How to use a rivet gun

When you need to join sheet metal or plastics together, the rivet gun is one of the more practical methods out there. This tool is especially useful when accessing the back end of the link is problematic. In addition, rivets are typically relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes and materials. So how do you use a rivet gun? It’s actually pretty simple.


First things first – what is a rivet gun?

Both rivets and rivet guns come in different flavors. For the purposes of this article, we’ll stick with blind rivets. These get their name because they can be “blindly” attached from one side of the material without accessing (or even seeing) the other side. We also intend to avoid all applications that require pneumatic guns or heavy rivets. In this article, we will delve more into DIY applications. These require either a hand riveter or one of the newer battery operated tools.

Hand riveting guns and battery operated tools do the same job. The more expensive cordless tools save your hands and automatically collect used posts after riveting. With a hand rivet gun, you often have to squeeze the handle several times to complete the job. A battery powered tool does the entire process when you pull the trigger. Manual tools work great when you’re not busy. The automatic tools really help if you have a lot of riveting in the course of your job.


Types of rivets

All blind rivets consist of a mandrel and body. The rivet gun pulls the mandrel through the body and expands it to fix the material between the head of the body and the newly “fungal” end.

Now that you’ve decided to use blind rivets, the next issue will be about size, style, and material. Standard blind rivets are good for securing metal parts that don’t need to carry a lot of weight. Rivet manufacturers usually list the tolerances for the weight a rivet can support on the back of the package.

Blind riveting tools pull a post through a channel and mushroom it open to create a permanent seal between two materials. To remove a blind rivet, you need to drill open it.

That being said, we can find many different types of rivets to choose from in the market. These include:

Standard blind rivets

Most of the tasks can be done with standard blind rivets. These are available in either domed or flush designs, and in a variety of diameters, materials, and lengths. In general, you adapt the material to what you want to attach. Aluminum to aluminum and steel to steel. This prevents you from encountering something called galvanic or bimetallic corrosion. This happens when certain different metals stay in contact and electrons are transferred from one material to the other.

Blind rivetsA standard off-the-shelf blind rivet

Dome head rivets (a type of blind rivet) cover most of your bases. They work well when working with steel and also when you need the rivet near the edge of the material to be attached.

Flat head rivets can be a great choice when you need a flush, tight fit. They work best with softer materials as they will want to sink in. If you need to rivet materials that usually deform due to extreme temperatures, try these guys out.

Sealed or closed rivets

Sealed or closed rivets contain the “mandrel” (post) in a sealed barrel. This seals the entire rivet against moisture. You can find sealed rivets when you need a waterproof seal. You can find them in marine applications as well as in some automotive and pump applications. They cost more than standard rivets but do a good job avoiding potential problems from water ingress.

sealed rivets with closed endsNote the fully closed body of these sealed closed ended rivets

Multi-grip rivets

Multi-grip rivets support more material thickness options than standard blind rivets. The body of these rivets looks almost segmented. Any segment that protrudes beyond the material and is exposed during the riveting process will mushroom. The end result is a single rivet that can securely grip both thicker and thinner materials.

Multigrip rivetMulti-grip rivets provide multiple points that expand for attachment when used with materials of different thicknesses.

Interlock or structural blind rivets

Interlock or structural blind rivets offer wide grip for versatility. Manufacturers develop them for high-strength applications because of their excellent clamping force. Structural blind rivets also have a mechanical locking feature that ensures 100% mandrel retention, and the mandrel fills the rivet for improved shear strength.

For more structural applications that require a high strength attachment, locking or structural rivets might be your best choices. They can close large gaps and keep your metal sheets from moving.

Locking rivetsLocking or structural rivets are available in larger sizes and work well for heavier applications.

Different composition of the rivet material

As mentioned above, before you start grabbing a rivet and using your rivet gun, choose the right material for the rivet. Since you can choose rivets made from the same or similar material as what you want to join, take a moment to make sure you have what you need. When riveting items with a higher moisture content, such as leather, you should also avoid steel rivets as they can rust quickly. Instead, opt for copper, aluminum, or brass.

Copper sealed rivetsYou can get aluminum, stainless steel, zinc, and even copper rivets like these sealed rivets mentioned above.

Using a rivet gun starts with drilling holes

Often times you will need to drill the holes that will be used to secure the pieces together. There’s probably not much to say about this step, but the size of drill bit you use will determine the size of rivet you can use. Here is a helpful chart that came from the good folks at navyaviation.tpub.com.

How to use a rivet gun

You will also need to attach the appropriate size nozzle attachment to your rivet gun. Rivet guns usually come with a few different nozzle attachments that can be stowed on board, as well as a wrench to lock and unlock them from their storage openings. Find the size you want and use the wrench to tighten it.

Insert, squeeze, and squeeze the handle or trigger of the rivet gun

So at this point you should pick out your rivets, drill your holes, and install the correct nozzle on your rivet gun. All that’s left is to actually get down to the rivet.

How to use a rivet gun

Push the pin (mandrel) of the rivet all the way into the nozzle of your rivet gun. The shorter, thicker body of the rivet is the business end. Paste this part into the two + pieces of material you want to join together.

After you’ve put the rivet through the holes and pressed the nozzle of your rivet gun flat against the surface with even pressure, start pulling the trigger. Using a manual rivet gun (not shown), pull the metal pin or mandrel through the rivet body each time you squeeze the handle. This compresses the two pieces of material between the head of the rivet and the mushroom body.

Keep pushing until the rivet bursts and the pin or mandrel breaks. Presto, you put a rivet in place!

If you have any more tips and tricks on using a rivet gun, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

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