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Accessories rivets, grommets, eyelets and how to set them

In leatherworking the hardware is usually made of steel or brass. However the metallic colour is often misleading as the true metal often differs from the apparent. Steel is very often brassed and when the thin coating wears away the ferrous metal, which soon rusts, is revealed. Steel can also be nickel-plated. The best quality fittings are of solid brass, polished and lacquered, or solid brass, nickel or chrome-plated. You can easily determine whether you have brass or steel whatever the outward appearance, by testing it with a magnet.


These are used as an alternative to joining by stitching or lacing and are available in three types, tubular (A), bifurcated (B) and solid varieties (C). The tubular are made in four sizes, Nos 0 to 3 and consist of two pieces, a round-headed cap fitting on to a base. The cap is the top and has to be set with a small tool (see rivet setters below). Using bifurcated, unless the prongs are to be concealed, is a last resort. Before buying make sure you're getting the right length roughly the thickness of the leather you're joining plus /8". If they are too short the parts will not hold together, if too long, the cap will deform and the join will be loose. Should things go wrong and you need to remove a rivet try to crumple-up the base using a screwdriver and pliers so you can pull it through the leather. Trying to get the cap off is likely to end in disaster as you will inevitably damage the good side of your leather.

different kinds of rivets

I prefer using the tubular rivets because they give a neat finish both back and front. Solid rivets are by far the strongest and the most satisfactory to use though a modicum of skill is required to fix them. They, and bifurcated rivets are measured in inches and SWG. All fittings manufactured from wire are measured in two sizes, the thickness of the wire and the internal sizes; so the size of wire is given in Standard Wire Gauge numbers. An easily obtained gauge is that used to size knitting needles as a standard gauge itself is very expensive.

Saddlers copper rivets:- This is a traditional rivet, and are although they are slow to fix and rather crude in appearance, they are very strong. They are made from solid copper and consist of a stem with a flat head, and a washer. If at all possible to obtain them, solid rivets made from nickel-plated copper is by far the best metal, as this coating prevents them from turning green. An appropriately-sized hole is made in the leather pieces to be joined and the stem, head-down, placed on a solid steel anvil.

As illustrated in the figure above, if the post is too short the leather thickness around the hole can be thinned using the French edger. Place one end in the hole and revolve the edger around it. Thicker leather can thus be made to make use of a short post. Then again, if the post is too long, it will not set properly. However, by holding it in the jaws of some needle nose pliers, it can be shortened using a jeweller's file, or by using a hacksaw.

Position the leather with the stem coming through the hole, then put the washer over the point of the stem. The washer is a very tight fit and must be driven down the stem with a copper rivet setting tool. The protruding stem is then cut off 3mm above the washer. The stem must now be mushroomed over the washer using a ball peen hammer. By tapping many times round the cut edge of the rivet stem a smooth round dome can be made, which thus keeps the washer under it, in place.

close up of rivet how to insert rivets

Bag clamps (E) and bells (D), more commonly known as domes, are inserted into the base of leather goods to keep them of the ground. The soft-pronged bag clamps are easily fixed and if after inserting them you spread them wide then cut them shorter, you can tap them into position inside the dome shape which is on the outside of the base.

Press studs

Press-studs are found in a variety of types, sizes and colours of caps. The spring type which depends upon an S-type spring for fastening is reliable and long-lasting. There are a range of sizes which are numbered accordingly, the number referring to the size of the fastening mechanism or socket, which can be combined with different sized caps. Consequently the tools required must be appropriate to the size of fastener. They consist of (A) male and (B) female-ended punches and a concave anvil. The female tool should be the same diameter and depth and fit exactly the base of the fastener and the male end be the same size as the hole in the female tool. Use of the incorrect tool ruins more press-studs than any other reason.

tools for inserting spring-type press studs

setting tool for press studs

plate-type press studs

The plate-type press-stud is made up of three pieces, with a polished hasp and base unit in one piece (see A above). The spring mechanism is secured either with a washer (B) or an eyelet (D). This kind of fastener is rapidly becoming more popular than the plastic coated cap.

A is a short Baby Dot, B is a long Baby Dot, they provide firm snap action and strong holding power without being visually prominent, C is a short Durable Dot, an industry standard and D is a long Durable Dot fastener for thicker leathers. Durable Dots are claimed to be self-piercing, not on leather though.

Eyelets and grommets

The simple distinction between eyelets and grommets is simple, an eyelet consists of one piece, in appearance rather like a rivet cap and is fairly small and when inserted through a hole its open end is turned over using the appropriate tool.

eyelets and setting tools how to insert eyelets

A grommet is considerably larger than an eyelet and has two parts, a base and a washer, the base goes through the hole, the washer is placed over it then the open end of the base is, like the eyelet turned over using the appropriately sized tool.

The anvil also has to be the correct size as unlike the rivet anvil, the eyelet and grommet anvils have a groove on the setting surface (clearly seen in the above illustration) to hold them in situ when using the setting tool.

tools for setting grommets and comparison between eyelet and grommet

how to insert grommets

Used to finish lacing, belt and strap holes (ensure they are large enough to take the buckle prong) or simply as decoration. They are ideal for such things as drawstring bags, tarpaulins, tents or shower curtains etc.


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