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Make Your Own Rivet Setter. A Perlage Doming Tool For Under $10!

It's going to be no surprise when I say leatherwork is a multi skilled craft. From hand stitching, edge finishing, dyeing, tooling, prototyping, design, pattern making and many skills, it's a craft that can take many years to master.

Among the more obscure 'sub-skills' in our craft is rivet setting. This is the art of taking a metal nail, rivet or pin, and using it to permanently install locks, hasps and other metallic hardware.

Once the nail has been put in place, it's trimmed leaving a slight excess, which is then domed using a rivet setter to permanently keep the hardware in place.

The skill to master here, is making your domed end clean, polished and consistent. The video course 'How To Install Locks And Rivets' will reveal the secrets to this highly sought after knowledge.

A brass briefcase lock attached to a leather case with domed rivets

Now, one of the key pieces of equipment when doming, or 'setting' a rivet, is the tool this blog post is all about creating. The rivet setter.

Real, fine leathercraft rivet setters are notoriously hard to find, and quite importantly for many hobby leatherworkers, very expensive! Often seen in excess of $100.00 each.

a steel rivet setter used for perlage rivet doming

So in this blog post I'm going to teach you how to make a rivet setter for only a few dollars and a few minutes work.

What you'll need:

  • A nail setter with a 3mm head (or various sizes if you desire)

  • A rotary tool such as a Dremel

  • Diamond abrasive ball burrs (5mm ball for 3mm setter), 100 grit or higher

  • Bamboo skewers (4mm thick)

  • Lighter or micro torch

  • Fine, hard metal polishing compound

  • Small felt pads for rotary tools

Step 1

Rivet setter perlage tool
The cheapest set I could find. Less than $1 each!

Gather your supplies and select a 5mm diamond ball burr for your 3mm nail setter. You can measure the nail setter by placing a set of callipers or thickness gauge at the very tip.

diy leathercraft rivet setter home made
A selection of round diamond burrs

If you require a larger finished rivet setter such as 4mm, upgrade to a 6mm diamond ball burr. This will work better on larger rivets, such as those seen on briefcase locks.

make your own leather rivet setter perlage tool

Place the diamond burr in the chuck of your rotary tool and tighten down. At this point, make sure you're wearing the necessary safety equipment to be working with high speed power tools. At minimum a pair of safety glasses and hearing protection.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Starting at around 15,000 RPM, place the tip of the nail setter onto the spinning diamond burr.

The abrasive will now start to remove metal from the tip until it mirrors the shape of the ball.

Nail setters are rarely perfectly spherical, since they don't need to be to hammer a nail head beneath the surface of the wood (their actual purpose).

You don't have to keep the tip in the same place, move it around the top half of the ball to avoid the diamond grit clogging up with steel particles.

Periodically, you can dip the end of the setter into water to cool down the steel if it gets too warm to hold.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Every so often, stop and observe your work.

In the below image you can see the abrasive ball has removed metal from the tip around the outer edge, but the centre is still untouched.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

You need to keep removing material until you see a uniform surface where it is bright and shining.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

When you have achieved a mirror image of the diamond ball on the tip of your setter, you will be left with a sharp outer edge. This will potentially mark your rivet or the surface of the lock, making it harder to get a good finish.

So, take a strip of fine sand paper or diamond grit plate (1000 grit or higher) and gently draw circles on the abrasive with the setter upright, until the sharp edge has been uniformly removed.

Every so often as you draw circles, rotate the setter 1/4 turn. If you apply more pressure to one side, this will offset the bias.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Step 2

Now it's time to polish the interior of the concave tip we just created with our diamond ball.

If you work with satin finish hardware (bag locks etc), you may like the satin finish imparted by the spinning diamond ball, as this will apply that same satin finish to the rivet you are doming. Just something to consider (it actually creates a sunburst effect on the rivet head!).

To start polishing, take a thick bamboo skewer (not the skinny ones you buy in the 100's) and cut off about 1 to 1-1/2'' from the non tapered end.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Place the bamboo piece in the chuck of the rotary tool, then spin the bamboo, while burning the end with a lighter or torch until you get an even char (completely black).

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Now place the tip of the burnt bamboo into the tip of your rivet setter and rotate at high speed. With enough friction, you will feel the bamboo sink in all of a sudden (usually followed by a puff of smoke). This is where the bamboo has taken the exact shape of the rivet setter through heat.

When this happens, stop for a few seconds to avoid heat build-up in the steel.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Now we can add some fine polish to the end of the bamboo. Simply spin the bamboo and place the tip on the wax polish as you see in the image below.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Polish the tip of your setter for 20 seconds, add more compound, 20 seconds, more compound etc, until the tip is shining. This can take a few minutes depending on the coarseness if the diamond abrasive you previously used.

If the bamboo begins to smoke at any point, lower the speed on your rotary tool. Or, if you are limited to a fixed speed, reduce the pressure.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Periodically, clean the tip to inspect your polish. Use mineral spirits/white spirit on a piece of tissue. You cannot see how your polish is progressing without cleaning off all the compound.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Lastly, to get an even finer finish and to polish the edges of the setter, take a small circle felt pad screwed onto the end of a spindle.

Add compound and polish whilst rotating the setter around to even things up.

The felt pad will eventually take the shape of the cupped tip and turn into a ball. Keep this felt pad for future touch-ups.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

The middle nail setter has now been converted into a rivet setter, suitable for fine leathercraft projects such as handbags and briefcases.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter

Step 3

Rivet a nail!

You can see the below setter has been used to apply a brass rivet on a practice strip. Note the mirror polish on the brass rivet which has only been imparted by the setter.

leathercraft rivet setter perlage doming tool nail setter
Note the mirror finish on the rivet which has been imparted by the polished setter head

So, now you have the knowledge to make a rivet setter, wouldn't you like to discover the little known secrets on how to install perfect rivets that shine like jewels in the sun?

Now you can get the same or better finish than the artisans at Hermès and other high end brands.

Which means your friends, family and clients will marvel at the absolute precision you display in the finer details of your leatherwork.

In the video course 'How To Install Locks And Rivets' I'll finally reveal how you can create beautiful and cleanly finished rivets, even if you have no experience whatsoever!

This course is exclusive to members with a 6, 9 or 12 month Video Plan.

Check out the course preview below, then click the blue button to get started today!

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