Repairs and a riveting tutorial

Last week I did a bunch of minor repairs on my rig. Some stitches attaching my avantail had torn, so I sewed them back up. The record breaking summer heat and my copious sweat aren't friendly to leather even if it's treated well occasionally. One of my straps tore, and the leather hinge on a wrap plate was going so I patched them up. I took enough pictures to give a little demo on riveting here.

I use steel roofing nails with the shortest shank I can find and 1/8 inch diameter. They're very tough, very cheap, light weight, any hardware store carries them and they look almost indistinguishable from the rivets used in the late 14th century pieces in the Churburg collection when they're done right. The shanks are 1/8 inch, so you'll need to drill or punch a hole that size in anything you want to rivet. When you're using them on leather, the head goes on the outside of the leather. Washers aren't required when you're riveting steel to steel or steel to leather. Leather to leather connections seem to have been done more often by stitching, but it's hard to be sure how often it was done since it tends to corrode.

First a few pics to set our scene, and show what I'm trying to replicate. A picture I took of part of a poster that hangs in my shop. Rivet and engraving details from the Churburg #13 breastplate:

Some of the squarer rivet heads (picture is from the Hans Prunner /Carlo Paggiarino Churburg book- go buy it, it's awesome):

The inside of the same breast plate (another Paggiarino pic). Notice the round heads on the rivets.

I didn't come up with this approach- I'd like to give thanks to Brian Price and Robert MacPherson who pointed me in this direction.

A nifty little rivet setter I made. They're dead simple to do- I got mild steel rod from Home Depot, and cut it to about a pencil length. Drilled one deep hole and one very shallow hole in one end, and polished it smooth.

You slip the deep hole over a nail and give it a tap or two to snug the plate down tight- if the hole in the plate is a little small things stick occasionally.

The dimple is for setting and dressing the head of the rivet.

Another trick that can help is to use a tapered punch or a rat tail file to open up the holes a little. The punch can be inserted and just stirred around like you're mixing up a little pot of soup and it opens up the hole. The file has to be spun a bit, and it's pretty rough on the slender files you need to get into the hole, so I tend not to use it.
Main tools I use- long handled end nippers- some folks call them dykes. Farriers use them for trimming horseshoe nails. The longer handled ones cost considerably more, but the leverage they give you makes them well worth it. You're cutting 1/8 inch steel with them most of the time, so it's not easy to do one handed with the short ones. The hammer is really a brad nailer I got at Woodcraft. I modified the back end into a tight cross pein. It's VERY light, about 6oz total. The idea is to spread the head of the nail without thickening the shank. This makes the nail easier to get out later, and less likely to impede articulation if you want the pieces to turn.

This is the core of how this works- the hole has to be very close to the size of the rivet shank. You clip the rivet as short as you can with the end nippers, then pein it fairly tight. You're whacking the head of the nail with the skinny part of the cross pein hammer (ball peins work too, they just don't give you quite the same control) to spread the metal like the head of a mushroom. On the right you can see one of the nails sticking out- I put them in place while I'm working to keep everything aligned, and the little ridges on the shank keep them from sliding out easily. On the left you can see a clipped off shank. I'm going to pein that with the little cross pein.

You can see how the cross pein of the hammer spreads the steel. Many of the rivet heads on the Churburg #13 are square-ish. Either they were piened in two directions with a cross pien, or a square rivet set was used.

Finished this one off with my rivet setter. With decent hammer control you can achieve a very similar look without one.

The rivets all in place in the wrap plate:

Just have to rivet it to the cuisse to get the final piece:


What's the likely culprit if the edges of my peined rivet crack a bit? Too long a rivet leaving too much material to try to stretch and "mushroom"? A technique issue? For the strapping work I'm going -- very similar to your wrap plate in the tutorial -- I don't think it's going to be a strength problem, but it would obviously look better if the rivet stayed together more.


The metal can only stretch so far. You can trim the shank shorter, assuming you still have enough metal to keep the rivet from slipping through the hole. You could anneal the rivet by heating it red hot, and cooling it as slowly as possible. The industrial process for that takes hours. You see rivets with slightly cracked edges holding for hundreds of years, so I wouldn't stress about it much.

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