In this article, you’ll find illustrated step-by-step instructions for attaching an engraved metal plate to a leather strap (halter, belt, etc) WITHOUT using a leather punch or rivet-setting tools.
Using tools from a standard toolbox, I’ll show you how to attach metal plates to horse halters, belts, dog collars, and other straps.
Frustrated by the typically huge price difference between buying an item that ships with an engraved plate attached vs. buying a plate separately, I prefer to buy engraved plates loose and attach them myself. When a manufacturer or vendor attaches your engraved plate for you, they typically use rivets- permanent metal fasteners that cannot be removed. When you attach metal plates yourself (or sometimes if you ask specifically when having an engraved item made) you can use Chicago Screws.
What is a Chicago Screw?
A Chicago Screw is a fastener that functions like a removable rivet- so you can remove or switch engraved plates as needed. Once holes have been made in your horse halter, only a screwdriver is needed to attach, remove, or swap plates between halters. This is helpful when a halter breaks (for example, when your horse pulls back two days after getting a new engraved halter… not that that would ever happen to any horse owner. 😉 or when a horse is sold and you don’t want to sell the halter they’re wearing.
How to Attach a Halter Plate with Standard Tools
Typically a leather punch, rivets, rivet setter, and a mallet are needed to attach an engraved plate to a halter, strap, or belt. With this tutorial you only need the following:
- Marker or pen
- Drill bit equal or slightly larger than the shaft of the smooth Chicago screw
- 2 Chicago Screws
- Flat Head Screwdriver
- A surface safe to drill into accidentally. (I typically work on top of a sturdy box)
Step 1: Position your halter (or another strap to which you’d like to add an engraved plate) on top of the box or table:
Step 2: Place an engraved plate over the strap, and align where you’d like the plate to be permanently.
Step 3: Use a marker to mark where holes should be made. I recommend moving the marker in a circle around the hole, rather than placing a dot in the center, as the circle makes it easier to align your drill in the next step.
Step 4: Remove the plate and set it aside. Use a drill bit to drill through the leather. (This step works best if the leather is cold and not over-conditioned) A wood bit with a spur point seems to work well and the sharp tip prevents the drill from moving off the center point mark.
Step 5. Before drilling the second hole, align the engraved plate over the first hole and reconfirm that the second marking is still aligned correctly. Double checking is always worth it, friends!
Step 6: Repeat leather drilling process for second hole:
Step 7. Clear any leather fibers from the hole with your fingers or a small pair of scissors (it doesn’t have to be clean- just free of obstructing fibers). Ready your Chicago screws as shown below:
Step 8: press the smooth shafted side of the Chicago screw through the first drilled hole:
Step 9: And, using your fingers, screw the screw post in from the other side.
Step 9: Attach the plate with both screws, loosely.
Step 10: Tighten with a flat head screwdriver.
2 HINTS: #1. add a drop or two of super glue to the threads to prevent accidental loosening. #2. To tighten, place a rubber band over your thumb and then your thumb over the smooth cap side of the Chicago screw as you tighten. The friction added by the ribber band will help get the screw extra tight.
Project Complete! Once you have the supplies, adding and swapping engraved halter plates as needed is quick and easy! This method can be used to attach plates to nylon halters as well- the only significantly different step is that a heated nail (held with long pliers) is used to punch and seal the holes in the strap.