Rivets are one of the oldest, most reliable methods of permanently fastening two materials together. The principle is simple: a shaft with a head on one end is inserted into a hole, and the opposite end is deformed to hold the materials together. Like many simple inventions, time has brought new and more complex features to rivet technology, which has resulted in a variety of different types of rivets. Here we’ll cover two of the most common rivets used in the home workshop: blind rivets and tinner’s rivets.
Blind rivets are the fastest and easiest rivets to use in a project. Often called “pop” rivets (after a popular rivet brand), they can be installed completely from one side, unlike solid rivets or bolts that require access to both sides of the material. If set correctly, blind rivets produce reliable fastenings without all the hammering involved in solid rivet installation.
Blind rivets are made of two preassembled pieces: the tubular rivet body and the setting mandrel. Both pieces are inserted into a hole, and a special tool (appropriately called a “riveter”) is placed over the mandrel. Squeezing the grips together causes the mandrel to be pulled into the rivet body, which expands on the other side of the material. If the mandrel breaks off of the completed rivet, the rivet has been installed correctly.
Used for thin sheet metal, tinner’s rivets are solid rivets; they’re usually made of soft iron or steel and have a flat head. To install a tinner’s rivet, the rivet is inserted from the underside through the materials to be fastened and the flat head is placed on top of a large flat piece of metal (like an anvil). A tool called a rivet set, which has a dished depression slightly larger than the rivet diameter in its end, is placed on the shaft of the rivet and struck by a hammer repeatedly to peen the rivet shaft into a flattened, rounded head.
Have hundreds of blind rivets to install? Consider buying a pneumatic rivet gun, or a rivet gun attachment for your drill. You’ll work much faster and avoid the strain and pain from squeezing a hand riveter all day.
If you don’t have a rivet set or tinner’s rivets, you can use a roofing nail and a ball peen hammer to create a makeshift rivet. Place the nail in the hole and cut the nail down to 1.5 times its diameter. Place the material with the nail head facedown on your striking surface. Using the flat face of a ball peen hammer, give the end of the nail several strikes to set the rivet and begin deforming the metal, then use the ball side of the hammer to work your way around the rivet in a circular pattern, shaping the rivet into a head.
The type of metal used in the rivet you choose is important and should be matched to the sheet metal being joined whenever possible. If leather is being fastened with a rivet, make sure that the rivet is made of aluminum, copper, or brass, as the moisture in leather can cause steel rivets to rust.