5 Riveting Details: When, Where, and How to Use Rivets and Other Cold Connections

Which do you think is more difficult in general, soldering or cold connections like riveting? For me, riveting has been the most difficult to master with any consistency. Either I don't hit straight, I cut my rivets too long, my setup isn't ideal, or the moon is in the wrong phase. I think it might be a combination of all four. (Ha!) But I keep trying, because even though I can solder pretty much anything I've tried to solder so far, riveting and other cold connections are essential to master to have a complete metalsmithing skill set.

riveting supplies and tools  

Many of my metalsmithing friends and gurus agree and even see making cold connections as a creativity-stretching exercise. In her book The Jewelry Maker's Field Guide, master metalsmith Helen Driggs writes about cold connections, "It can be just as or even more challenging to join a well-planned and skillfully executed piece without fire as for a soldered one. You'll find it invaluable to master the construction of rivets and many other kinds of cold joins before advancing to soldering," Helen writes, "because solving the mental challenges of fabricating fragile materials using a difficult sequence of techniques can ultimately be very rewarding."

Here are five more tips for working with rivets and other cold connections.

  use rivets for fragile materials or to create movement

1. Protect Materials: Cold connections are ideal for connecting fragile layers (glass, mica sheets, enameled pieces), low-temp layers (aluminum, tin, and other low-melting-point metals), and flammable layers (paper, fabric) with other layers. Mixed-media artist and metalsmith Susan Lenart Kazmer relies on cold connections to add fragile or no-heat materials to her metal jewelry designs. "I had to figure out and invent ways to incorporate sticks, feathers, leaves, glass, and any other personal objects into my work using connections and attachments that will stand the tests of time," Susan says, resulting in her mastering "the art of staples, tabs, piano hinges, tube and wire rivets, as well as wire attachments."

2. Anneal Wire: We might think this tip is common knowledge, but it's worth a reminder: Anneal your wire before you make rivets or tube rivets, because soft wire is easier to form a head on than hard wire. If you make your own rivets, you probably remember to anneal the wire during the process, but if you use store-bought rivets, do you remember to anneal them as well? I never did, until I came across this little tip in Helen Driggs' eBook Jewelry Making Tools, Tips, and More.

saw rivet wire, don't use cutters  

3. Make the Mark: Here's another great tip from Helen's eBook: When measuring wire to make your own wire rivets, the thickness of a fine-line Sharpie mark is usually just the right amount of wire to leave above the hole for a good rivet head. If the wire is very thick, leave a bit more to work with by cutting just outside the marker line.

  file rivet wire even

4. Saw Wire and Tubing: Don't use wire cutters when you are making rivets or tube rivets; saw the wire or tubing so you'll have a clean circle on the end to turn into a rivet head. If you must use wire cutters, cut a little extra wire and file the cut end into a clean circle. A tube-cutting jig is also a super-handy tool to use with your saw that metalsmith and jewelry artist Julie Jerman-Melka recommends in Helen's Field Guide: "I'd be lost without my tube-cutting jig. It gives me precise cuts, and the thumb keeper holds the tubing secure while sawing the tube. The saw blade doesn't stick, and I end up with very few broken blades.

5. Add Movement: Rivets, brads, and wire connections are also a great way to add movement and interesting elements to jewelry designs, sometimes much more so than solder or jeweler's adhesive could do. "It is almost disappointing as a lover of joins to see a piece just floating as glue will do," Susan says. "It is much more interesting to see and discover a fabulous attachment. I will still buy a piece of jewelry for an ingenious join." Upon close examination, I realize that the interesting cold connections are a large part of what draws me to Susan's work.

rivet types and styles  

Learn more about riveting jewelry and mastering cold connections with Helen Driggs when you get our exclusive cold-connection premium tool and resource collection, which includes Helen's comprehensive technique book The Jewelry Maker's Field Guide (in which she describes and diagrams the two types and seven styles of rivets), her Basic Fabrication DVD, and her eBook Jewelry Making Tools, Tips, and More. It also includes her short video download "Riveting and More with a Drill Gauge" as well as essential riveting tools: a tube-cutting jig for making tube rivets (or cutting tubes for other jewelry creations) like the one Julie referenced above, a No. 15 drill gauge, and Gwen Youngblood's riveting set. There are a limited number of these kits available, so don't miss getting yours!

These are just some of the riveting tips and reminders that seem important to me; what do you think are the most important things to remember when creating rivets and riveting jewelry? I'd love to hear in the comments below.

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