Riveting 101

Written by
Polly Nobbs-LaRue
Published on
January 1, 2015 1:01:11 AM PST January 1, 2015 1:01:11 AM PSTst, January 1, 2015 1:01:11 AM PST

Learn the basics of riveting, including how to distinguish various types of rivets and how to set different rivets.

Riveting is a classic, durable and popular way to create cold connections in jewelry designs (a "cold connection" is the joining together of metal components without using solder).

Each type of rivet used to make jewelry requires different tools and techniques. Discover these methods below. Once you're ready to create your own custom riveted jewelry, check out our full line of rivets, eyelets, and riveting tools.


Table of Contents

Compression Rivets | Nail-Head Rivets

Semi-Tubular Rivets | Wire Rivets | Eyelets

Compression Rivets (2-Part Rivets)


Also known as two-part rivets, compression rivets come in sets with a top and bottom. Typically used with leather, compression rivets are thicker than most wire rivets and are easy to set with just a few supplies. To set compression rivets, follow the infograph and use the following tools:

For more information, see:









Nail-Head Rivets


Nail-head rivets work the same way wire rivets do, except that they have one end already finished. This decreases the amount of labor needed to set them. They can be cut to shorter lengths if necessary, then set by hammering the unfinished end.

Decorative rivets (aka fancy wire rivets) are nail-head rivets with decorative motifs on the finished end. To avoid damaging the decorative end, use a wooden block instead of a metal block to set fancy rivets (a scrap piece of 2x4" works perfectly). Or, place a scrap of leather between the decorative head and the metal block when hammering. A bare steel block will damage the finished side of the rivet.

For a full tutorial on how to set decorative rivets, see our blog post "How to Use Fancy Wire Rivets".

Nail-head rivets and decorative rivets work best on metal. To use this type of rivet with leather, place washers/spacers between the leather and the rivet heads (both sides) to hold the rivets in place. Otherwise, the small heads on these rivets tend to pull right through pliable materials like leather.


Semi-Tubular Rivets


Semi-tubular rivets look similar to the "cap" portion of two-part rivets, but they work differently. With semi-tubular rivets, most of the rivet is solid wire, but the final approximately 2mm (at the tail, the opposite end from the rivet's head) opens up into a tube, rather like an eyelet. Crafted Findings riveting system uses surprisingly gentle pressure to compress this tubular portion into a neat, clean, secure tail. Crafted Findings' innovative tool system allows you to punch holes and set rivets with the same tool base. Both rivets and eyelets are set with a screw-action mechanism, which means no loud tapping or hammering. The process is also much quicker than traditional jeweler-style wire riveting, saving you oodles of time (several of us at Rings & Things have become Crafted Findings addicts!).

Crafted Findings riveting tools are made in the USA of durable heat-treated steel. They come in options for 1/16" diameter or 3/32" diameter rivets and eyelets. They also come in a choice of "original" or "long reach" sizes. The long reach tools allow you to rivet thicker layers together (i.e. the "reach" is height, not depth from edge to center).

EZ-Rivet® tools, imported by the BeadSmith®, set rivets using the same type of screw-action mechanism as Crafted Findings. EZ-Rivet tools come in sizes for 1/16" or 3/32" diameter rivets, and they work with all of our 1/16" and 3/32" semi-tubular rivets. The EZ-Rivet is a good entry-level tool for setting 1/16" and 3/32" semi-tubular rivets, but the Crafted Findings tools have more options, and are smoother to use.

As with nail-head rivets, semi-tubular rivets work best on metal. To use Crafted Findings rivets with leather, place washers/spacers between the leather and the back of the rivets, to hold the rivets in place — as in our Winged Heart Hat Band design. Option: you can include washers on both sides of the rivet for a decorative effect, like in our "Tschinkel's Circles" bracelet design.

For more information on Crafted Findings and semi-tubular rivets, see:


Wire Rivets


Wire rivets are classic, traditional rivets handmade with wire and a hammer. This "old-school" style of riveting is a wonderful skill to develop, but it's time-consuming to do properly. The rivets themselves are simply wire — made from any gauge of malleable wire, in any length you need. Here's a summary of the process with links to tools and supplies:


  1. Drill or punch holes the correct size for your wire.
  2. Make sure the end of the wire is smooth, and filed flat.
  3. Fit wire through your layers of metal sheet, pre-cut blanks, and/or other components, to determine length to cut. (more info about proper length)
  4. Place all the components on a steel block, with the bottom layer and bottom of the rivet flush against the block. Draw a line with an extra-fine-point permanent marker (Sharpie, etc.), where you need to cut.
  5. Use flush cutters or a jeweler's saw to cut the rivet. (File flat if necessary, or your rivet will be lumpy and "rustic" looking.)
  6. Set item on a steel bench block and keep the components centered on the wire. Use a riveting hammer to tap a few times on the top of the wire, then flip the piece over and tap a few times on the other end of the wire. This starts mushrooming the wire.
  7. Eugenia Chan's riveting block can help you keep smooth, round rivet heads.
  8. Hammer gently around the edges of the wire on one end, then flip over and repeat.
  9. Keep flipping over and repeating the steps on each side until both ends are domed and smooth to the touch.

  * How to determine the proper length for your rivet: When making your own rivets out of wire or tubing, the standard rule, so you can securely and attractively finish both ends, is to measure the total thickness of the items to be joined, and then add the wire (or tubing) diameter. For example: to join 2 piece of 24-gauge sheet (which are each 0.508mm thick), you have a total thickness of 1.016. If you're joining them with a 14g rivet (1.63mm diameter wire), then cut your rivet (or eyelet) 1.016 + 1.63 = 2.646mm long. There is quite a bit of flexibility in this number. While your exact measurement is "2.646", you can probably get away with anywhere from 2 to 3mm. If you cut it short, you'll have a smaller rivet head at each end of your work which is okay up to a point: if it's too small, it can pull through and your layers will pop apart. If you cut it too long, your wire or tubing may bend while you begin to set it, and you'll have large, globby heads on your rivets or eyelets. Practice makes perfect -- you can eyeball this and skip the formal measurement step. (You'll still want to make the spot to cut, with an extra-fine-point permanent marker.)


For more information, see:


Fun new tools for making traditional wire rivets.

Eyelets


Eyelets are tubes with flared ends. Jewelers sometimes refer to them as tube rivets. One end of a semi-tubular rivet even looks like an eyelet! The main difference between a rivet and an eyelet is that you can see all the way through an eyelet after you set it, but at least one end of a rivet is always solid. If the eyelet is large enough, you can also run wire, chain or a jump ring through the resulting reinforced hole -- see the purple "Spiris" pendant (pictured at right). As with rivets, eyelets come in various sizes and styles:

3/16" diameter eyelets are large and generally used for leather. To set eyelets in leather, use an eyelet setter and the same basic method used to set compression rivets (see above).

Crafted Findings eyelets come in 1/16" and 3/32" diameters and many lengths. Normally you set them with the Crafted Findings tool system (more details above, in the semi-tubular rivets section), but you can also set them by hand, using the steps below -- but skip the steps that explain how to cut tubing, since Crafted Findings eyelets are already cut to a variety of popular lengths.

To create your own custom eyelets using metal tubing, and set them using common jewelry tools:
  1. Drill or punch holes the same size as your tubing. If you're unable to drill or punch a hole the exact size you need, it's safer to make a hole that's slightly too small, and then enlarge it with a bead reamer or round file, until you have the exact perfect (snug) fit.
  2. Make sure the end of the tubing is smooth and flat -- not angled. File first end flat if necessary before cutting tubing to length.
  3. How long does your eyelet need to be? It should be the length of your components to be joined + the outer diameter of the tubing. You can eyeball it, or do math - it's up to you.
    Method 1: Use a digital caliper to measure the thickness of your sheet or other stacked components to be joined, and then add the diameter of the tubing. Example: 2 pieces of 24g sheet = 1.02mm, and 3/32" tubing = 2.38mm, so you'd want an eyelet about 3.4mm (about 1/8") long if using a 3/32"-diameter eyelet to join 2 pieces of 24g sheet.
    Method 2: Fit the tubing through your components, set them on a steel block, and make sure they're all flush at the bottom. Eyeball the total diameter of your tubing and draw a line that far above the top of your stacked components.
  4. Use an extra-fine-point Sharpie or other permanent marker to mark the length to cut.
  5. Take components off tube, and hold tubing with your thumb on a wooden bench pin, or hold it in a tube-cutting jig. If using a tube-cutting jig, you don't need a bench pin, and it's a LOT easier to make a nice straight cut (so you don't have to file it flat)
  6. Put a catch tray or box underneath to catch the tube when it is cut.
  7. Use a jeweler's saw to cut the tubing, making sure to keep the cut very straight and flat, not angled. (File flat if necessary.)
  8. Insert tubing through components. Set item on steel bench block, and keep the components centered on the tubing. (This is why a precise fit is helpful, rather than a hole that's too big.) Put the plain/pointed part of a universal eyelet setting combo tool (or a very wide center punch, at least ¼" wide) into the center of the tube. Don't let your components slide down to the bottom of the tube!
  9. Give 3 taps on the center punch, with a brass hammer. Turn piece over and repeat with same tool. Tapping the centerpunch in the eyelet's center begins to gently splay the tube rivet outwards. If you were too gentle at first, then repeat this step on both sides. You should see a slight curve outwards.
  10. Use a riveting hammer or the pein side of a 4oz ballpein hammer to tap in a circular pattern around the outside edges of the rivet, with an outward and downward motion. Push the metal outwards as you tap, not just down. Flip piece over and repeat on other side. Do a little on each side (about 8 taps), to make sure the tube doesn't bend and the components don't slip. (If they slip, you'll have a tiny flimsy eyelet lip on one side and a huge lumpy eyelet lip on the other side.)
To practice tube riveting, or when you only need an ornamental rivet (rather than a tube that rivets 2 sheets together), you can use 2x2mm or 2x3mm seamless crimp tubes. Crimp tubes are usually not long enough to rivet 2 pieces of metal together, but can give a nice look. And they're great for practicing on a thin (about 24-gauge) blank or scrap of sheet metal.

For more information, see: