You use rivets to hold two pieces of leather together or simply to decorate the leather. You will likely find rivets on your belt, handbag, the handle of your briefcase or leather suitcase or on dog leashes. The tools and the rivets themselves are fairly inexpensive and are part of every leather worker's toolkit. You can assemble all of the materials you require for under £39 (February 2010 prices).
The rivets themselves come in two parts, a cap and a shaft. Rivets are generally available in copper, brass, nickel, brushed nickel and hard steel, and also in colours such as black, gold gilt and turquoise. You select the rivets to match the finished piece.
Rivets typically come in three sizes: small, medium and large. This does not describe the size of the rivet head, but rather the length of the shaft. You would use a small rivet for lightweight leather and a large rivet on saddles or heavy straps.
Another variety is the copper rivet, which uses a burr (like a washer) instead of a cap. This variety is usually used by leathercraft professionals only, as it calls for a specialised setting tool.
You must punch a hole through both pieces of the leather you're joining before setting the rivet. Rotary punches are a hand-held, plier-like tool with an adjustable wheel, to punch holes between 1/8 inch and ¼ inch. Drive punches are hand-held punches in individual sizes, which you drive with a mallet. The mallet itself is made of a heavy synthetic or of rolled leather. Some leathercrafters skip the punches entirely and use hand drills.
You place the shaft-side of the rivet under the leather, fit the cap onto the shaft and strike the cap to secure it.
A specialised surface is unnecessary; companies like Tandy Leather Factory and HideCrafter Leather Company offer synthetic surfaces, which enable you to strike the rivet firmly without marring it. Both companies also offer rivet anvils, which are metal pieces with rounded indentations that receive the rivet and ensure its perfect shape.
The rivet setter is a handheld tool with a concave end which you fit over the rivet cap. You then strike the setter with a mallet to set the rivet. A simple rivet setter from Tandy Leather Factory retails for £1.90, while a kit of a simple rivet setter, anvil and assorted rivets retails for £6.40 (February 2010 price).
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