6 Riveting Tips: Master Cold Connections with Brilliant Tools and Expert How-To’s

For me, one of the hardest metalsmithing skills to master has been riveting. Though I can solder, there are still times that a rivet is necessary, either for structural reasons, for aesthetic reasons, or because the materials used can’t handle the heat of a torch.

rivets and riveting tools for cold connections

Photo by Jim Lawson

Cold connections like riveting also provide a way to add depth and/or movement to your jewelry designs, like swinging parts, spinning elements, separated layers, shadowbox styles, etc. So even for jewelry designers who can solder, cold connections like riveting are an important skill to master. Here are six tips from my personal list of tips on riveting and other essential jewelry-making techniques–hope you find them helpful starters or reminders!

  1. Anneal the wire you’ll use to make rivets, but also anneal manufactured rivets. We might think this is common knowledge, but it’s worth a reminder: Anneal your wire before making 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?
  1. When measuring wire to make a wire rivet, the thickness of a fine-line Sharpie mark is usually a good amount of metal to leave for a decent sized rivet head. If the wire is thick, leave more metal by cutting outside of your marked line. When making rivets, ideally you’ll want to have about half the thickness of whatever rivet stock (wire) you are using to form the rivet head.
  1. Saw the wire when making a rivet, instead of using wire cutters. You won’t get a clean rivet head unless the wire end is a flat circle, and sawing is the best way to achieve a flat circle end. If you insist on using wire cutters–or if your sawed wire end isn’t even and flat–allow a little extra wire and file off the beveled cut end until the end of the wire is a clean, flat circle. No nips, no burs.
rivets and riveting tools

Photo by Jim Lawson

  1. Begin by hammering a few parallel lines in the wire end as it is being held in a vise or heavy-duty pliers (using a fine cross peen, riveting, or goldsmith’s hammer). Then turn the wire 90 degrees (careful not to mar it) and hammer a few more lines perpendicular to the first ones. This will create a cross-hatched surface and slowly spread the metal into a rivet head.
  1. When I get frustrated with trying to make my own rivets–which requires forming a lovely domed head on not one but both ends of the wire–I rely on my friend, balled wire. Balling the ends of wire with a simple butane torch (which, oddly, is one of my favorite things to do in the studio) takes the “cold” out of “cold connections,” but it sure makes it easier to make your own rivets!

    Simply ball up the end of a wire in the flame. Then either use the ball as one end of your rivet as it is–which can create an appealing look and interesting dimension–or place the balled end in a vise or the jaws of sturdy toothed pliers and hammer as you would any wire end when making a rivet. The balled end provides a shortcut and helps you along the way to doming (terminating) the rivet head. Then you can proceed with your half-finished rivet.

  1. When riveting small or other challenging pieces, sometimes you need to provide support to the metal while you’re focusing on hammering the rivet head. Coins, steel tools like bench blocks, and mandrels are good candidates for support.

These tips will take you a long way into mastering riveting, but there’s much more to learn–and you can learn riveting and other cold connections from start to finish with our new Riveting Tool Collection.

four hole metal punch for riveting and other techniques

Eugenia Chan showing me her four-hole metal punch at Bead Fest Summer.

The Riveting Tool Collection includes Eugenia Chan’s deluxe four-hole metal punch and steel riveting block I mentioned in my Bead Fest wrap-up, as well as Kate Richbourg’s new book Metalsmithing Made Easy, and Helen Driggs’ five-star-rated DVD Metalsmith Essentials: Riveting and Cold Connections. This info-packed collection also includes the current issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, which features Eugenia’s riveted lapis pendant project as well as information and tutorials from Bill Fretz, and Roger Halas, Lexi Erickson, and other jewelry artists you love.

“Cold connections really rock,” Helen says. “I could spend weeks in the studio without firing up the torch, because coming up with an innovative cold connection using wire, rivets, jump rings, or tubing is a personal challenge I just can’t resist.” Don’t resist–take the challenge and have fun making rivets and other cold connections with our Riveting Tool Collection!

 

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