of the threader that went through the eye of the needle and finally, you just slide the needle off of the threader which in turn threads the needle.

This shortens the time and energy expenditure when threading the awl.

Thanks for the suggestion and do read through the comments! Redskyie had some good suggestions for thread selection.

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    10 Discussions


    I was thinking of making my own awl for leather working, using basically the same approach. The only difference I was thinking was to simply drill the hole in the face of the handle (not the side), and then use some epoxy to set the needle in, instead of a string.
    I'm still trying to think of a way to "cap" the awl, so that I can put it in a toolbox without having to worry about pricking myself.


    Reply 3 years ago

    That's a good idea! I just do not use epoxy 'cuz of the smell and my allergies. I use a piece of cork to cap my awl.


    Reply 3 years ago

    I ended up a bit different. I drilled the hole and then used a "washer" shaped magnet. The magnet holds the steel needle in place and if I want I can remove/replace the needle. I also made a cap in the same way; the magnets hold the cap on


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great instructable, especially for me as bookbinding awls are very hard to buy here.
    I have a tip: when threading the thread through the handle and needle, perhaps you can use a beading needle?
    It is basically a piece of thin wire, doubled over to leave a loop at one end like the eye of a needle - but the difference is, it is flexible, so it can go through a bead.
    If you can't find a beading needle you could always use a piece of really thin wire.

    Also, if you have it, upholstery or topstitching thread would be a lot stronger than embroidery thread which is really only for decoration. Sewists are always told never to use embroidery thread for seams because it's not strong enough. Another option might be silk thread which is both strong and pretty. If not, the same waxed linen thread you are probably using for bookbinding would also be better.

    beading needle.jpg

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    waxed dental floss works really well also and its a lot cheaper for way more thread. I've been using it in place of thread to sew everything for 20 years. I rarely ever use regular sewing threads unless I'm using a machine


    Reply 3 years ago

    Nice! Thanks for all of the suggestions.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! This was a total "duh!" moment. You are so right about the easier way to thread the needle! I have added an extra step to this instructable with photos showing how to use a needle threader... I do not have a beading needle yet both would do the trick. Also, thanks for the suggestions in regards to the thread choice. I used what I had at home yet will probably use stronger threads for my next awls.


    This is the best DIY Awl I have found yet, I am making books for my family for X-Mas, and my store-bought awl is dull. Thanks for the share.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    thank you! have fun making the books and do let me know if you have any questions and/or suggestions to make this instructable more helpful.