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Riveted Maille Tools: Piercing Tongs
Article © MAIL User: Eli

In order for the ring to accept a wedge rivet you need to pierce the overlap region with a drift in a similar shape to the rivet. The drift will create a slit in the ring that allows for the rivet to be placed and secured. Unlike punching a hole for round rivets, a piercing drift doesn’t remove any material. It achieves the desired effect by pushing the metal of the ring into a small depression on the other side. This creates a small tear in the ring and lets you place the rivet. It is similar to using a sharp pencil to make a hole in paper. The pencil acts like the piercing drift and makes a hole by pushing the paper aside.

The simplest way to achieve this is with a hand-held piercing drift. The ring is placed over a small depression on a metal plate and the drift is struck with a light hammer.

The more advanced way is to set the piercing drift into a pair of pliers and use hand pressure to pierce the ring. In this article I will show my own pair of piercing tongs.

This is the important part of the tongs, the jaws:
Image: tongs01.jpg
The most important part when choosing a pair of pliers to use as a base for piercing tongs is that the faces of the jaws become parallel before the pliers close. With this particular pair of piercing tongs I started with an old pair of normal linesman pliers that had plenty of metal in the jaws.
First I hacked off the tips of the jaws to save me on grinding.
Then I used a bench grinder to remove the built-in cutters so that I was left with two short jaws that are 11mm (0.45”) apart when the pliers are closed.
Once I finished with this I drilled a 4mm (same as my drift) hole through both the jaws, making sure that the two holes were reasonably in the same place.
The top hole is used to hold the drift while the bottom hole is tapped to hold the bolt that acts as support for the ring. I used a 5mm bolt for this secured in place with two nuts (one would suffice, however).
In order to hold the drift in place I drilled another hole, perpendicular to the top one on the side of the jaw. Retrospectively it might have been better to place the hole on the front, but it was already drilled so I went ahead with this one. I used a 2.5mm bit for a 3mm threading tap.
For the bolt I threaded a bent 3mm nail, as I didn’t have any 3mm bolts around.
Now I had to make sure that the drift didn’t slide upward when piercing the rings, so I filed a groove less than half way through that the small bolt would catch and stop the drift from moving. I used an angle grinder with a metal cutting disc to greatly speed this up. Now the bolt holds the drift firmly in place.
Here you can see the threaded nail entering the jaw:
Image: tongs04.jpg
The large bolt on the bottom is secured slightly above the middle line so that the drift contacts the bolt before the pliers close. The place where the drift touches is the place to make the small depression that allows the ring to be pierced.
As you can see from the picture here, the bottom bolt isn’t dead-center with the tip of the drift. The main consequence of this is that I have to completely grind down the face of the bolt whenever I make any adjustments to its height, since the depression becomes misaligned with the drift. A perfectly centered bolt could be adjusted much more quickly.
The size of the depression greatly depends on the drift, the ring material and temper. I used a 1.5mm bit to make a relatively deep hole, about 1.5-2mm.
Image: tongs03.jpg
To further enhance the piercing tongs I add two pipes to increase leverage. Although I could pierce rings with only the short handles of the pliers, it was quite hard. With the added pipes I can pierce a ring without effort. Again I cushioned the pipes with length of cloth from a T-shirt held together with electric tape and sticky paper.
To hold the pipes on the pliers I drilled a hole through the pipe and plier handle and placed a nail in the hole. To make sure that it didn’t fall apart I bent the nail. One nail goes through each pipe and handle.
Image: tongs02.jpg
Here I have two more pictures of the tongs. The first shows the drift and bottom bolt in relation to each other. The second shows the triangular shape of the piercing drift.
Image: tongs06.jpgImage: tongs05.jpg
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