As a professional leatherworker, I sometimes look at the dog collar I’m supposed to be stitching, and my enthusiasm for the project hightails it out the door, especially if I am very tired or busy. I was delighted the discover that for specific jobs, rivets can be used instead of stitching. The wide variety of leather rivets available ensure there is a suitable rivet for every project.
Leather rivets (metal or plastic) are used to join two or more leather pieces together permanently. Rivets can be functional or decorative. There are eight basic rivets: single-cap, double-cap, tubular (semi & full), split, copper, chaton, and cone rivets.
Riveting leather is a quick and easy way of permanently binding leather or other materials together without the need for gluing or stitching. As you’re reading this, you are probably asking yourself what’s the catch. After all, anything that sounds too good to be true probably isn’t! To successfully use rivets, you need to know:
- How to choose the best rivet for your project.
- How to correctly set a rivet.
- When to use or not use rivets.
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What Are Leather Rivets?
Rivets are small metal pins or bolts passed through a pre-punched hole in the leather (or other material). The riveted material is pressed tightly between the two rivet heads, creating a secure fastening.
What Are the Different Parts of a Leather Rivet?
When using chaton rivets or cone rivets, the decorative heads are referred to as the factory head. The cap on double and single capped rivets are also referred to as factory heads.
Once the rivet has been set, the chaton, cone, and single cap rivets will all have shop or field heads on the opposite end of the rivet shank. By contrast, a double cap rivet will always have two factory heads and no shop heads.
Below the rivet’s head or cap is the rivet’s pin, sometimes referred to as a shank. In a blind rivet, the end of the pin is referred to as a mandrel head.
Above the head of a blind rivet, a mandrel extends upwards. The long mandrel fits into a rivet gun for setting rivets.
The height, diameter, and shape of rivet heads differ according to their intended purpose. Decorative rivets show tremendous variation in head shapes as they include rhinestones, beads, pearls, and stylized metal shapes, i.e., Celtic crosses, bees, flowers, etc.
The shank is a smooth cylindrical shape. The length, diameter, and wall thickness of the shank are available in a range of sizes. The shank may be solid, hollow, or, as in split rivets, divided into two to three pin tails.
Single and double cap rivets come in two parts: the post and the cap. The post is pushed through the hole where it is attached to the cap before being compressed together.
How Do Leather Rivets Work?
The two ends of the rivet are then compressed together using a variety of techniques. The compression causes the factory head to flatten, and the shop heads to flower out in a mushroom shape creating a secondary shop head.
The enlarged mushroom shape of the shop head becomes trapped on the other side of the hole, preventing the rivet from being pulled back out. The factory head will prevent the rivet slipped forward through the hole.
Why Do You Need Rivets for Leather?
The most sound argument for using rivets is that rivets are the fastest way to bind two or more leather pieces together. Rivets can also attach the leather to other materials, i.e., denim, metal, foam, wood, etc.
The tools required to set rivets at home are relatively inexpensive and easy to master. Rivets allow even beginner leather artisans to produce leather items with a more professional look.
What Metals Are Used to Make Leather Rivets?
Rivet materials need to meet three criteria:
- The material needs to allow the rivet to compress without shattering
- The material needs to be capable of expanding to form a field head
- Lastly, the material must be sufficiently strong to withstand the shear and tensile forces to which the finished product will be subjected.
The four most common metals used to make leather rivets are aluminum, brass, copper, and stainless steel. Brass and copper can cause the leather to go green.
Can Materials Besides Metal Be Used to Make Leather Rivets?
You may be wondering why only metals are commonly used in leather? Are there practical alternatives to metal, such as wood and plastic? In this section, we will consider the viability of using these two materials for leather rivets.
Can Leather Rivets Be Made Out of Wood?
Wood is not suitable for the manufacture of leather rivets as it will not deform under pressure. Wood splinters and breaks if too much mechanical force is applied. Wood cannot change shape like metal.
Non-compressible wooden pins are not rivets, but they have been used successfully to bind leather and wood together for many years. In this way, they fulfill a similar function to rivets but in a different manner.
Can Leather Rivets Be Made Out of Plastic?
Plastic rivets are widely available. Like metal, certain plastics will deform when compressed. However, plastic is not as robust as metal and will have a high chance of breaking if used for structural stabilization in leather projects.
If you use plastic rivets, they do best when used for decorative purposes on thin, flexible leathers.
Are Rivets Available in Different Colours?
Metal rivets are commonly available in the following colors:
- Matt black
- Dark brown
- Rose gold
- Rainbow (Neo Chrome)
Decorative rivets will have a standard metal post in one of the above colors listed. The head of a decorative rivet is made with rhinestones, semi-precious gems, pearls, or glass.
What Are the Different Types of Rivet Shapes Used for Leather?
There are over eleven types of rivets that can be used for riveting leather. However, the rivets most commonly used by leatherworkers are:
- Single cap rivets
- Double cap rivets
- Tubular rivets
- Split Rivets
- Copper/brass rivets
Single Cap Rivets
A single cap rivet is sometimes known as a speed rivet or rapid rivet. These are the simplest and cheapest rivets to use.
Single cap rivets are sold in two parts, the cap, and the post. The post is a hollow tube with a circular attachment at one end; the cap fits onto the end of the hollow tup. Once compressed, the circular attachment forms the field head.
Single cap rivets are set with a manual die set, rivet setting tool, or a basic anvil and hammer.
Double Cap Rivets
Double cap rivets are the same as single cap rivets except that it has two shop heads or caps. Like single cap rivets, double cap rivets are sold in two parts: the post, which has a cap already attached, and a loose secondary cap to be secured by the leatherworker.
Double cap rivets are preferentially used over single cap rivets in places where both sides of the rivet are frequently visible.
Semi-tubular rivets differ from solid rivets in that they have a small hole drilled into the end of the rivet shank. The open shank end allows the end of the shank to expand. The ready expansion of the shank end reduces the amount of force required to form the field head.
For leatherworks with painful or weak hands or arms, semi-tubular rivets are a better option. Semi-tubular rivets require one-quarter of the strength needed to set a solid rivet of equivalent size!
The four most common head profiles used for riveting leather is:
- Flat Head Rivet
- Oval Head
- Truss head
Double cap rivets are stronger than single cap rivets, but semi-tubular rivets are stronger than both of these rivets.
Tubular rivets may also be solid. Full tubular rivets do not have holes drilled into their shanks. Tubular rivets are the strongest rivet design but also require the most force to set them correctly.
Split Rivets are also known as bifurcated or Oscar rivets. These rivets have splits in their rivet shanks, dividing the shank into two or three parts. These splits are known as pin tails.
When the rivet head is compressed under force, the pin tails fan outward, creating a field head; the field head prevents the rivet from being pulled back through the leather hole.
It is essential when using these rivets that they are perfectly balanced before compression begins. If the rivet is leaning or tilting one way, one or more pin tails may bend the wrong way.
Copper may be used to construct any rivet style; however, most artisans have a specific picture in mind when speaking about copper rivets.
Copper rivets are most commonly used to manufacture solid tubular rivets.
Copper is rust-proof and suitable for heavy-duty applications. Copper rivets are set using a rivet gun (if it’s a blind rivet), a manual die set, or a rivet setting tool.
Are All Rivets Functional, or Can They Be Decorative?
Rivets are not one-trick ponies. Rivets are handy for quickly attaching multiple pieces of leather, but that is not all they can do. Rivets can be used to decorate leather pieces, either as the main feature or by enhancing another design aspect.
Chaton rivets have a jewel-like appearance. Typically, the rivet head is fitted with rhinestones, crystals, pearls, or semi-precious gems. Chaton rivets are commonly used to provide bling to horse bridles, dog colors, handbags, clothes, and shoes.
The shape of the rivet head is used to provide 3D embellishment to products.
- Button rivets with a rounded head or commonly used in the clothing and handbag industry.
- Spike and cone rivets are favorites for dog collars and goth/biker-influenced clothing lines.
- Many handbags and shoe manufacturers have included spiked rivets into their products to give them an edgier appearance.
Problem Shooting the Three Most Common Problems With Riveting Leather
Riveting leather is a relatively simple procedure, but occasionally issues can arise. The three problems covered below are the most common issues I see when coaching newbies.
Why Did My Rivet Bend?
If the shank of your rivet is longer than the compressed thickness of your leather pieces or the leather hole is too big, the rivet post will often bend.
Incorrectly sized rivets, the diameter of the hole will perfectly match the diameter of the post, providing a snug fit around the shank of the rivet. The rivet length must be 2mm longer than the thickness of the material being riveted. This tight fit guides the rivet keeping the post straight during compression.
A rivet may also become bent or distorted if the post and cap are placed at an angle on the anvil or if the hammer was not correctly centered. In the scenarios, the force is applied at an oblique angle creating a misaligned and bent rivet.
My Rivet Fell Out, What Went Wrong?
There are two reasons rivets come loose and fall out:
- The leather hole is too big
- There are issues with the heads and caps of the rivet
If the leather hole is too big, the rivet will be subjected to more movement. Gradually, as small as it is, this movement will either enlarge the leather hole or result in mechanical breakage of the rivet. In both cases, the rivet will become loose and fall out.
The second reason rivets may fall out could be due to issues with the rivet shop heads and factory caps.
If the cap on a snap rivet is improperly positioned on the post before setting, it may not be securely attached. Compressing the rivet does not fix and may even worsen the cap’s attachment.
When using copper rivets or blind rivets, the field or shop head may not expand sufficiently. Small field heads are commonly seen with beginners who have not yet mastered the techniques needed to set these types of rivets.
The undersized field head can be pulled back through the punched or drilled hole. The entire rivet will fall out if the field head is not big enough.
Why Do My Copper and Brass Rivets Go Green?
Leather contains oils, acids, tannins, and other corrosive elements introduced during the tanning process.
Copper and brass (which contains copper) are easily oxidized when exposed to corrosive agents. Oxidation of copper or brass rivets results in them turning green, as Verdigris is formed. The rivets are now said to be tarnished.
Verdigris may also stain the surrounding leather, giving it an unflattering green hue. Verdigris and Verdigris stains are removed with a lot of elbow grease and a vinegar-containing solution. This smelly solution worked very well to remove the Verdigris from our English pony harness.
This problem is avoided by using nickel-plated brass rivets.
How Do I Remove Rivets After They Have Been Attached?
Except for decorative rivets, most rivets can be removed using the following method. The leather project is laid flat on a firm surface, i.e., the table or floor will work.
Select a drill size slightly bigger than the post or pinhole size for drilling out the rivets. When working with a single cap rivet, place the project facedown on the table so that the cap is touching the table surface.
You can now drill through the center of the post, all the way to the head. The cap should pop off. If you have difficulty removing a stuck cap, a shoemaker’s pincer is used. These pincers are used to pry tricky caps off. This method works well for copper rivets and blind rivets.
Double cap rivets can also be drilled off, but you must choose which cap you want to drill through. My suggestion would be that you choose the least visible cap to drill through so that it won’t be so apparent if you slip or make a mistake.
Wire rivets, chaton, and other decorative rivets can be removed using wire clippers and pincers, the nip the head of the rivet off. These rivets can be more difficult to remove without damaging the leather.
If you have the machinery available, you can grind the rivet heads off. Once the rivet head is removed, the rivet pin easily slips out.
Rivets are a favorite time-hack used by leather artisans all over the globe. Regardless of the type of rivet used, riveting is a much faster way of binding two pieces of leather than stitching.
Leather rivets are usually made of different metals, but plastic rivets can be used with very soft, flexible leathers. The fastest rivet to use is the single cap speed rivet. The strongest rivet commonly used for leather is the solid tubular copper rivet.
Decorative rivets like the chaton, cone, button, and spike rivets are popular embellishments used for dog collars, horse bridles, clothing, handbags, and shoes.