7+ Essential Metalsmithing Tips: Master Riveting and Other Cold Connections with Kim St. Jean
Knowing how to make good cold connections in general–and riveting in particular–is essential for your jewelry-making tasks. Even if you’re working with materials that can handle the heat of a torch for soldering, cold connections like rivets, hinges/pins, screws, tabs, and wire wraps can do double duty as design elements. Plus rivets and cold connections are a great option if you’re metalsmithing in a small space.
Did you know you can make wire rivets using inexpensive copper wire from the hardware store? Most hardware stores have 14- and 16-gauge copper wire in the general hardware section. And did you know there’s more than one kind of rivet? I still struggle with making perfect wire rivets, so I have to work slowly to keep my riveting work straight and even. Fortunately, there are other kinds of rivets–tubes, which I found remarkably easy by comparison; and ball-end pins, which I adore because I love balling the ends of wire; and others.
I learned seven handy tips about riveting and other brilliant ideas in popular teacher and expert jewelry maker Kim St. Jean’s riveting, cold connections, and jewelry tool videos (more on those below).
1. Form a design or shape out of steel wire and use it as a texturing tool over metal. Simply place the steel design over your annealed metal sheet and hammer on an anvil. The wire design will imprint on the metal sheet just as if you were using a metal stamp. Affordable and versatile! Bonus: You could use the steel wire piece again later as part of your jewelry design to repeat the motif.
2. You’ll get better results when filing metal (such as when making rivets) if you support your metal instead of holding it up in the air, in your hand. One of the purposes of a bench pin is to help support metal for cutting and filing, but you may not have added a bench pin to your toolbox yet. I made metal jewelry for two years before I bought one! I wish I’d known Kim’s great tip of using a simple scrap block of wood as a bench-pin substitute. You can drill in it, saw on it, and file on it, just like you would a bench pin.
3. How do you create holes in metal for wire or rivets to pass through? Drill press, flex shaft, Dremel, hole-punching pliers or tool? If you don’t have any of these, that block of wood in #2 above can help in a pinch. You can create a hole in metal for riveting by hammering a nail or nail punch through your metal while it’s on the wood block. Enlarge the hole with a bead reamer if you need to.
4. However you create the holes for riveting, you might end up with a little flap, bur, or sliver of metal attached to your piece next to the hole. Filing and sanding can remove it, but that can also create file marks on your metal surface. Kim suggests pressing and twisting a drill bit (slightly larger than the hole) over the hole, on the front and back, to remove the bur. It also changes the hole through your metal to a slightly flared hole on the surface; Kim says when you create your rivet, that extra space in the flare will be filled by the rivet, creating a stronger rivet.
5. Getting your rivets and their corresponding holes to be just the right size is an art. If you accidentally file or ream the hole just a hair too large, Kim has a super easy, quick fix: Simply hammer the ball side of a ball-peen hammer on the hole a couple of times (on a steel block) to slightly spread the metal, closing up the hole just a smidge. Voila! A tighter riveting connection.
6. To create wire rivets, you need flush (flat, even) cuts on your wire ends. You’ll notice that one side of a flush cutter is flat–and will create a flat cut on that side of your wire–but the other side is a concave angle, which will leave a similarly shaped (pointed) cut. So as a reminder of which side produces the flat cut we want for riveting and where to place the wire in the blades in order to get the best cut, Kim uses a Sharpie marker to mark the “cutting zone.” Keeping the wire within that area will create proper leverage (easier on your hands!) and help the cutters cut well for a long time, especially heavy-gauge wire like we use for riveting.
7. There are many occasions for which we create paddle-end wires by flattening the ends with a hammer. Until I watched Kim’s Wire Riveted Earrings video, I never realized that my paddle ends bend toward the right because I’m right handed! Kim’s brilliant but simple solution is to just flip the piece over during hammering and hammer a few more times; the paddle will straighten up as it continues to flatten. I love simple, brilliant fixes like that!
Until I watched Kim’s Wire Riveted Earrings video, I never realized that my paddle ends bend toward the right because I’m right handed!
Get 8 more essential metalsmithing tips from Kim St. Jean in part two!
If your riveting skills need some love, or if you’re lacking in cold-connection skills in general (or if you just love earring projects!), download Kim St. Jean’s digital videos:
Or save a bundle and get all six videos in one info-packed DVD, Kitchen Table Metalsmithing: Intro to Basic Jewelry Tools Through 6 Metal Earring Designs with Kim St. Jean. You’ll get six complete earring projects and much, much more! Along the way in Kim’s videos, you’ll find lots of metalsmithing technique information about essential skills like hammering and texturing metal, metal stamping, sawing and cutting metal, creating patinas, wrapping wire, filing and finishing. And of course, riveting! You won’t be disappointed.
Updated April 2018.