Dealing With Rivets

Published on: 21:06PM Feb 14, 2016

Guys who work with sheet metal love "pop" rivets because they quickly and easily fasten together pieces of sheet metal. Because much of my rivet work is with heavier metal or thicker plastic, my opinion of installing or removing rivets isn't quite as positive.

Oh, I have no problems removing them. Put a sharpened chisel tip in an air hammer and BRRIRPP, either the rivet's head or tail is sheared off. Then it's just a matter of using a small punch to knock the remnants out of the hole, and things are ready to install a new rivet.

That's usually when I get annoyed. Back in the day, the only option was a standard pop-rivet, and the only way to install it was with a hand-squeezed rivet gun. Then we upgraded to air-powered rivet guns, which were great for small rivets and thin sheet metal, but seemed to often have problems with the heftier rivets and thicker sheeting used in many ag applications. (Of course, I may have been using a cheap, poorly-made rivet gun, but that's my fault for not investing in a quality tool…)

In the 80s I thought we had turned a corner and a brighter day had dawned when engineers started using hammer rivets to install plastic poly skid shoes on the bottoms of soybean heads and in other high-wear areas. Place a hammer-rivet in the hole and use an air hammer to BRRAAPP it home. You could cut the installation time for a 30-foot platform in half with those blessed little hammer rivets and an air hammer.

But engineers can't stand to make things TOO easy, and now I'm seeing a return to conventional pop rivets. "They" say that it's best to use a conventional pop rivet rather than hammer rivets when installations require larger, 1/4-inch steel rivets, so…now we're back to some sort of rivet gun.

I had to choose between a high-quality air-powered rivet gun and a large, long-handled rivet-setting tool that looks sort of like a bolt cutter. I chose the manual version that looks like a bolt cutter. Prices range from $35 for the economy version to more than $100 for the industrial unit that has gear-reduction in the head to reduce the effort needed to "set" a rivet. I'll probably eventually wish I had bought the air-powered riveter--just like I would have wished I'd bought the manual version if I had initially bought the air-powered riveter. Whatever I buy, I always end up wishing I had bought the alternative. 

I swear that engineers sit at their desk and scheme of ways to require me to fret over and buy more speciality tools, just so I can do my job...