I have a short hand awl I like to use for opening holes for hand stitching. It’s got a nice slender shaft and the hole is ample for accepting needles carrying 7-strand waxed linen. The problem with using it is the amount of time the process takes. Punch three holes, sew three holes, punch three holes, sew three holes. The left foot took me two days as my neck would wear out from fighting the awl out of the hole once I managed to get it into the leather to make the hole.
Some really bright guy on the Crispin Colloquy (shoemakers list) used a drill press to punch leather. The drill press wasn’t running, it was used as a press (leverage). Insert the tool into the chuck (he was using a three gang chisel punch) and pull the lever. Instant hole. I thought it was such an exceptional idea I just had to try it.
It took less than five minutes to punch all the holes I needed for stitching the shaper to the midsole for the right shoe. There’s no way I could have done the job that easily or quickly with my hand awl. I had previously marked all the holes so jumping from one to the next was a breeze.
The crewel needle I used held up really well to being chucked in the press. I didn’t turn the drill press on to see if I’d managed to chuck it completely straight. I don’t know how much the difference in symmetry was an issue. It worked and that’s what I needed to happen.