Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mystery Tool - Solved!

I love it when a mystery gets solved, but I kind of hate it when I should have known it all along!

After the first post, Damien commented: "Looks like a free standing handle that fits a round axle with two sides flattened at the end." I immediately got a picture in my head of a round chuck with two flats, but I kept thinking it had something to do with sewing machines.

And then on the second post, Alfred commented "I wonder if it is a wrench for an awl. Some older leather working awls have a split chuck with a tightening screw that probably fits the opening in your tool."

After reading that I gave myself a huge dope slap and ran out to the shop where I have several cobbler's awls that I use to start screws etc. Grabbing one, I tested it out and it's a perfect fit. Awesome! Not only is the mystery solved, but I have a new and useful tool. In the past I just used an adjustable wrench to change awls (sharpened nails actually) but it tends to slip off - the new closed wrench will be much better.

Just to double check, I looked in my library and found an illustration under "Sewing Haft" in the "Dictionary of American Hand Tools" that clearly shows just such a wrench changing the awl on a haft or handle.

If anyone has a copy of "Dictionary of Leather Working Tools and the tools of allied trades", by R. A. Salaman, we could probably find the actual name for this tool. Until then, I'm just going to call it a "cobbler's awl wrench".

Fun! Thanks everyone for your ideas and sleuthing! And way to go Alfred for nailing this one!


  1. I forgot to mention that the hollow handle would most likely be for holding a supply of awls - different sizes, shapes, etc.

  2. Now why doesn't Dremel supply these wonderful turned wrenches with their rotary tools, they have a very similar chuck.

    Expense I know, these would just be too cool though.

  3. Trevor - I agree, it would be cool! Maybe they could make a "deluxe retro edition" with a wooden body on the Dremel as well. Okay, now I'm really dreaming...but it would be cool...

  4. Update - I just looked in the 1897 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue and in their Cobbler's Tool Sets they list a wrench for cobbler's peg awl. In the illustration the metal wrench part just has a short, metal stub handle. I wonder if they were all that way and folks made their own handles (which would explain the lack of maker's marks) or if Sears just sold the bare bones model.

  5. Well, two years later and I see this blog entry. You said you found the wrench part in an 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue. I decided to look in my reprint of an 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. catalogue. On page 326 they list an awl handle and wrench under the heading of “Harness Needles, Awls, Handles”. They also show needle supplies (size 0-4), and awls (3 sizes) to use with the handle and wrench they sell. Like yours, the wrench is used to replace and tighten the needle or awl. This was all in a larger section that had to do with horse care supplies and saddles.


    1. Dean - Cool! Thanks for the additional information. Whenever I look in those old catalogues I feel envious of the range of tools that were available. If I only had a time machine!

    2. I’m also envious of the range of tools they had available, but even more envious (green with envy?) of the prices!



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