I had a great response to my tutorial on how to deconstruct tins, so I’ve been planning a few more. By “planning” I mean placing it in my mental to-do Rolodex. Great, except the Rolodex has absolutely no ability to remind me or help me prioritize. So it’s been a few months longer than I had hoped, but here goes.
- Deconstructed tin at least 3.5″ x 10″ or so
- Buckle Blank
- Riveter & Blind Rivets
- Tin Snips/Aviation Shears
- Soft-faced hammer (nylon or rawhide)
Find a tin can that you like and deconstruct it. You may want to refer to my tutorial for that.
(Note: Download my .pdf belt buckle template here. Print it to card stock and follow the directions)
You can make a buckle just about any size, but for this tutorial I thought it would be easiest to create a template for you to download. Once you’ve printed the template and cut the windows you’re ready for Step Three.
You need two pieces of tin for the final buckle. The insert piece needs to be cut to the dimension of your buckle and attached to the buckle hardware. The second piece is the tin that will wrap around this insert to create the face of the buckle.
A. On your scrap metal, trace inside the top rectangle on the template and then cut along those lines.
B. Using the same top window from the template, find the area of the tin that you want to use for your buckle. Remember that you’ll need about a half an inch all around for the tabs. Once you’re happy with your image, use a pencil and trace the buckle shape on to the metal. This will be the fold line.
C. With the bottom window, line up the corners of the pencil lines from the above step with the corners indicated. Trace around this window on to the metal. This will be the cut line. (If you’re planning to do a bit of metal work, I completely recommend getting some German Shop Shears. They come with straight or curved blades and not many $15 purchases will make you as happy. They make cutting steel almost as easy as cutting paper.) Once you’ve cut it out, set the metal aside.
You can purchase several types of buckle blanks. I started with the basic ‘ring and hook’ style from my local Tandy Leather. [As an aside, if you’ve never been to a Tandy Leather–go. It’s filled to the brim with stuff you didn’t know anyone needed.] It looks like this, though mine always came with pre-drilled holes. I assume they still do, but this picture makes me wonder.
Anyway, in searching for this image I came across something I’ve never seen at MY Tandy–this buckle blank that is completely ready to be wrapped. If you buy this version of the blank, I think you can totally skip this step and step 3A.
Assuming you don’t buy this blank, this is what you need to do. Pick up your scrap metal that has been cut to size, set your blank in the center and clamp these to your work table or something you can drill into. Get your drill with a 1/4″ bit and use the pre-drilled holes on the blank as guides to drill your metal sheet. You can see from this picture that I am using yet another version of buckle blank. It doesn’t much matter which you choose. They all function about the same. I’ve been using these because I can order them along with other jewelry supplies.
Your drilled sheet should look like this.
If you don’t own a riveter you should. I’m serious. This is one of the best tools you’ve never heard of. I like them so much I have three. Of course, the vintage blue one that I found at a thrift store is the best. These ‘guns’ use blind rivets. They are blind because this tool is used mostly to attach things where you can only get to one side of the configuration. I could bore you with the details because I really, really, really love my riveter, but it’s not exactly riveting reading, so I’ll refer you to Wikipedia for those that want more.
Alright, back to your buckle. Load your riveter by sliding the long shaft of the rivet into the hole. If it doesn’t go all the way in, open the handles wider. That puts the handles in the correct position. Next, slide the other end of the rivet into your scrap metal and the buckle back. Make sure you have the scrap metal next to the riveter. (I tried to take a picture of this, but I just didn’t have enough hands.) Now, close the handles together. Keep pressing until one of two things happen–the handles won’t get any closer together or there is a loud SNAP. If you don’t get the snap, open the handles again and press once more. You should get the snap now. Your two pieces of metal should now be attached. Repeat for the second hole. Sometimes the finished rivet looks okay, but sometimes it’s just a globby piece of metal. I usually take a hammer and flatten the globbiness down a bit.
Go back to your other piece of metal. You need to fold up the four tabs so you can set the piece you’ve just created inside that wrapper. So, you should still have your pencil lines that you drew way back in Step 3. Using those as guides, align that to a straight edge. I use a jewelers steel block, but the edge of a sturdy workbench should be good enough. Get your soft faced hammer and lightly start to hammer that tab down along the marked line. Stop when you get to a 90° bend. Repeat for the other 3 tabs.
If you want a really crisp edge, and have an old glass cutter that you don’t mind wasting, you can set a ruler along the line and run the glass cutter along it a couple of times. This will score the metal and make it ‘break’ along that line. The technique isn’t foolproof, but it’s pretty good. I finally sprung for these fancy wide jawed pliers. It’s amazing how much easier your life can be made by just the right tool.
Once all your tabs are folded up, just set the insert inside. My husband insists the buckle has to be in a certain direction. He claims it’s like buttons on a dress shirt–one side for men another for women. So, if you feel that way about your buckles too, put some thought into this.
You are almost done. What you have now is great except if you ever plan to sit down while wearing your buckle, you’ll want to add these finishing touches.
I use some heavy snips that I have and just snip off the corners and then file to a rounded, smooth edge. Your metal snips may work, but if not you can just use the file. The goal is to get the corners rounded and not pokey. It takes a minute, but your belly will thank you.
You can buy belts at Tandy Leather as well, but you know I’m going to recommend you update a long neglected belt from your collection or find a snazzy one at a thrift store. Whatever you decide, get ready for the compliments!