Mystery Tool: Gimlet

During the years we’ve been working in the Greenbelt, we’ve found some interesting “trash”. These have been my favorite finds:

A few weeks ago, one of our team leaders found an interesting item when he was working on the site. I sent a photo if it to my neighbors and asked if anyone knew what it was. Several people thought it was a woodworking tool.

Numerous times over the past year, a woodworking school that is part of Seattle Central Community College has caught my eye. I noticed it enough times that I was beginning to wonder if I would be taking a woodworking course in the future.

Years before, I had learned that in nature where there is a poisonous plant, the antidote to the poison can often be found nearby. I also learned that we need to live in awareness because the answers to problems are all around us. When I was told that this might be a woodworking tool, my seeing the woodworking school seemed very synchronistic.

I had no doubt that my best chance of finding out what the tool was to go to the school. When I arrived there, the receptionist took me to the classroom of one of the older teachers.

The instructor thought it was an awl but he wanted to put it in a rust remover overnight. That was fine with me. The next morning, I returned to the school. The teacher had hoped he would be able to remove enough rust to be able to see some writing on it. The tool was still too rusted to be able to accomplish that goal.

After removing some of the rust, the instructor told me the tool wasn’t an awl; it was a gimlet. He had originally thought it was made in the 1920’s but after realizing it was a gimlet, he said it was much older than that. So it must have been made in the 1800’s!

Wikipedia says:

gimlet is a hand tool for drilling small holes, mainly in wood, without splitting. It was defined in Joseph Gwilt‘s Architecture (1859) as “a piece of steel of a semi-cylindrical form, hollow on one side, having a cross handle at one end and a worm or screw at the other”.[1]


A gimlet is always a small tool. A similar tool of larger size is called an auger. The cutting action of the gimlet is slightly different from an auger, however, as the end of the screw, and so the initial hole it makes, is smaller; the cutting edges pare away the wood which is moved out by the spiral sides, falling out through the entry hole. This also pulls the gimlet farther into the hole as it is turned; unlike a bradawl, pressure is not required once the tip has been drawn in.


The name “gimlet” comes from the Old French guinbeletguimbelet, later guibelet, probably a diminutive of the Anglo-French “wimble”, a variation of “guimble”, from the Middle Low German wiemel, cf. the Scandinavianwammie, to bore or twist. Modern French uses the term vrille, also the French for a tendril.[2]

Once the tool had been identified, I wondered what I would do with it. I often keep interesting trash but this item felt dangerous; it reminded me of an ice pick. I checked etsy.com and ebay.com and found that they sold gimlets for $6 to $30. And those were antique woodworking tools in good condition.

Green Seattle Partnership and the Seattle Parks Department don’t have museums for interesting trash so I decided to give it to another Forest Steward. She is part of a project that will eventually be making a sculpture of tools they have found in the Greenbelt.

I’m happy that the gimlet will have a new home; one where it will be appreciated.

3 thoughts on “Mystery Tool: Gimlet

  1. Fascinating! I was just reading an article about a site found in North Dakota that contains animals and wreckage from the meteor impact 60 million years ago that resulted in the end of the dinosaurs reign on the planet. In a way, you’re an archeologist. Glad you found a good place for this tool. I love the idea of including it in an art project.

    Liked by 1 person

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