When you need to fasten sheet metal or plastic together, one of the more viable methods on the market is the rivet gun. This tool really comes into its own when accessing the back end of the joint proves problematic. Plus, rivets tend to be relatively inexpensive and come in a wide variety of sizes and materials. So, how do you use a rivet gun? It’s pretty simple, actually.
First Thing’s First – What is a Rivet Gun?
Both rivets and rivet guns come in a variety of flavors. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to stick with blind rivets. These get their name since you can “blindly” fasten them from one side of the material without accessing (or even seeing) the other side. We also intend to avoid any applications that require pneumatic guns or heavy-duty riveting. In this article, we’re more concerned with DIY applications. These call for either a hand riveter or one of the more recent battery-powered tools.
Manual rivet guns and battery-powered tools accomplish the same work. The more expensive battery-powered tools save your hands and automatically collect spent posts after applying the rivet. With a manual rivet gun, you often have to activate the handle several times to complete the work. A battery-powered tool does the entire process when you pull the trigger. Manual tools work great when you don’t have a ton of work to do. The automatic tools really help when you tend to do a lot of riveting in the course of your work.
Types of Rivets
All blind rivets consist of a mandrel and body. The rivet gun pulls the mandrel through the body, expanding it to lock the material in place between the head of the body and the newly “mushroomed” end.
Having settled on using blind rivets, the next issue comes down to size, style, and material. Standard blind rivets work well for securing metal pieces that won’t need to support a lot of weight. Rivet manufacturers typically list the tolerances for the weight a rivet can support on the back of the package.
Aside from that, we find many different types of rivets on the market to choose from. These include:
Standard Blind Rivets
A majority of tasks can be done with standard blind rivets. These come in either domed or flush styles as well as a variety of diameters, materials, and lengths. In general, match the material to what you intend to fasten. Aluminum to aluminum, and steel to steel. This keeps you from encountering something called galvanic or bimetallic corrosion. This happens when certain dissimilar metals stay in contact and electrons transfer from one material to the other.
Dome head rivets (a type of blind rivet), will cover most of your bases. They work well when working with steel and also when you need the rivet close to the edge of the material you’re fastening.
Flat head rivets could be a good choice when you need a flush, tight fit. They work best with softer materials, as they’ll want to countersink. When you need to rivet materials that will typically deform because of temperature extremes, try these guys out.
Sealed or Closed-end Rivets
Sealed or closed-end rivets contain the “mandrel” (the post) within a sealed barrel. This keeps the entire rivet sealed against moisture. You find sealed rivets when you need a water-tight seal. You find them in marine applications as well as around some automotive and pump applications. They cost more than standard rivets but do a good job of helping avoid potential issues from water intrusion.
Multi-grip rivets support more material thickness options than standard blind rivets. The body of these rivets looks almost segmented. Any segment sticking out past the material and exposed during the riveting process will mushroom. The end result is a single rivet that has the ability to grip both thicker and thinner materials securely.
Interlock or structural blind rivets
Interlock or structural blind rivets offer a wide grip range for versatility. Manufacturers design them for high strength applications as they have excellent clamping force. Structural blind rivets also include a mechanical lock feature that ensures 100% mandrel retention, and the mandrel fills the rivet for enhanced shear strength.
In more structural applications that call for high-strength fastening, interlock or structural rivets could be your best bet. They can close big gaps and prevent your metal sheets from moving.
Different Rivet Material Composition
As we mentioned above, choose the right material for the rivet before you start to grab any rivet and use your rivet gun. Since you can choose rivets composed of the same or similar material as what you intend to join, take a moment to ensure you have what you need. Also, when riveting anything that has a higher moisture content, like leather, you may want to avoid using steel rivets as they can rust quickly. Instead, opt for copper, aluminum, or brass.
Using a Rivet Gun Starts with Drilling Holes
Often, you’ll need to actually drill the holes you’ll use to fasten pieces together. There probably isn’t a whole lot to say about this step, but the drill bit size you’ll choose to do this with will determine the size of the rivet you can use. Here’s a helpful table, taken from the good folks at navyaviation.tpub.com.
You’ll also need to attach the appropriately sized nozzle attachment to your rivet gun. Typically, rivet guns come with a few different nozzle attachments that store away onboard, as well as a wrench to lock and unlock them from their storage ports. Find the size you need, and tighten it down with the wrench.
Insert, Push, and Squeeze the Handle or Trigger of the Rivet Gun
So, at this point, you should have your rivets picked out, your holes drilled, and the right nozzle installed on your rivet gun. All that’s left is to actually get to the riveting.
Slide the pin (mandrel) of the rivet all the way into the nozzle on your rivet gun. The shorter, thicker body of the rivet is the business end. Insert that part into the two+ pieces of material you wish to join together.
After you’ve placed the rivet through the holes, and you’ve got the nozzle of your rivet gun pressed flat against the surface with consistent pressure, go ahead and start squeezing the trigger. With a manual rivet gun (not pictured), every time you squeeze the handle, you’ll pull the metal pin or mandrel through the body of the rivet. This compresses the two pieces of material between the head of the rivet and the mushroomed body.
Keep squeezing until the rivet pops and the pin or mandrel snaps off. Presto, you’ve installed a rivet!
If you’ve got any more tips and tricks on how to use a rivet gun, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.