Cold Connections: How to Make Perfect Rivets Every Time

23 Aug 2010

Helen Driggs
is the managing editor
for Lapidary Journal

Jewelry Artist
.
What the World Needs Now is Better Rivets

These two photos show a well-fitted tube rivet, one with thick walled stock and one with thin walled stock. You should have to coax the tubing into the hole with a little bit of muscle--if the hole is too big, eventually the rivet will fail.
 

The Sharpie nib is usually exactly the right thickness to make a cutting mark for a rivet. The rule books say about half the thickness of the rivet stock, so for my normal rivet wire gauges, the Sharpie thickness is perfect.

It seems no matter how much I write about riveting, readers always want to know more. Riveting can be a challenge to learn, and my students are always full of questions about making them. Usually their questions revolve around three rivet problem areas: how big to drill the rivet holes, how long to cut the rivet itself, and how to get a professional finish. I've pulled together some tips for tube and wire rivets to help you develop good work methods for making your rivets as perfect as possible. The best way to make really excellent rivets, of course, is to practice making them as often as you can.

Problem Child One: How to Create the Right-Sized Rivet Holes
This seems to be the most difficult part of riveting for most people. The reason for it is simple: drill bits and wire sizes are almost never compatible for making rivet holes. That said, here is the number one thing to remember to avoid this problem: once you have measured the diameter of the rivet wire (or tubing), make sure the hole you drill is a slightly smaller diameter. Repeat: always, always err on the side of drilling a smaller hole. Then slowly file or ream out the hole to enlarge it to a perfect fit. Go slowly, and test often. The wire should just barely pass through the rivet hole.

This rivet head has a good fit--it covers the hole, is round, thick, and well-proportioned. All it needs now is some filing and a swipe with some sandpaper to finish it off.
 

Yes, masking tape is the unsung hero of riveting. I always use it to hold layers together during fitting.
Problem Child Two: How do I Make a Professional Rivet Head?
So you've finally got a great fit on the rivet hole. Now it's important to make a well-formed rivet head that will hold that rivet during cutting, flaring, and planishing of the other end. And the rivet head has to look cleanly finished, have enough metal to endure daily wear, and be the right proportion for the work. No small order for a tiny snip of wire or tubing, right? Here is my secret for good rivet heads: toothed pliers with flat sides. You can grip the wire very firmly in those plier teeth and whack the end into a nice, thick mushroom very efficiently. Anneal, test the fit often, and mushroom the rivet head systematically--I mean count those hammer strokes! A symmetrical rivet head comes from symmetrical hammering with your riveting hammer.

For tube rivets, flare them evenly with a centerpunch or tapered mandrel. I always go clockwise and then counterclockwise. Make sure the flared opening is round because, if it isn't, the rivet will set crooked.  

Another really handy tip is to use a strip of masking tape to hold the layers of your piece together while you test the fit of your rivets.

Problem Child Three: Where Do I Cut the Rivet?
So you've finally got a great fit on the rivet hole and a well-formed rivet head, and now you need to trim the excess stock and flare or form a head on the other end. This is the make it or break it moment of riveting. If you cut the wire too short, you will never get the rivet to hold. If you cut the wire too long, you'll probably get a whonkin' blob of misshapen metal on the back instead of a nice round rivet head. Yuck!

The same rules apply to tubing, too.

So here is my secret: the thickness of a thin-tip Sharpie is the no-fail measurement for cutting rivet stock. Hold the layers tightly together, put the tip of the Sharpie against the back of the piece, and make a mark on the wire where the Sharpie hits it. Saw on the outside edge of the line. Perfect every time for average-sized (12-, 14-, 16-gauge) wire and tubing (thin or thick wall).

So go get your riveting hammer and play. And, if you've come up with some fun riveting tips, post them on the Jewelry Making Daily forums--sharing is almost as much fun as hammering.


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