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 further into the hole as it is turned; unlike a bradawl, pressure is not required once the tip has been drawn in.
The term is also used figuratively to describe something as sharp or piercing, and also to describe the twisting, boring motion of using a gimlet. The term gimlet-eyed can mean sharp-eyed or squint-eyed (one example of this use is Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, who was known as "Old Gimlet Eye"). In this sense it is often considered a colloquialism - for example, author Terry Pratchett uses the phrase "eyes like gimlets" to humorous effect.
In "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius, "Constantly contemplate the whole of time and the whole of substance, and consider that all individual things as to substance are a grain of a fig, and as to time, the turning of a gimlet."
In Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Linda uses a gimlet to pierce a hole through the roof of the storeroom/shed where she was hiding out in order for her to see her children.
In the story "Anne of Green Gables," Anne says that Nettie Blewett looks "exactly like a gimlet."
The Latin Version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone states that the company that Harry's Uncle Vernon works for is a company devoted solely to the manufacture of gimlets.