Today I have guide for using nails as traditional solid rivets. Useful in an assortment of situations, mainly crafts projects in my case. The method requires no special tools and is easy and relatively quick, lovely!
I will show the two different options which I have currently used successfully, these are with and without the nail head. Both these options have their advantages: leaving the head on the nail generally leaves a larger head (meaning it is less likely to pull through), whilst removing the head results in rivets which look the same at both ends and are smaller.
I have used the same method with both steel and copper roofing nails. The copper nails are softer and easier to cut and peen and also look quite attractive, but the steel nails have the benefit of being much stronger. You will have to weigh up what features are most important in your case. For most of my work I have chosen copper rivets for the ease, plus I like the way they look!
The first step is to drill a hole for the nail to sit in rather than just hammering the nail through. This is important as it will leave a clean exit (the exit can often splinter when hammering nails into wood) which will aid in the strength of the joint. If joining metal this is a must as you won’t be able to hammer the nail through anyway! In my example I used a 3mm drill bit with 3mm copper nails in wood, whereas to put the same copper nail through metal the hole was required to be a little bigger than the nail (3.1-3.2 or so). But you don’t want the hole to be too loose, the closer the fit the better!
Next step is to assemble everything including the nail. When joining wood it can sometimes be a good idea to use a washer on the rear of the join to spread the load and prevent the rivet from pulling through, in which case follow the same process of joining metal components. In this example I’m just putting it through a single piece of wood but having multiple pieces doesn’t change the process.
The nail will need to be cut down at this point. I typically leave around 2-4mm of nail protruding. With this nail I made the cut using pliers because it’s quick and easy although this won’t work for steel nails, you can also use a hack saw in these cases. The amount of nail protruding is quite important as it will dictate the size of the ‘head’ on the rear of the joint. If too little is left then the head will be small and prone to pulling through, and likewise if the stub is too long then the head will be very large which can lead to splitting (not a massive structural issue, more of an aesthetic one) and it will also take longer to peen.
Support the head of the nail (not the work piece) on a hard metal surface. It helps if the surface is slightly concave as it will prevent you transferring any load to the work piece. i have a chunk of metal which fits the bill although have had success using a second hammer below.
Using the ball side of a ball peen hammer, work around the head of the nail using many fairly light blows to shape the head of the nail. Do not rush this stage and do not hit the nail too hard as this can lead to bending of the nail rather than peening of the head.
Keep going until the joint is nice and tight.
At this stage I often flip the work piece over and repeat the process on the head of the nail to give it a nice hammered finish and ensure that it is sitting well on the work piece, although this is optional.
In an ideal situation you shouldn’t be able to tell which side of the nail was originally the head, but this can be very hard/ impossible to achieve depending the size of the head of the nail. So in these cases I will cut the head off and use a slightly different approach.
Mount the nail (sans head) into a vice, which will allow you to create a new head as per the peening method above. You basically peen a head onto the rivet rather than using the head of the nail.
Here you can see the size difference between the head that was originally on the nail and one I formed using the vice.
As I mentioned at the start, I am using copper rivets for this example but you can also use steel. Here is an image of a steel rivet I did for a knife project I’m currently working on (with a peened head on both sides).