J.C. Rhodes Company



The Making of a Rhodes Eyelet

Eyelets are use in the shoe industry and in various other trades. Due to the wide usage and varieties of eyelets there are many ways in which they are manufactured. J.C. Rhodes was the primary producer of shoe eyelets in the Americas. Following is a brief description of how they produced shoe eyelets, at a pinnacle of quality that has not been duplicated since.


The metals used in shoe eyelets are mainly brass, aluminum and steel. In the past zinc had been used but is not used today. Other metals can be used depending upon requirements of the end user. 


Early version Cap machines at the Front Street Plant of J.C. Rhodes.

Early version Cap machines at the Front Street Plant of J.C. Rhodes.

The metal is received in rolls, the thickness of the metal being very uniform. These rolls are mounted on a double action punching machine which is capable of punching out and forming 600 caps per minute. 

After the above Capping operation, the caps are screened. Two types of screens are used. A hold-up screen allows the caps of the proper size to pass through and it holds up all product that is too large. The caps are of the proper size are then passed through a let-down screen. Here all the caps that are of the correct size are retained in the screen and all those that are too small pass through the screen and are let down to a collection box.

After this initial forming operation in the Cap Department the caps are taken to the Forming Room where they usually undergo, at least, four separate forming operations. Each operation drawing the metal carefully to the finished dimensions without causing stresses in the metal. The number of forming operations vary according to the type of metal being used and the configuration of the finished eyelet. For instance, a long barrel eyelet will require more forming operations to minimize thin areas and cracks in the metal. The last machine in the forming sequence provides the finished eyelet, from a dimensional stand point and punches the hole at the end of the barrel.

This above procedure is for the Invincible roll setting style eyelet. For scored eyelets such as the Colonial and Federal styles, the last operation punches the hole and nicks the end of the barrel. These nicks in the barrel end promote the scoring of the barrel of the eyelet when it is set with a roll setting die. The scored setting is normally used when setting eyelets in fabrics to provide greater holding power the a roll setting eyelet would provide. On blind or invisible eyelets the barrel is scored and then put through a machine that butts the end of the barrel. This butting operation compresses the metal at the end of the barrel and in doing so, tends to provide more strength for setting purposes.  

After the Forming room, the eyelets are sent to the Mechanical Inspection Room, where the fully formed eyelets are inspected as to cleanliness, length of barrel, and inside diameter of the barrel.

The first operation is degreasing. The eyelets are dumped in a solvent type solution, which rids the eyelet of oil and other foreign matter. After this degreasing the eyelets are again screened. This screening checks as to the size of the bell, and also for the length of the barrel. Eyelets whose barrels are too short being disposed of. Eyelets are then tubbed. This tubbing operation checks as to the length of the barrel. Eyelets are placed in a hopper. The eyelets pass through the hopper to a raceway and from this raceway to a vibrating table. The table by vibrating passes the eyelets under bars that are set at a predetermined height. These bars hold back eyelets whose barrels are too long. After tubbing, the next operation is combing. It is here that the eyelet is checked for mashed or improper sized barrels. The combing machine has a series of teeth attached to a revolving drum. Eyelets are picked up by these teeth and those of the proper size or inside diameter slide back on the comb and are dropped off in a receptacle. Those eyelets that are not of a proper dimension are retained on the edge of the comb and picked off prior to the depositing of those of the proper size. After combing, brass Invincible eyelets are ground. The barrel end of this eyelet is weak and by grinding off the this thin weakened portion the eyelet, in effect, has more strength for setting purposes.

There are various types of finishes that can be applied to the various types of eyelets. 

Aluminum eyelets can have a polished, painted or anodized finish. Brass can have a plain, lacquered, plated or painted finish. Steel can be plain, plated, or painted. 

The cleaning processes depend upon the finish to be applied. All aluminum eyelets are washed in a combination acidic and alkaline powder preparing them for finishing. The eyelets are placed in metal tubs and washed with a solution of this powder and hot water. After washing they are rinsed and placed in a centrifugal drier.

Brass eyelets are washed with a caustic material. This material is of two types; one is used for brass eyelets that are to be painted. The caustic material used, etches the surface of this eyelet preparing it for painting, while the other caustic material is used for brass eyelets that are to be plated or plain. The material in this case just brightens the surface of the brass.

When cleaning steel eyelets only one type of wash is needed. The reason being that steel lends itself for the painting or plating operations. 

The aluminum eyelet is in wide use in the shoe industry today. However, one of the difficulties with aluminum is its smutting effect. To help overcome this smutting or corroding, these eyelets are anodized. The chosen anodizing method  is an electrical process as opposed to the less expensive chemical coating process.  The aluminum eyelets are placed in a basket. The eyelets themselves acting as the anode. The eyelets are submerged in a lead lined tank which contains a 14% solution of sulphuric acid. The acid breaks down the surface of the aluminum eyelet forming AL O2. The AL O2 redeposits itself back on the eyelet in a much denser layer. This coating helps prevent corrosion and also, because of the irregular surface, provides an excellent surface for the paint to adhere to.

After the anodizing process the eyelets are rinsed in cold water, washing away the sulphuric acid solution. 

If the aluminum eyelet is to be polished it is simply tumbled with sawdust for eight hours. After this tumbling process the eyelets are screened to remove the sawdust. 

The eyelets then move from the Cleaning Department to the Finishing Department. Finishing can be broken down to Japanning, in which the eyelet is painted all over, and Enameling, where only the bell or flange of the eyelet is painted.

In the Japanning process, two boxes of eyelets are placed in a horizontal tub. Along with the eyelets are BB Shot. Paint is put into the tub. The tub rotates causing paint to fall over the eyelets and BB Shot.The BB Shot passes through the barrel of the eyelet painting it as it passes through. This painting process lasts about twenty minutes. The eyelets are then screened, separating the eyelets from the BB Shot. The eyelets are dried about twenty minutes, then placed placed in large baking plans. The pans are placed in an oven where the enamel is baked from 1 to 3 hours at a temperature  of 225 - 300 degrees F. After the eyelets are removed form the oven they are "spouted". This spouting tends to break apart the eyelets that were stuck together in this enameling process. However, because the spouting process does not completely separate the "stickers" the eyelets are run through tubular screens.

In recent years, innovation in paints has eliminated the need for the BB Shot and additional mechanical operations have been added to insure the quality of the finished product. 

     Eyelets from J.C. Rhodes Division of PCI Group

     Eyelets from J.C. Rhodes Division of PCI Group

The Japanning process does not entail just one coating of paint. Three coats are applied. The paint being sprayed on the eyelets as they are being rotated in tubs. The eyelets are then loaded into trays, baked, spouted and screened. The above is repeated until the desired amount of paint is applied. The final coat of paint has a gloss additive which adds to the finished appearance of the eyelet. 

The lacquering operation, used on brass eyelets is relatively simple. The eyelets are placed in drums and the lacquer is applied while the drum rotates. Most lacquers used do not require baking as they air dry quite rapidly.

The roller coating or Invincible painting process differs from Japanning in that the bell portion only is painted. The eyelets are first sent to the Sticking Room where the eyelets are inserted into cards with the flange raised slightly off the surface of the card. These cards are stacked and then sent to the Painting Room. The cards, with the eyelets inserted , are presented to the painting machine face down. These cards are run through the machine automatically, the paint being applied by gel rollers. A thin stream of air is blown through the eyelets, preventing the paint from rising in the barrel due to capillary action.These cards are then placed in the oven and baked for about three hours.The second coat is applied; the process being repeated.

After painting the cards are sent to the Stripping Department. It is here that the eyelets are inspected as to color, proper coating and removed from the cards. 

Shipment of shoe eyelets 

Shipment of shoe eyelets 


Most eyelets that will be applied by automatic eyelet setting machines, such as the shoe industry,  will have a lubricant applied to insure smooth running through the machine and insertion into the customers product. 

Industrial Eyelets 

Eyelets for the industrial trades, as opposed to the Shoe and Leather trades, are manufactured by different methods then the Rhodes process. The Rhodes method of eyelet making is an advantage when there are relatively few sizes with each item having large volumes of consumption. 

Due to the variety of eyelets produced for the industrial trades and the widely varying quantities, industrial eyelets are manufactured by three methods.  they are the gang method, the vertical method and the horizontal method. The method used for any given eyelet depends upon the type of eyelet desired, the metal used, and the quantity to be produced. Each method has it's own advantages and disadvantages. One method may be extremely fast, production wise, yet, quality wise it may not be desirable. Because of these various problems with regard to production and quality, it is necessary to choose the most economical production method.

The first system is the gang method of eyelet production. In this process, the roll of metal is presented to a large stamping press. A small amount of draw is applied to the metal. After this the brass construction type eyelet is annealed. After this annealing process the eyelets are again put through a drawing process and again annealed. The eyelets are then pierced and formed, with the last stage being to cut the eyelet out of the strip.

This gang method is very efficient for high production and also very good for heavy type eyelets. However, with this system there is considerable cost in retooling, and as a result is limited to high production. 

In the Vertical method, the metal is fed to the press in coil form also. The first plunger cuts the blank, fingers carry the eyelet to the various drawing stations, forming the eyelet and piercing the barrel.  

This method is very satisfactory for extreme eyelet types. that is, either the long draw type or the very small eyelets such as used in the electronics trade.It is considered to be of moderate speed, production wise.

The horizontal method is essentially the same as the previously described vertical method, the difference being the plane the work is done on. The horizontal press is of moderate speed from a production point of view and is confined to lighter types of work.

Within the process of eyelet making there are two main methods of manufacturing eyelets, Drawing, which is the shaping and thinning of the metal to an extreme degree, and forming, which also shapes while the thinning process is limited. Forming is confined mostly to the more uniform type of eyelets while the drawing method is used greatly in the manufacture of the extreme type eyelet. 

Following the above mentioned types of manufacture, the eyelets undergoes various checking, cleaning, painting, plating and packing operations similar to those already discussed in the J.C. Rhodes method.