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How to Apply Metal Snaps to Fabric

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For some sewing applications, there's nothing that works quite as well as a metal snap. They're easier to use than buttons and more durable than Velcro. That's why they're used in everything from mountain climbing jackets, to yacht covers, to baby clothes. Just think how long it would take an NBA player to jump up from the bench and get into the game, if he didn't have "quick release" sweat pants with snaps running up both sides. He'd probably fall into the stands trying to pull his sweats off over those big shoes. Installing snaps is pretty simple. You just take a series of tiny metal rings (which can be set up twenty wrong ways and only one right way) line them up within a millimeter of perfection, and then crush the whole assemblage together as hard as you can through several layers of fabric. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as you might imagine, plenty can go wrong. Take a look at some of the online forums for tales of woe, tragedy, anguish and regret. But billions of snaps are successfully installed each year, and by taking a few precautions, you too can successfully install snaps.

Choosing your tools

Industrial Snap Press

If you're going to be installing snaps 24/7 and have about $100 to spend, you should get a small industrial snap press. It looks something like a heavy duty stapler with an arm to give you extra leverage. You get good crushing force and perfect alignment.

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SnapSetter® And Other Hammer-Driven Tools

The 'old school' way of installing snaps was with a wooden spool, a hammer, and a very sturdy surface. SnapSource® has refined this technique with an affordable tool called the SnapSetter® that makes it simple to align your snap parts and only requires moderate tapping with a small hammer.

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Dritz® Plier-Style Snap Tool

This is the tool that's readily available at most fabric stores and the one we're using for the following instructions. You squeeze the handles to embed the two halves of each snap part.

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We found an online retailer called Buttoncare, who had a very good selection of snaps and tools.

Preparing your fabric

Your snaps will not install properly if your fabric is too thin. As you'll see below, part of each snap is a metal ring with little spikes on it. These spikes penetrate your fabric and then are jammed into a groove on the other part of the snap. If your fabric isn't thick enough (or layered enough times), the spikes don't penetrate evenly and your snap doesn't look right.

You can use lightweight fabric, but you must add a layer of interfacing, both for thickness and to keep the little spikes from tearing holes around the snap.

For our example, we chose a medium-weight, cotton fabric. We used two layers – a single piece folded once and ironed flat.

The parts of a snap

A complete snap has four parts: the ball, the socket, and the two rings with spikes that attach them to the fabric. A decorative snap would have one solid back piece instead of a ring, like the pearl snaps on a cowboy shirt.

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Marking your fabric

Think through exactly where you want the ball and the socket parts on your project. Traditionally, the back of the socket will on the front of your project. Using a fabric pen or pencil, mark where you want the CENTER of each part of the snap. Make these centering marks on both the front and back of your fabric.

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Setting up the Dritz® pliers

Your pliers have a round metal holder on one side, and on the other side, a yellow plastic wheel with both a round plastic holder and a metal punch. The metal punch is for eyelets, so for snaps, make sure the plastic holder is opposite the other side's metal holder. There's a yellow wheel you lift and turn to position the punch/plastic holder.

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Your pliers should come with two little rubber rings. Slide a rubber ring over each of the holders (the metal holder on one side and the plastic holder on the other side). Make sure each ring is pushed all the way on.

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Installing the snap socket

  1. Take one of your rings with prongs on it and insert it into the yellow plastic holder with the prongs poking out. Make sure it's pushed all the way in and is sitting evenly in the holder.
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  2. Pick up the snap socket and determine which side is raised. You can feel it with your finger. Or if you hold it sideways and squint you can see that one side protrudes a little more.
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  3. Insert the socket, with the protruding side OUT, into the metal holder.
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  4. You're just about ready to squish this half of the snap into place. Check your two snap parts one last time to make sure they're all the way into their respective holders and sitting evenly.
  5. Hold your pliers so the ring with the prongs (in the yellow plastic holder) is facing over what will be the outside of your project. Then position the pliers so that mark you made on your fabric earlier is in the center of snap.
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  6. Holding your pliers level, squeeze firmly. I mean... really firmly. Then open up the pliers and see how you did. The ring should be evenly pressed down all the way around
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    NOTE: If the ring isn't perfectly flat all the way around, you can use a pair of regular pliers to gently 'persuade' it. Squeezing the ring with pliers can scuff the shiny finish. So if you do this, put a piece of fabric between the plier jaws and the ring to protect it.

Installing the snap ball

  1. Take your remaining ring with the prongs on it, and insert it, prongs poking up, into the metal holder on the pliers.
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  2. Take the ball part of the snap and insert it, with the ball facing downwards , into the yellow plastic holder. Again, make sure both pieces are all the way inserted and sitting evenly.
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  3. Find where you marked your fabric for this half of the snap. Remember, you want the ball part of the snap to meet the socket part of the snap you just installed. This is the part where you have to stop and think. The ball is facing down into the holder. You have to position your fabric so the ball will be facing up when it's installed. That means, if you put your snap parts in the right holders, the yellow plastic holder will be on top.
    NOTE: This is a bit of a brain teaser, because all of the other parts of the ball installation are opposite of what you did for the socket installation. Except, just like with the socket, your final plier position is with the yellow side of the pliers over your fabric. It's okay... this is correct.
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  4. Center the pliers over your mark. Firmly squeeze the handles. Then release them, and see how you did.
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Practice first

With snaps, it's rare to get perfect results the first time. Make sure you have extra snaps in the size you'll be using for your project. Take a scrap of your project fabric, fold it and add interfacing just like you would for your project. Then practice putting in the ball and socket parts of the snaps. After you've successfully installed a few on your scrap, go ahead and install them on your actual project.

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Comments (71)

MonaMae said:
MonaMae's picture

My granddaughter bought some size 16 "Sew-Ology" snaps with tool, but I don't want to mess up a jonjon I'm making for her son. I can't find instructions that make me feel secure in putting them on. Can someone explain with simple instructions? It has instructions on the back, but they only confuse me. Thanks

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ MonaMae - We have not used this product and so cannot give you step-by-step. Most snaps are very similar; you might try comparing our steps in this tutorial to what they show on the back of their packaging. Or, perhaps the manufacturer has instructions or a video at their corporate website.

Annalise said:
Annalise's picture

By any chance would the Plier-Style Snap Tool have enough force to go through something thicker, say boat carpet? We made our own floor pieces over the winter and have been scratching our heads on where to get one of these for that size.. #8 or #10. I'm guessing from boat sites, since my father was so smart in throwing them all away. Thanks again in advance!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Annalise - that is a specialty use we have not tried, so I can't really tell you. You would likely need something much more substantial to cut through the thickness of carpet. Take a look at the hole punch used for rivet installation (link below). That might be a place to start. But in general, you should definitely talk with a boat upholstery expert for more spot-on advice.

http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/sewing-tips-tricks/how-attach-met...

Brian said:
Brian's picture

Hello - I have two spring snaps (size 24 or 17mm) to install on a motorcycle jacket. I've not been able to find a tool to do so. Do you know of one?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Brian - sorry, that's not a size or style we've worked wtih - you're doing exactly what I'd do: search the internet :-)

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

Thanks, Liz. It's a lot more difficult than I thought it would be to find the proper tool or even a local shop who can do it. Yikes!

cookie Jones said:
cookie Jones's picture

Great article! How/where would I find one of those industrial snap press tools you have pictured (that looks like a heavy duty stapler). My searches are finding either huge industrial "auto-feed" machines ($$$) or little hand tools. Do you know who manufactures the one in your picture, and/or what it's called?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ cookie Jones - sorry I don't have any additional information for you on that image. It was simply a representative photo we used. You are doing exactly what I would do: searching online by "industrial snap setting press" or similar phrases.

Duct tape Snapper said:
Duct tape Snapper's picture

Hi, would regular snaps work well with duct tape projects or should I find more durable snaps? 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

Duct tape Snapper - I'm sorry, but we've never done any projects with duct tape, so can't really give you a definitive answer. te prongs of the snaps are quite sharp, but it could likely still be a challenge for them to effectively penetrate the surface of the tape.

Renee Cook said:
Renee Cook's picture

Hi. Great tutorial - thanks! I am able to get everything in and it seems correct, but when I go to 'test' the snap, either the socket or the snap ball inevitably pops out of it's spot. It seems like the prongs are getting bent or not inserted deeply enough because the snap ball or socket is detaching from them. I am trying to install snaps on a baby bib that is cotton chenille on one side and regular cotton fabric on the other. Any tips for something so thick? Do they make special longer-pronged snaps?! :) Thanks!! 

Tori said:
Tori 's picture

I don't have problems when I am putting in the ball and prong. But everytime I try to put the insert the socket and prong, the prongs are getting bent and do not attach correctly. What am I doing wrong? do you have less mistakes with the industerial pliers then the dritz?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Tori - we do not use the industrial pliers - only the Dritz tool, so that is our recommendation. It's hard to tell long distance what might be going wrong for you. As long as you have the pieces in the right position (remember they switch postion for each half), the only other thing is pressure. Depending on the type of fabric you are putting the snaps in, it can take a fair amount of pressure it get it correctly set. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Marcela - with what material? I do not have a specific tuturoial on eyelets, although the process is similar to using snaps or grommets, and the instructions that come with the packaged eyelets are actually quite easy to follow. As we snaps, you do need the proper inserting tools. 

ingrid said:
ingrid 's picture

hello I esplicar Might as making buttonholes (Its claws have a round metal bracket on one side, and on the other side, a wheel of yellow plastic with a plastic both round metal punch. The metal punch is to eyelet)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ ingrid - I'm sorry, your question doesn't make sense. Perhaps it is a translation problem?

KnitMom said:
KnitMom's picture

I need to use a large snap on a baby sweater  - it is 5/8", a size 24.  I cannot for the life of me figure out how to use the heavy-duty Dritz tool to do this - the snap's size is larger than the pressing part of the pliers!  I borrowed the pliers from a friend; do you know if there is there a special attachment for larger size snaps?  The online resources for buying the pliers SAY that they work for a size 24, but I don't see how!  I am going to go to Joann or Michaels (or a big sewing store we have in SF) to look at the package and probably just buy one, but I thought I'd ask first.  Thanks!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ knitMom - That's a hard question to tackle long distance. If your friend's tool was no longer in the packaging perhaps it isn't actually a heavy duty set, or maybe all the parts are no longer with it. You are correct, the heavy duty size pliers should accomodate the 5/8" snaps. Your idea of going to the store to double check is probably the right idea. 

hbuttons-com said:
hbuttons-com's picture

do  you have auto motive tools for these snaps ?

thanks and best regards

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ hbuttons - We do not have any resources for you ; S4H does not sell any products and our focus is home sewing. 

cathydeecher said:
cathydeecher's picture

i have tried on line resources, can anyone tell me where i can purchase the plier kit with the rubber rings , all the ones i see do not come with them, i tried joanne fabrics . please help thank you

ERVS said:
ERVS's picture

I just got these in the tutorial at Joann the other day. They should have them, or at least online.

anonymous said:
anonymous 's picture

I bought a kit just last week at Wal Mart in the sewing section- it comes with the rings and pliers

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

Thank you so much for your tutorial!!  The directions on the packaging are very misleading and I was about to give up and return my snap pliers..until I found this site!  Thanks again!

Holly in Baton Rouge said:
Holly in Baton Rouge's picture

God bless you, your wonderful instructions, and your clear photographs. I've never before today put a snap on anything, although I have a little tiny bit of sewing experience. My 4-year-old starts pre-k next week, and he has to wear a belt with his uniform shorts; he can't quite manage a regular belt yet, so I wanted to craft my own version of a very expensive velcro and snap belt I saw online. One snap pliers and your instructions later (I didn't even bother with the manufacturer's instructions), and I had completed the scariest part of the project. Hooray! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Jeff Rowberg said:
Jeff Rowberg's picture

Great set of photos! The detail is amazing. I'm looking for something exactly like this only just a bit smaller for a wearable electronics project that uses an array of touch sensors. Fabric snaps are the easiest thing I can think of to use, but they are all larger than I'd like. Do you know if they make snaps like this that are maybe 3/16" in diameter at most? They will not actually be bearing any load or holding anything together. I really only need the snap socket half, not the snap ball half. The small metal ring is what I'm looking for, for an electrical contact point.

If you have any thoughts on this, I'd greatly appreciate them!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Jeff Rowberg - I'm afraid I'm not an expert on all the snap options available. I'd probably do just what you're doing - search online for options. Snaps certainly come in all sizes so I bet you'd be able to find something at least close to what you need.

Megan Downes said:
Megan Downes's picture

this migh sound silly, but can this tool be used for plastic snaps on cloth diapers. I believe so but was just wondering if you needed another tool. some of the ones they sell on cloth diapering websites looks different

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Megan Downes - I believe you can use this tool for plastic snaps. However, I haven't tested it. I would suggest heading over to the cool folks at Babyville. Their products are distributed by Dritz, the same people who make this snap setter, so I'm sure they'd be able to give you the definitive answer. Here's a link:

http://www.babyvilleboutique.com/home

Kmowers said:
@aaliyah The same thing happened to me. What I did to fix it was to remove the rubber rings from the pliers, then set the snap back inside the part that the socket was in before, and carefully lined it back up before pressing down really hard. It worked.

The only downside I found is that the socket looked slightly more distorted. I think the initially issue shows up when the rubber rings are uneven. But, it turned out fine in the end for me. Best of luck.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ aaliyah - I'm sorry - it certainly sounds like you are doing everything correctly. Is the fabric thicker than you've used before. Sometimes, it seems like the amount of pressure you need to apply has to be almost SUPER HUMAN in strength. Hang in there.
aaliyah said:
aaliyah's picture
My dritz snap gun seemed to work for me at first, but now the snaps just don't want to go in evenly all the way around. Mostly the socket set. I have tried making sure everything is lined up good, the snap parts are evenly situated down in the rubber tip, and they are just a standard size 16. Any suggestions? So frustrating. =(
Kelsey said:
Kelsey's picture
Thanks for the tutorial! My neighbor gave me one of these and I had no idea how to use it!! smilies/smiley.gif
Lisa @ Piecework Treasures said:
Lisa @ Piecework Treasures's picture
Thank you so much for this tutorial. I've linked back to you on a post written today at http://pieceworktreasures.blog...eted.html. The instructions that came with my snap pliers were quite inadequate, and though you used a different type snap than what I was using, your instructions were well-done and I was able to 'get' it. Thank you!
Mothercrafter said:
Mothercrafter's picture
Thank you for this great tutorial. I have snap pliers n could never figure the correct way use them. Now it's clear :-)
Resweater said:
Resweater's picture
I have had a snap pliers & snaps for some time now, but have been clueless as to how it worked! I'll be posting a tutorial on my blog (http://resweater.blogspot.com) soon, that requires snaps, and i'll be linking back to this page for any of my readers that have not used snaps before. Thank you so much!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ akis - whether or not you need a little piece of interfacing would depend on the fabric you are using and how many layers you are going through at the point where the snap is being set. A thinner fabric or a single layer would likely benefit from interfacing.
akis said:
akis's picture
I want to ask you something. Do I have to put any piece of small cloth between the two pieces of fabric to "strengthen" the button?
Resweater said:
Resweater's picture
Thank you so much for the clear & easy instructions, and perfect pictures! I had some snaps & snap pliers that I bought at at garage sale, and I couldn't figure out how to use them!
Ldyrnnr said:
Ldyrnnr's picture
The instructions made it a SNAP to do! I couldn't understand the instructions that came with the tool that well and it showed nothing about the little rubber bands. It was putting on the rubber bands that made the difference since they held the parts in place. I had tried lining the parts up on the fabric, then squeezing the Dritz pliers -- that didn't work. Thank you!
cloud*burst said:
cloud*burst's picture
i've thrown away my packaging and don't remember the size snaps that it recommends.How do I know which one is right?
Liz Johnson, Editor, Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson, Editor, Sew4Home 's picture
@ cloud*burst -- I'm not sure which model you are asking about - the Dritz tool? However, even if I did know, I wouldn't know quite what to tell you smilies/shocked.gif. The size we've shown is the most common. Snaps are pretty inexpensive. You could try buying the size you are hoping to work with and just give it a try.

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