This instructable is going to serve 3 purposes:
1. show how I set round rivets to decoratively fasten sheet metal
2. Show how to make one of the tools required to set round rivets
3. Show how to use these tools and skills to make a cool pendant
Round rivets are my favorite fasteners for sheet metal. Why
use adhesives or ugly nuts and bolts when you can use permanent solid round rivets to create a nice looking solid connection. When I first started using rivets I knew the basics: drill a hole, insert the rivet, pound the heck out of it. After many projects, I began to work on my technique so that my finished projects have a clean look and finish. I decided to write this instructabe to help other who may have an interest in using rivets on their own projects…
At first I was just going to use scraps to document my techniques, but then I realized that I could make a simple pendant that should cover the steps well and end with a cool entry for the necklace contest!
Materials (rivet anvil):
Small piece of steel
Tools (rivet anvil):
Drill press or hand drill
Various drill bits
Small piece of sheet aluminum
Small piece of sheet copper
One copper rivet
One aluminum rivet
Ball peen hammer
Various drill bits
Hard work surface (block of steel/anvil)
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
First you need your rivets. I found a great supplier online: www.rjleahy.com. They carry some hard to find sheet metal and a large variety of rivets. Their prices are the best I have found and the customer service is fantastic. Rivets are generally sold by weight, but for this project you will only need one copper round rivet and one aluminum round rivet of the same size.
The secret to a nice looking round rivet is the preservation of the “factory” peened end. To protect the curved head, it must be set in an anvil while hammering. I have not found a versatile rivet anvil for sale, but they are easy to make. For the rivet anvil, you will need a small piece of steel. I made mine out of a thick 1 ½” washer with a ¾” hole. The hole will come in handy, but a solid bar of steel will work just as well. Read through the tips in Step 7 before deciding what to use for your rivet anvil.
For the pendant you will need a 2” X 2” piece of heavy copper sheet (I used 16oz roofing copper) and a 2” X 2” piece of aluminum sheet of the same thickness. To finish the pendant you will need some sort of jumpring for the necklace to run through.
Step 2: Gather and Make Your Tools
For all drilled holes, I use a drillpress. You could use a hand drill, but be very careful to keep the drill as perpendicular to your work piece as possible. Grab a good drill index as you will need various bit sizes from 1/16” up to 9/16” in 1/32” increments.
The rivet anvil is basically a hard surface with a dimple to set the round head of the rivet in. To create the dimple you will need 3 drill bits: one that is the same diameter as the rivet head, one that is 1/32” less than the rivet, and one that is 1/32 larger than the rivet head. You are going to step through the bits to create a round bottomed dimple. If you were to only use one drill bit to create the dimple, the angled head of the bit will make a cone shaped dimple which will disfigure the round head of the rivet.
Using the smallest bit, drill into your steel piece to a depth slightly less than the thickness of the rivet head. Unless you break out the micrometer, you will have to eyeball the depth. No worries if you drill too deep, you can try a different spot on the same piece of steel if needed. Next use the middle sized bit to widen the hole slightly, but do not drill to the same depth. Lastly, do the same with the larger bit, widen the hole, but do not drill as deep as the previous. Once you have used the larger bit, place a rivet head into the dimple and verify that the rivet head is slightly above the flat surface of your anvil. You will not know if or how the rivet head will be distorted until you use the anvil to set a rivet. You may want to try a rivet or two on scraps of metal before jumping into the pendant instructions.
When setting rivets I place the rivet anvil on a large steel block on my bench. In a pinch, a solid wood surface will work, but I like the backing of the steel block. Now that the rivet anvil is made, gather the last remaining tools: a center punch (I use a spring loaded one) and a hammer.
Step 3: Gather and Prep the Pendant Materials
For my pendant I used the pattern shown. It will produce a 1 ¾” round pendant. I cut the sheet with shears and a bandsaw, then cleaned the edges up on a disk sander. Also be sure to mark the holes where the rivets will be placed on both pieces. If not making the pendant, just grab some scrap sheet metal to check your anvil.
Step 4: Make a Hole
Assemble the two pieces as shown. If needed, hammer the pieces down on a flat surface. Pick a ‘good’ side for your pendant and mark the spot for the first rivet with the center punch.
Choose a drill bit with the same diameter as the rivet shank and put it in your drill. Important note: For the first rivet securing any 2 sheets of metal, the holes can be drilled separately. You can take the top piece to the drill, then realign the pieces and mark the bottom piece with the center punch. Sometimes this is a good idea as when drilling through 2 pieces at the same time, the drill bit may walk a little before going into the bottom piece. If you can hold the 2 pieces very tightly to prevent any shifting of metal, then you can drill through both together. This is a case by case decision.
Whether you drill through one at a time or both together, you want to deburr the hole on the back side of both pieces. Using a large bit (1/2” to 9/16”) IN YOUR HAND, spin the bit 3 or 4 times on the back side of the sheet in the hole. This accomplishes 2 things: 1. It removes any burrs left from the drilling and 2. It created a taper to the surface that will help strengthen the rivet connection. I have a bit on my bench just for this purpose. I wrapped it with tape to create a handle and protect my hand from the sharp cutting edge.
Step 5: Setting the Rivet
You are almost ready to set the rivet… but first you need to check the fit and trim it to size. Realign the two pieces being riveted and push a rivet through the hole. If the top sheet is copper, use the aluminum rivet. If the top sheet is aluminum, use the copper rivet. Make sure there are no burrs or debris under the rivet head or between the sheets. Hold the pieces as close to their final position as you can. There will be some adjustment after it is set, but very little. While holding pressure on the rivet head, use diagonal cutters to cut the rivet shank so that about 1/16” is sticking above the metal surface. If you cut it too short, replace the rivet with another and cut it again.
Place your rivet anvil on your hard working surface and carefully put the round rivet head in the dimple. Keep holding everything tightly together and move your hand away from the rivet area. Using the peen side of your hammer, carefully strike the center of the rivet to flatten and spread the rivet. It takes 2 or 3 solid strikes for the copper rivet and 1or 2 for the aluminum. Once the rivet is spread slightly, turn the hammer and strike the rivet until it is flattened close to the metal surface, usually 2 or 3 hits. Be careful and only strike the rivet.
Flip the work pieces over and see how it looks. If the rivet anvil was made correctly, there shouldn’t be any significant change to the rivet’s round head. You have just set a solid round rivet.
Step 6: Finishing the Pendant
At this point you have 2 pieces of metal held at a single riveted pivot. Adjust the pieces so they align properly and mark your second rivet hole with the center punch. I marked both pieces on both ends so the correct place would be easy to mark. Drill your hole and deburr the back. Set your second rivet with the round head on the same side. Decide which end you want up and mark (with the center punch) a hole for the jumpring. Drill the hole with a 1/16” bit and use a ¼” bit to deburr the hole.
You should now have a cool riveted pendant!
(Okay, the aluminum rivet looks distorted in the photo… because I used the dimple that was made for the copper rivets. The flatter aluminum aircraft rivet should have had its own dimple…)
Step 7: Additional Tips and Tricks
Prep your sheet metal surfaces to as close to finished as possible. It is difficult to sand or polish around set rivets.
When setting many rivets in a single piece, drill the holes and set the rivets one at a time. With each rivet set, the metal can shift slightly causing any other pre-drilled hole to misalign.
If you need to temporarily secure multiple pieces before committing to the rivet, use a smaller diameter hole and a small nut and bolt. Put the bolt head on the same side as the round head side so that tightening of the nut will mark the back side, not the front.
While working on a riveted project, keep all of your tools close at hand. It is difficult to hold your work secure to the anvil while reaching too far for the hammer!
If a rivet does not want to slide into the drilled hole easily, carefully tap it in while supporting the back side around the hole.
To remove a rivet, drill from the back side in the center of the rivet with a bit 1/32” smaller than the rivet shank. Drill into the rivet head and carefully use a hammer and punch to drive it out of the hole.
Keep your rivet anvil clean and smooth. I often run it on a wire wheel and buffing wheel to maintain a polished surface.
Benefits of using a washer for your rivet anvil:
1. Plenty of room to create various sized dimples
2. Use the center hole to support the work while inserting or removing rivets
3. Rivets can only be placed as close together as the narrowest point of the anvil. The washer hole allows me to place them as close as ½” apart.
To see many of my riveted projects, check out my gallery at www.creativeetching.deviantart.com