Rivets are a popular choice among crafters. There are a few different styles of rivets available to choose from and I would like to share with you what I have learned.
Rivets are a common type of fastener. They are made of brass, copper, steel and aluminum. They are used for securing a wide range of materials from steel and aluminum to leather, denim, canvas, etc. Rivets can be found in various sizes ranging from about 5mm to 19mm (0.2 in. to 0.75 in.) long.
Rivets are unlike any other fastener. Whether they are blind/pop rivets, single/double capped, tubular, or solid copper/brass rivets that require a burr to secure them, Rivets all work by squeezing layers of material together. Continue reading to learn how and why rivets are such an important part of the leatherworking process.
What Are Leather Rivets?
At their core, Rivets are metal studs secured on both ends to lock multiple layers of material together. They are an invaluable tool in the leathercrafter’s kit, and a fun addition to the shop.
In leatherworking, presentation and aesthetic are just as important as being able to fasten and secure materials. The magic of the rivet is that it can play both parts simultaneously. Available in a variety of materials and colors, they can be used to call attention to certain details or be completely hidden from view just adding extra support to a joint that is commonly under tension such as a pocket corner or a bag seam.
Rivets are made of a variety of materials such as steel, aluminum, brass and copper. Using compression to lock a rivet cap or a small washer called a “burr” in place, rivets can offer a nearly unparalleled level of structural support in places of higher-than-usual tension.
In 1873, Levi Strauss invented a pair of denim jeans that were reinforced at the pockets with small steel rivets. Leatherworkers continue that tradition to this day. Rivets have become commonplace among belt and bag makers alike. They are commonly used to secure the buckle and keeper on the end of a leather belt. Many bag makers use rivets in places where there tends to be higher tension such as the handles, pocket corners and strap attachment points. Rivets are commonplace on purses and luggage pieces as well. Saddle/Tack shops rely on rivets as do makers of gun holsters and knife sheaths.
“Rivets are metal studs secured on both ends to lock multiple layers of material together.”
Types of Leather Rivets
Commonly referred to as “Leather Rivets”, they tend to be made of various metals. These rivets are used in a variety of applications and certain rivets work better than others because of how they are made and how they are secured. Let’s look at the most common rivet types.
Leather Double Cap Rivets
Leather Double Cap Rivets are the more aesthetically pleasing style of rivets common among most leatherworkers. Available in a variety of post lengths from ¼ in. to ½ in. (5mm – 12mm). Double Cap Rivets are thin hollow tubes that, when installed, mushroom out at one end to fill the inner cavity of the cap that is pressed onto the post.
Leather Single Cap Rivets
Designed more for ease of installation than aesthetics, Leather Single Cap Rivets’ post-end collapses inside of the rivet cap the same way its sibling does, securing the rivet in its desired location. The name “Single Cap” comes from the rivet’s design. When installed, one end of the rivet has a rounded cap while the other end is flat and forms a hollow tube called the “Post” Post lengths are typically available from ¼ in. to ½ in. (5mm – 12mm).
Leather Tubular Rivets
Engineered with a much sturdier design than the single/double cap rivets, the Tubular rivet post is solid metal most of the way through. Just as its hollow counterparts though, the post end of the tubular rivets also mushroom into the cavity of the rivet cap that fits over one end of the post. However!
Tubular Rivets are unlike any other version or rivet design. Tubular rivets do not require a prepared hole. Their design allows them to punch right through the leather. They also do not require the use of a cap at the end as there is a “Splash” setter option that rolls the end of the hollow tube out in a flower-petal-like design, securing the rivet to the leather.
Common Leather Rivet Materials
While many people call them “Leather Rivets”, what they are referring to is their use of securing multiple layers of leather and other fabrics together. There is a wide variety of metals that are used to make rivets. The most popular of them are Brass and Copper. Even the rivets that look like shiny steel are usually nickel coated over brass.
- Brass – Brass is easily the most common and most popular metal used in making rivets. While rivets are available in various colors, they are most often a coated/plated brass base because of brass’ durability and inability to oxidize/rust like copper/steel are known to do.
- Steel – Though steel has a tendency to rust, it is a strong, high-tensile strength material. Steel is a great option for leather goods that will stay dry most of the time.
- Copper – Copper rivets are a staple in any saddle/tack shop. They are also frequently used in bag and apparel making to secure corners where multiple layers of leather meet. Copper rivets are also favored by leathercrafters for securing handles and shoulder straps due to how much stress those points take over their lifetime.
- Nickel – Shiny like polished steel or chrome, nickel plating is very commonly used over brass hardware to provide a silver/steel aesthetic to the project while avoiding the rusty pitfalls of actually using steel hardware.
- Aluminum – Aluminum pop rivets can be used to make repairs when gaining access to the opposite side of a leather panel is not an option. They are commonly referred to as “Blind” rivets because of how they are installed. A solid post (Mandrel) rests inside a tube (Rivet Pin). To secure the rivet, it is inserted through a hole to the opposite side of the leather (the blind side). The mandrel contains a ball of metal on one end known as the mandrel head. The mandrel head crushes the hollow rivet pin when it is pulled back through locking the rivet pin in place.
“Brass is easily the most common and most popular metal used in making rivets.”
Leather Rivet Sizes and Uses
When trying to decide what length of rivet to use, especially when it comes to the single/double capped rivets, a good rule of thumb is to have ⅛ in. (3mm) of post protruding from the leather so that the cap can be installed and pressed onto the rivet post properly.
This is the measurement across the top of the rivet cap. Cap size refers to the overall diameter of the rivet across the cap surface.
Post Size (length)
This measurement is taken from the end of the rivet post to the inside/bottom of the cap or head of the rivet.
|6mm / 0.24 in.||Good to use on leather up to about 7 oz (2.8mm). This will start to include some thinner straps, belts, and projects with a couple of thin layers. 6.1mm is typically the shortest post for single/double cap, and tubular style rivets. Good for 1-5 oz (0.4mm – 2mm) leather. Projects might include clothing, and things made with lighter weight leather such as tote bags, purses, wallets, card holders, watchbands, bracelets, etc.|
|7mm / 0.276 in.||Leather weights up to about 10 oz (4mm) can be secured with these length rivets. Projects might include bag handles, tool keepers, and knife sheaths and thicker wallets.|
|8mm / 0.315 in.||The second of three common post lengths for most single/double cap rivets. They are commonly used for leather weights up to 12 oz. (4.8mm) This is near the top end of belt making, even for the thickest of multi-layered gun belts.|
|9mm / 0.35 in.||For use with 15 oz (6mm) leather. We are getting into saddle and tack making territory at this thickness.|
|10mm / 0.39 in.||Up to 18 oz. (7.2mm) Leather. Good for making belts using standard 8/9 oz. belt blanks. Also good for making gun holsters.|
|11mm / 0.43 in.||For leather projects up to 20 oz. (8mm) thick.|
|12mm / 0.47 in.||The longest post length for most single/double cap rivets. Also the shortest post length for the solid copper rivets. Leather thickness for the single/double caps is going to be 22.5 oz. (9mm). Copper rivets are a whole new ballgame. To install them properly, a leatherworker needs to punch out a set of leather washers that will provide more sturdiness and reduce/eliminate the risk of a rivet pulling through the leather itself. When planning to use a copper rivet and burr, always remember to calculate the added thickness of the washer to the overall.|
|13mm / 0.51 in.||Since we are no longer in the range of single/double cap rivets, these numbers will include the thickness of the leather washers as well. 25 oz. (10mm) leather.|
|14mm / 0.55 in.||Medium length copper rivets. Definitely well into the saddle making territory. Extremely thick leather holsters and sheaths. For leather thickness up to 27.5 oz (11mm).|
|15mm / 0.59 in.||Up to 30 oz. (12mm) Leather projects.|
|16mm / 0.63 in.||Up to 32.5 oz. (13mm) Leather projects.|
|17mm / 0.67 in.||Up to 35 oz. (14mm) Leather projects.|
|18mm / 0.71 in.||Up to 37.5 oz. (15mm) Leather projects.|
|19mm / 0.75 in.||Longest common copper rivet post. Very common in saddle & tack shops. At ¾ of an inch long, rivets this long can be used for almost anything in the world of leathercrafting. For leather projects up to 40 oz. (16mm) thick.|
How to Set Leather Rivets
Here is a helpful video demonstrating the basic steps to setting leather rivets:
Helpful Leather Rivet Insights
Rivets are a valuable asset to a leathercrafter. Their various designs make them useful for nearly any application. One thing to keep in mind is the length of the rivet post. When installing Single/Double-capped or tubular rivets, the rivet post should not protrude from the leather by more than ⅛ in. to 3/16 in. above the leather.
Longer rivets may cause the rivet post to bend during installation. Fixing a bent or misaligned rivet usually involves using a drill press to drill through the rivet cap and post, then installing a new one in its place.
Will Pop Rivets Work on Leather?
Yes, In a situation where there is no room to lay the leather flat on an anvil or other work surface, using a pop rivet gun is a great alternative for securing leather.
How Do You Rivet Thick Leather?
One option often used by leathercrafters working with extremely thick leather is to use a drill press or a handheld battery-powered drill to create holes then install the rivets.
What Size Rivet Do I Need for Leather?
It is a good idea when using single/double cap rivets to measure the thickness of the leather, then add ⅛ in. (3mm) for the post length. This will allow the rivet post to protrude all the way through the leather and the cap to fit on top of the post as they are designed to.
Something to keep in mind is that if the post is too long and sticks through the leather too far, the rivet may bend or offset as it is pressed into the cap. If the post is too short, the cap may not be seated properly on the post, then not be installed properly when they are pressed together.
As for solid copper/brass rivets that use a burr washer to lock the layers together, any length of post will work so long as it is long enough to stick through the leather and accept the burr washer being pressed into place.
What Rivets Should I Use on Leather?
The type of rivets used are up to the discretion of the leatherworker. Some crafters use solid copper rivets almost exclusively, while others rely on the aesthetic of the double cap rivets. Leather goods such as belts, gun belts, tote bags, purses, backpacks, tool pouches, knife sheaths, multitool holsters, and more can be made using single/double cap, tubular or solid copper/brass rivets.
Rivets used in high stress areas such as the corners of a pocket or a bag where the seam can be pushed apart may require the use of Tubular or Copper Rivets due to their stronger, solid design. Other projects or project areas that are not as prone to higher tension can be secured with single or double-capped rivets which offer a more aesthetically pleasing design.
Something else to keep in mind is where the leather item will be used. Brass and copper hardware generally will not rust if they get wet, however steel usually will over time.
With some time, materials, a handful of tools, a box of rivets, a little imagination… There are endless possibilities of what can be made. Rivets are often used in places where it is just too difficult to stitch. Sometimes the defining characteristic of a finished product are the shiny bits. Consider for a moment that a pair of Levi Jeans would not be right without the little rivet at the corner of the pockets. It’s time for you to see what you can come up with. I wish you the utmost success in your crafting.