Introduction: How to Peen a Rivet

Picture of How to Peen a Rivet

As a start to my series of armouring Instructables i figured I'd go with something nice and easy. It also happens to be one of the most important skills you'll need if you ever want to build a suit of armour.
How to peen the humble unassuming rivet. It's a little more complicated than bashing it with a hammer a bunch, but not much.

Step 1: Supplies

Picture of Supplies

Lets start with what you'll need.
in this picture i have....
-a 5 pound anvil
-a metal punch
-side cutters
-a small ball peen hammer
-2 pieces of metal to rivet together
-and a roofing nail.

obviously you don't need to use these tools specifically. a drill works as good as a punch, and the anvil can be replaced with any anvil like object. I regularly use a big ass block of steel i found at the side of the road, a chunk of railroad track, a 15pound lead sinker, or in a pinch I've even used a brick. just for some ideas
as for the nail, i usually use 6d nails from the hardware store if i'm riveting metal to metal and use the roofing nails when i;m attaching leather to metal.

Step 2: Preparing to Rivet

Picture of Preparing to Rivet

first thing you are going to need is something to rivet.
remember those 2 pieces of metal? well now is the time to punch/drill a hole in both of them. since this is practice it doesn't matter where, as long as there is 1 hole in each piece.
for a 6d nail or a standard roofing nail you'll need to make 1/8" holes. if your using a roofing nail 1/8 is a really snug fit, but you can shove it in there.

Once your nail is through both pieces of metal you'll need to cut off the extra, but how much exactly is that?
well thats easy. you'll want to have about 1/2 the width of the nail sticking out of the hole. just lok at the pictures they show it better than i can explain it.

Step 3: Moving Onwards

Picture of Moving Onwards

this step is an easy one.
looking at your rivet you'll see that it has a small peak. you need to use the mash the sides of that peak down so it is a bit more of a point.
it's a small thing, but it is important.

the pictures don't really show it well.

Step 4: Starting to Peen.

Picture of Starting to Peen.

now that you've brought the rivet to port of a point you'll need to lightly hit it straight down from the top to flatten it out, then hitting it on a bit of a diagonal work your way in circles. this should cause the head of the rivet to begin to mushroom out.

Step 5: Finishing It Off

Picture of Finishing It Off

Now to finish the rivet off.
flip the hammer around and use the ball end of the hammer to repeat the last step. easy as that.

now you know to turn a regular old nail into a rivet, pretty simple eh?
now go and start riveting stuff together.

Step 6: Misc Stuff About Rivets

a few random notes and whatnot about rivets.
-since you only need the first 3/8 or less of a nail usually, buy them in the shortest size you can. you'll get more per pound that way.
-the large head on a roofing nail acts like a built in washer. that makes them good for riveting metal onto fabric, leather or plastic.
-duplex nails can be used for pins & posts.
-for most uses a 6d nail will work fine. but carriage bolts are handy if you ever need a rivet bigger than 1/4 inch.
-for articulating rivets use a holes a little larger than the rivet, use a washer under the end you are peening, and peen it over a rivet spacer. A rivet spacer is just a piece of pallet banding or something similar with a slot cut into the end. it makes sure that your rivet is loose enough to allow the pieces to articulate.


pins (author)2008-03-07

Would anyone be interested in me posting an in depth riveting guide? I could include forming standard, decorative, hidden, and tube rivets. I've been doing metalworking/jewelry making awhile, and just wrote an instructional guide on riveting for an English class. However, the guide I wrote was constrained by assignment restrictions; it could be much better. If enough people are interested, I'll put in the time to re-write it with full details. Can I get a show of hands?

rachel (author)pins2008-03-16

I'd be interested too. Have you any experience in riveting leather to leather? What differences should I expect? I'm guessing a nail might not peen into a rivet (if it can be verbed in this manner) as well on leather because the nail/rivet would sink into the much softer leather.

AlexK27 (author)rachel2015-08-14

you can just rivet leather the same way you rivet metals, just keep in mind that it's soft and that if the size of the rivet heads are too small it could pull through the leather.

stoobers (author)rachel2015-08-05

You can do this but you need copper rivets and copper washers to prevent the rivets from pulling through.

loy266 (author)rachel2010-09-19

you have to use a special leather rivet

willbravo (author)rachel2008-04-05

I assume that you want this for some sort of garment / belt / harness? Consider two things: (1) softer metal, ie copper, will be *much* easier to form but will still hold, since it'll be the leather that would fail before the rivet. (This is of course nothing new; see Levi Strauss) and (2) you'll get better, more consistent results (faster, too) if you invest in a tool and die, which you can probably find at a sewing supplier. Then - and I think this is the cool part - go to your local big box home ctr and get a foot or two of the heaviest bare copper wire they sell (in the electrical dept). Depending on your needs, 4, 6 or 8 gauge should work. Then just cut it to length with some heavy dikes or a cold chisel and an anvil if the wire is too thick for your cutters (whack, turn, whack, turn, then bend bend bend using pliers or dikes.)

pins (author)rachel2008-03-18

No, I've never worked with just leather to leather. I know it's done all the time though. I'd just give it a go on some scrap, and see what happens. I'd be interested to hear what happens, if you try it.

greintsma (author)pins2012-03-02

i would love to have a more in depth ible or guide! thanks!

HBU (author)pins2011-07-29

That would be cool

pins (author)pins2010-11-13

Hey, sorry armourkris for continuing to drop links away from your ible but the old link I had for my PDF guide was deleted. To prevent link rot, here's the new link.

Beginer's Guide: Traditional Riveting

trike road poet (author)pins2010-10-21

I'd love to read it, riviets are a good way to join a lot of stuff, so it would be handy knowledge!

macrumpton (author)pins2010-09-16


Rishnai (author)pins2008-03-31

I'd love an instructable like that!

Rangemaster42 (author)pins2008-03-28

Sure would, and thank u pins

janine brown (author)pins2008-03-23

Yes, I am a beginner metalsmith jewelry designer and I would certainly love to see an instructional quide on tube, decorative and hidden rivets.

Kur0 (author)pins2008-03-18

Post it : )

pins (author)pins2008-03-18

Ok, sounds like at least a handfull of people are interested. I'll write it, but it'll be awhile.

PolarBill (author)pins2008-03-18

I'll raise my hand. although I dont think i'll use it nay time soon. I would like to know how to do it

sunni (author)pins2008-03-10

Hey, go for it! After all, this is quite riveting stuff.

jgrimes227 (author)pins2008-03-09

That would be a great idea!! Would also be a good exercise in writing - instructional writing can be a real challenge to do it clearly and leaving almost no questions.

kabira (author)2012-01-22

I have a question. in this instructable, the objects to be riveted together were small, so you could put the rivet head on the anvil, while you hammer the other end. Can someone please explain, how to hold the head on one side while the open end is hammered, when the objects are big, like in ship building?


stoobers (author)kabira2015-08-05

Youheat the tapered end in the forge until it glows. Then you put the rivet in the hole, and someone holds the bucking bar against thhe head, then you use a hammer to plump up the glowing end (called upsetting). When the rivet cools it shrinks and tightens the plates togethermaking them water tight.

captainvoid (author)kabira2014-06-13

Kabira, I built semi trailers for one summer to pay for grad. school. You use a large bar of steel on the backside of the rivet, and a small pneumatic hammer with a rounded head on the other side. The rivets look like the ones from the first slide, i.e., mushroom shaped. The rivets are relatively soft metal and as you pound on the head, and apply pressure to the back, the back mushrooms out too. One person can do it but sometimes two with one person holding the steel bar, and the other the hammer.

BCWatson (author)2014-03-08

I love this Instructable! I am just starting to make my own armor and I have been to several site describing different aspects of making armor, but none cover peening a rivet so clearly and expertly. I especially found the bit about the articuating rivets useful. I never would have thought of that on my own. Can't wait to see more!

DE4D POOL (author)2013-11-16


cdays_01 (author)2013-07-29

The guy that made the Batman Begins arm brace/claw (it's a v-word i'm too lazy to go back) led me here. So simple, it's amazing. Cannot wait to try it. This is the one thing that has stop me from experimenting into armor deeply.

Mr.Hyde (author)2013-01-14

ACME on the anvil: classic! :D Thanks for the tip, looks easy enough

tomsmac (author)2012-06-27

thank you

tareko (author)2012-04-12

Thanks for this great inscrutable.
As a curiosity, until some years ago, corkwood was boiled, straitened a sorted by quality and thickness in small, artisan factories. The corkwood was them piled in blocks. Can’t remember the standard measurements, but let’s say around 1,60 X 0,80 X 0.80 meters.
The block -“fardo”- was held together by two metal strips about a milometer thick.
These strips were used, and reused over and over. Rust and crease, often weakened the strip making it brake under tension.
Joining broken pieces was very easy, using rivets about 6mm diameter. It didn’t even require nail, punch or drill. Just a simple iron rod with a hole in the centre, slightly larger then the diameter of the rivet. The rivet was placed, head down on the anvil and the overlapping strips on top of the rivet. This tool was them held in the direction or the rivet and hit sharply with a hammer. The edge of the rivet would cut through the metal strips and come out on the other side. Another rod of metal, with a concave end, was then used to peen the rivet..
Maybe not very artistic, but fast and efficient.

yerjoking (author)2008-05-30

would i be able to do this to leather, to make a sort of lightweight sort of protection giving armour?

Broom (author)yerjoking2010-09-08

Leather-on-leather would be pretty tough to join with hand-rivets like this. That's what sewing is for! By hand, of course. Pre-punch the needle holes with an awl, if necessary.

dreamberry (author)Broom2011-07-29

Standard rivets are exellent for joining leather to leather, as well as leather to plate armour, strapping, harnesses and such. You just slide a washer over the shaft before peening. If leather to leather use a washer on both sides, ie., rivet, washer, leather, leather, washer, peen. if leather to plate then from plate side - rivet, plate, leather, washer, peen. Drill holes in leather with a drill bit, or use a punch. Is 'ible needed? Armouring for fun (not profit)

Broom (author)dreamberry2011-08-01

Ah, thanks for that insight, dreamberry. Either way works well, I guess!

Locomiguel (author)yerjoking2011-07-29

The standard in the art of leather craft and saddle making are copper riviets and burrs. They are very similar to this one but (1) are made of copper (2) have a wide flat head on them (3) have a washer like item called a burr that goes on top of the leather pieces and holds the copper shaft after it has been cut off and peened. They come in about a hundred different sizes, and with some practice, produce a visually pleasing and very sturdy product. To use them well does require some specialized equipment, but it is not expensive and available at all leather shops. Really worth having if you do much DIY with leather, lightweight metals, even heavy materials.

Dr.Ellen (author)2008-03-02

This Instructable works best for relatively large rivets. When working with small rivets in a place you want to look good, you can make a special head-forming tool. (I really should do an Instructable on this one...)

1) Take a rod of hardenable metal, the diameter of the final rivet head you want to make. Shape and polish to the form you want to end up with. (This need not be a simple spheroid - you can make something more decorative.) When finished, harden it by heating red-hot, then quenching. We will call this the forming positive, because it is the same shape as the rivet dome we want.

2) Take a larger-diameter rod of hardenable metal. Flatten one end, then fasten it in a metal vice with the flattened end protruding quite a bit. This will become the forming negative. Heat the end of the negative red-hot with a propane torch, then drive the forming positive into the end. You'll wind up with a hollow in your negative, the shape of the final rivet head.

3) Step 2 will push metal out to the side. (Think of the rim of a meteor crater.) File and smooth it down. Quench the forming positive to keep it hard. Heat the negative red-hot again, and hammer the positive in, in register with the last strike if you are making a decorative head. Repeat until satisfied. Polish.

4) Heat the negative red-hot, then quench to harden. Preserve the positive - you might find it convenient (if you are in a shared shop) to make several negatives. Then shaped rivets could become a trademark of sorts for your shop.

To use this tool, put the rivet through the metal as in this instructable. Then put the forming negative over the end of the rivet, and use it to beat out the rivet head into the shape you desire. Have the forming end of the negative rod hardened, but the end struck with the hammer should be a bit soft so the hammer won't bounce.

Masonry nails are excellent and affordable hardenable steel. I make all kinds of things with them: rivet formers, maker's-mark stamps, scratch awls, chasing tools, specialized chisels. They come in a range of sizes and shapes suited to a lot of jobs.

Broom (author)Dr.Ellen2010-09-08

You DEFINITELY should make an 'ible on this!

Dr.Ellen (author)Broom2010-09-08

Dear Broom -

Some forms of knowledge are in your head; others are in your hands. I can rivet quite well, but all I know is in my hands. I can't tell people how to do it. Sorry.


macrumpton (author)Dr.Ellen2010-09-16

Just make videos.

Broom (author)Dr.Ellen2010-09-08

But you have already, above! Just put some pictures in to go with it, and your instructable is done!


Pretty please?

With sugar on top?

Dr.Ellen (author)Broom2010-09-08

What I said above was really instructions for making a rivet heading tool. I have more information on that on my web site: . Notice the format there for cloak-pins, and compare it to the format of my viking cloak-pin instructable. The comic strip format is more natural to me. And as I said, once something gets into my muscle memory, it's very hard to state it in words.


macrumpton (author)Dr.Ellen2010-09-16

Awesome ideas.

MasterOfNone (author)Dr.Ellen2008-03-06

Dr. Ellen, These are great tips. Thanks especially for the tip about masonry nails. I assume that the nails come in a hardened state from the hardware store. How do soften them to work them?

Dr.Ellen (author)MasterOfNone2008-03-06

Oh, that's the part about heating them red-hot. If you want them soft in a cold state, then you should drop them into a can of ashes whilst red-hot, and let them cool slowly for a few hours. Ashes don't conduct heat very well - and since they're ashes, they aren't likely to catch on fire from the hot iron. But if you want your iron to be cooperative, it's softer when it's hot.

eleutheromania (author)Dr.Ellen2010-05-22

A thought on heating nails: I had a brief look through my workshop and could only find galvanised masonry nails. I certainly won't be heating those as they would release incredibly toxic fumes. I did find one type that seemed quite shiny and uncoated, however I was worried that this may still be a zinc coating or some such. Great tips though, I'm certainly trying this once I can find the right nails.

I usually use 6D nail with a bright finish, no galvanizing then, and once they're cut to size they are ready to rivet. I;ve never used masonry nails, but all the ones I've ever seen weren't galvanized. are you sure that what you have are masonry nails?
In any case, if they do need to be normalized or annealed you can strip off the galvanizing safely by soaking them overnight in a bucket of vinegar, or if you opt to burn off the galvanizing then just do it outside on a breezy day and you should be fine.

redneckjaybyrd (author)2009-10-28

Easier to just use a rivet gun and rivets.  I got a rivet gun for $15 and works wonders.

Broom (author)redneckjaybyrd2010-09-08

Rivet gun rivets are useful for general projects, but won't work at all for certain ones.

Articulated armor joints, for instance, in historic recreation fighting: pop rivets are far too weak.

Pop gun rivets are meant to hold with many small points of reinforcement, like stitches in a garment. Hand-rivets are stronger, and capable of being single-point attachments, like staples holding a pamphlet together.

bahi (author)2010-08-01

Sometimes we got into complicated instructables, and we forget about the basics. I wish there were more instructable like this, covering the basics.

Broom (author)bahi2010-09-08


I've peened rivets for years, and this 'ible helped remind me of some important basics.

Also, it never ever occurred to me to use nails... d'oh!

gamnoparts (author)2008-12-29

Thanks for the wonderful insight. The most important information on this, though, is to avoid throwing the anvil @ people. This is why I bought a 100 pounder - Never have been good @ resisting temptation.

About This Instructable




More by armourkris:Building a Turban Helm for all sorts of fightingA quick and dirty VoulgeHow to Blacken Armour
Add instructable to: