Rivet hand setting tools v's rivet press machine

Rebecca Eaton

Posted on February 11 2021

Rivet hand setting tools v's rivet press machine

One of the first things I was taught when starting leatherwork was the hardware called a rivet. I used to work in London for a designer called Paul Seville https://www.paulseville.co.uk/ He used rivets as functional and decorative details to his designs. We used to hand close these with a rivet setting tool and anvil.

Here is a little history about rivets:

First invented: 3000 BC - Rivets have been around as early as 3000 BC. They first appeared in Egypt, where wooden rivets were used to manufacture several types of tool. Later on, the wooden rivets were used as fasteners in Gaul (France) while it was under the rule of the Roman Empire.

What are they? A rivet is a permanent mechanical fastener. Before being installed, a rivet consists of a smooth cylindrical shaft with a head on one end. On installation, the rivet is placed in a punched or drilled hole, and the tail is upset, or bucked (i.e., deformed), so that it expands to about 1.5 times the original shaft diameter, holding the rivet in place. In other words, the pounding or pulling creates a new "head" on the tail end by smashing the "tail" material flatter, resulting in a rivet that is roughly a dumbbell shape. Why are they so useful? Because there is effectively a head on each end of an installed rivet, it can support tension loads. However, it is much more capable of supporting shear loads (loads perpendicular to the axis of the shaft).

Terminology – 


Stem (is the long cylinder part) + CAP ( clips onto the stem)

 Rivets The first thing to talk about when discussing rivets is the rivet itself. They come in lots of shapes and sizes. The ones that I like to use for bag making are double capped rivets. This means that they have a cap on both sides of the rivet so it looks beautiful on both sides.

When buying rivets the supplier will talk about the STEM length (B) and width (A), and size of the CAP (C).  

The CAP is the visible part. It is personal preference which size CAP you choose, it all about the aesthetics of your design, normally the bigger the design, like a bag, the bigger the CAP and the smaller the design, like a piece of jewellery, the smaller the CAP. For bag making I normally use 9mm or 10mm CAP and STEM.


An image taken from Harvey Nicohols website of a Balenciaga bag with 10mm cap rivets

    A Paul Seville leather bangle with 6mm cap rivets.


They will also reference the width of the STEM (A), which is the size of hole you will need to make in the leather. This is need to be punched prior to putting the rivet in. For example: if the width of your stem is 3mm you will need to punch a 3mm hole into the leather

 I tend to use a rotating hole punch or individual hole punch.

Rotating hole punch - £20.73  https://bit.ly/36S286h

Individual hole punch set - £15.54 - https://bit.ly/3tCWG0Q

The stem length depends on the depth of leather that you are working with. You need the STEM to be long enough to get through all the layers and safely clip the CAP on top. If the STEM is too long for your work, then when closing the rivet it can end up that the STEM flattens lop sided, it will look like the CAP is not symmetrical and level on both sides.

If this does happen, the can you can fix it. You will need to very carefully take the rivet out and replace it. You will need to cut off the cap with a pair of Knipex end cutters, you need to go very carefully to make sure you do not damage the surface of the leather. I will be doing a how to video on this.

Knipex - £13 – http://bit.ly/376JuaZ

Prepping the rivet : Once you have punched the hole in your leather you feed the STEM from underneath up to the surface of the leather, then you push the CAP on top. You should hear the CAP click into place, this means that is should hold while you prepare to close it off.

To close off you have 2 options:

A hand setting tool with anvil OR a rivet press machine

When I first started my handbag brand I had a collection that incorporated loads of rivets on each bag as a decorative detail. At the time I lived in a live/work unit in London. I had huge orders of bags to produce for a Japanese agent and at the time I only had a hand setting tool and anvil to close the rivets. Much to my poor neighbours delight I would be hammering into the night closing off all the rivets, it took forever. After that I decided it would be a good idea to get a rivet setting press!! So the first bit of kit that I invested in was a rivet setting press. Since then I have never looked back, I adore my rivet press. However a hand setting tool and anvil is a great place to start.

HAND SETTING TOOL - When using a hand setting tool and anvil you will need to make sure you have a very solid table to work on. This is to stop the anvil from bouncing and causing the rivet to set lopsided or making a mark in the leather. You will then need a rubber hammer. Place the leather onto the anvil making sure that the rivet is directly sitting in the centre of the anvil dome underneath. Place the hand setting tool onto the top of the rivet head. Keep it very straight and start to lightly hammer the rivet head. This should start to flatten the stem of the rivet. Go slowly to start to make sure that the stem does not go lopsided. Once you are happy it is flattening off straight continue hammer till the cap is sitting flush with the surface of the leather. Test it with your fingernail to make sure that the cap is secure, re-hammer if necessary.

Rivet hand setting tool & anvil - £10 - https://www.rebecca-jane.com/products/rj-leather-studio-hand-rivet-setting-tool

Rubber mallet - £ 3.50 - https://www.artisanleather.co.uk/16oz-black-rubber-headed-mallet.html

RIVET PRESS – This is a fab bit of kit and one that you will fall in love with the first time you use it. There are lots of different types and at the moment it seems they are in hot demand so lots of stockists are out of stock. One very reliable company is Green Grizzley.

Rivet press Machine £46 - http://www.greengrizzly.co.uk/en/hand-preses/1805-universal-hand-press-machine-for-rivets-press-fasteners-and-button-making-atr.html

The press itself is universal, it can be used for rivets, eyelets, press fastening and button making. You will need to separately by the dies for the specific hardware that you are using. Dies are metal components that are screwed into the press machine at these points:


The dies come in a pair, the top and bottom. You will need to buy the correct size die that corresponds to the size of the rivet CAP that you are using.

You will then need to buy separate dies for other hardware such as eyelets. Sometimes eyelets will come with 4 parts to the die, 1 pair to make the hole, then the other pair to close off the eyelet.

 Dies £31 - http://www.greengrizzly.co.uk/en/tools-for-rivets/1043-pack-3-tools-for-double-cap-rapid-rivets-studs-for-hand-press-machine-dies-st07.html

 Overall a rivet setting tool and anvil is a great tool for starting your journey with rivets but once you start making lots, you will not regret getting a rivet setting press!

Happy riveting!

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