Working on leather projects sometimes involves leather hardware. They help snap, buckle, and fasten leather pieces together, making them very useful.
Leather hardware is a group of leather tools used to faster, attach, buckle, snap, rivet, strap, and attach leather together. The usually include rivets, snaps, eyelets, grommets, buckles, and finials. Some can be set by hand, and others utilize machines for efficient affixing of leather hardware.
With so much available, and in so many styles, let’s take a look which might be used depending on the type of project.
What is Leather Hardware?
Leather hardware comprises a group of, often metal, fasteners that help attach leather together in both permanent and semi-permanent ways. For example, rivets would be a more permanent way to affix leather together. Snaps, however, allow the attachment and unattachment of leather, vis the attached snap closure.
Hardware comes in a wide variety of metals. Some are very common including brass, aluminum, steel, copper, and nickel. While others, for custom or high-end projects, can be made from, or plated in, more precious metals such as gold.
The type of hardware to use is also very important to consider. One factor is aesthetics. Will the hardware serve a visual purpose, enhancing or highlighting a pattern on the finished piece? Or, is it purely functional intended to hold leather together though not be seen?
Also, different hardware fasteners have different holding strengths. For example, rivets will likely hold much more strongly than snaps. And a buckle can hold tightly though also have some “wiggle room”, or “play”, when being worn. They also come in different sizes, covering many different project needs.
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Once you know how the finished piece should look, it will be easier to determine which type, material, and size of leather hardware you’ll need. Let’s look at a few of the more common types.
Application of leather hardware can be done manually with just a few general tools, manually with specialized tools, or mechanically using setting and pressing machines.
Types of Leather Hardware and Related Tools
Buckles are a very common form of leather hardware. They are primarily constructed with a metal tang that protrudes through a hole in the leather, and rests on a metal frame. The tang placement through the hole holds the leather belt in place, keeping it just how the wearer would like.
They are widely used in making belts, allowing for easy adjustment of the fit. They’re also used on straps of luggage and handbags, allowing for altering the length of straps to better fit the wearer/user.
Buckles come in a near endless amount of sizes, shapes, materials, and looks. Some are very stylish, reaching the levels of artistic pieces. While others are very basic and functional. This is certainly a piece of leather hardware you’re likely familiar with or will work with on some projects.
Leather Rivets and Leather Rivet Setters
A rivet is a two-piece mechanical fastener used to join two pieces of material together. One side of a rivet has a round shaft with a head on the end. The other side, called the “tail” or “shaft”, has another head and an area where the round shaft pushes into. Rivets require pressure to be set into place, so the shaft deforms into the other head, securing them together.
Since rivets need to be secured on both ends during the riveting process, special tools are available to help. They are called rivet setters. Rivet setters are usually a combination of 2 pieces. One is a base that the bottom rivet head sits on. the other is a metal bar, about 6” long, that is shaped to fit over the top rivet. This bar can be struck with some force, usually with a hammer or mallet, to “set” the rivets. Once “set” and in place, the rivets usually have a very strong hold.
Mechanical rivet machines also exist, where instead of setting them with a hammer, they are set by the pull of a handle. Since rivet machines have a fixed range of motion, they can help produce more accurate results than when doing by hand with a hammer. Also, they can make riveting much faster.
How to Set a Leather Rivet
When riveting, holes need to be made into the leather where the rivet shaft will push through. The non-shaft head is set onto a base, the shafted head placed through the material, then pounded with a hammer or mallet. The shaft mushes and deforms into the non-shaft head, creating a joined piece that resembles a dumbbell shape. The leather material is now secured between the rivet heads.
Rivets can be removed, though it usually takes a little effort, as they’re intended to be more permanent fastener devices. For example, blue jeans often use rivets to join the material together, and they stay sturdy for years. Here’s a helpful video demonstrating the process:
Leather Snap Setters
A snap setter is a tool used to set snaps into material. Snaps have generally 5 separate pieces to them (3 on the “top snap” portion, 2 on the “bottom snap” portion). These are more complex than rivets, though they offer the ability to fasten and unfasten with ease. Thus, easy portion must be sturdy enough, and secure enough, to withstand years of daily use.
The snap setter is used to align the snap portions to the material, and provide a surface to hit them (with a hammer or mallet) to set them in place. This is performed on one piece of material for the “top snap”, and a seaport piece of material for the “bottom snap”. When the snaps are “snapped” together, the material is joined. Snaps are a very common, and somewhat fun, way to join leather for a variety of useful purposes. Here’s a great look at how this is done:
Leather Hand Press Setter Machine
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A hand press is a machine that sets snaps, rivets, eyelets, and grommets. While there are manual methods where these hardware types can be applied by hand with some striking force (using a hammer, mallet, etc.), a mechanized process can lead to much easier, faster application of these hardware pieces.
The hand press machine operates by having a fixed range of motion. It is mechanically connected to a lever arm, that when pressed down by hand, transfers the force through the machine and into the hardware being set (snaps, rivets, grommets, etc.). A hand press can help when you’re doing higher volume production or seek to save time and energy over manually setting hardware by striking with hammers, mauls, or mallets. It’s quite a smooth process, and can be soothing at times too 🙂 Here’s this type in action:
Leather Foot Press Setter Machine
A foot press is a machine that sets snaps, rivets, eyelets, and grommets. While there are manual methods where these hardware types can be applied by hand with some striking force, having a mechanized process can lead to much easier, and faster application of these construction elements, especially in leather working and fine leather craft.
The foot press machine operates by having a fixed range of motion. While hand press setters are operated by hand, foot press setters are mechanically connected to a large foot pedal. When pressed with the feet, it transfers the force through the machine and into the hardware being set (snaps, rivets, grommets, etc.).
Since the foot drives the force, these machines also provide benefit by allowing the hands to be free for holding onto the material being joined. Often, force generated by the feet can be continued longer (and feel less tiring) than that by the hands. A foot press can help when you’re doing higher volume production or seek to have consistent, high-quality results. Here’s how the foot press machine works with grommets:
Leather Snap Removal Tool
Sometimes snaps have to be taken out. Snap removal tools are used to remove snaps that have already been set. On occasion when working, we realize that a snap will need to be undone or moved (from a design change, a snap is damaged, etc.). Snap removal tools are sturdy, metal tools that will disassemble a snap so it can come free from the material it was originally joined to.
They have to be sturdy, to undo the force used to initially affix the snap. Some of these tools are hand-held, and require a fair amount of force to squeeze them. Others are table-mounted, providing a bit more leverage and an easier task of pushing a lever arm to free the snap from the material. While likely not used often, when needed, they are exceedingly useful.
Leather Tack Puller
A tack puller is a hand tool generally with a v-slotted metal tip that is used to pry up tacks and nails. It looks similar to a long screwdriver with a “v” tip. In some cases, it can be used to help loosen hardware that is attached to leather goods.
While a specific removal tool is usually best (snap removal tool, etc.), the general capabilities of a tack puller might come in handy on occasion. If used very infrequently, it can help save the cost of having to buy a dedicated remover tool. Or, it can be used in creative ways to pry and loosen fasteners and related pieces. Here’s a great look at a few different style of tack pullers:
Leather Grommets and Eyelets
Grommets and eyelets are metal hardware that can be applied to leather work to reinforce holes in the leather. This is often done in situations where frequent rubbing or abrasion might wear down the leather.
For example, if on a tarp or tent, you have a hole where a string or rope will pass through. Over time, the rope’s movement will begin to wear down the leather material around the hole, weaken it, and possibly lead to a tear in the material. A grommet or eyelet will cover the inside of the hole, protecting the leather from chaffing caused by the rope.
Grommets and eyelets are available in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and materials. Some common ones include brass, steel, nickel, and copper. Their application can be for both aesthetic and functional reasons. Grommets and eyelets are a little less common on finished goods than snaps and leather rivets, though are truly quite useful. Also, some look very aesthetically pleasing on finished pieces.
Part of the joy of leather working is planning out the next piece or project. One can get very creative with the methods of joining leather, as the leather hardware available is about as varied as the creative ideas and imaginations that can use them. If you’d like to see my overall leather tools list, click here.
What are leather buckles and straps used for?
Leather buckles and straps are most often used for securing the length of leather goods, commonly, waist belts, briefcases, luggage, travel bags, and purses. The adjustable nature of straps allows them to change length based on need.
What is leather belt hardware?
Leather belt hardware includes the pieces used to secure leather belts in place. They most often include buckles, keepers, and finials. They can also include leather covered buckles, magnetic buckles, and buckles made of fine/rare metals.