Solid rivets
Sophisticated riveted joint on a railway bridge
Riveters work on the Liberty ship SS John W. Brown (December 2014).

A rivet is a permanent mechanical fastener. Before being installed, a rivet consists of a smooth cylindrical shaft with a head on one end. The end opposite to the head is called the tail. On installation, the rivet is placed in a punched or drilled hole, and the tail is upset, or bucked (i.e., deformed), so that it expands to about 1.5 times the original shaft diameter, holding the rivet in place. In other words, pounding creates a new "head" on the other end by smashing the "tail" material flatter, resulting in a rivet that is roughly a dumbbell shape. To distinguish between the two ends of the rivet, the original head is called the factory head and the deformed end is called the shop head or buck-tail.

Because there is effectively a head on each end of an installed rivet, it can support tension loads. However, it is much more capable of supporting shear loads (loads perpendicular to the axis of the shaft). Bolts and screws are better suited for tension applications.

Fastenings used in traditional wooden boat building, such as copper nails and clinch bolts, work on the same principle as the rivet but were in use long before the term rivet was introduced and, where they are remembered, are usually classified among nails and bolts respectively.


There are a number of types of rivets, designed to meet different cost, accessibility, and strength requirements:

Solid/round head rivets

A typical technical drawing of a universal head solid rivet

Solid rivets are one of the oldest and most reliable types of fasteners, having been found in archaeological findings dating back to the Bronze Age. Solid rivets consist simply of a shaft and head that are deformed with a hammer or rivet gun. A rivet compression or crimping tool can also deform this type of rivet. This tool is mainly used on rivets close to the edge of the fastened material, since the tool is limited by the depth of its frame. A rivet compression tool does not require two people, and is generally the most foolproof way to install solid rivets.

Riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a C-47 transport at the plant of North American Aviation. The woman on the left operates an air hammer, while the man on the right holds a bucking bar

Solid rivets are used in applications where reliability and safety count. A typical application for solid rivets can be found within the structural parts of aircraft. Hundreds of thousands of solid rivets are used to assemble the frame of a modern aircraft. Such rivets come with rounded (universal) or 100° countersunk heads. Typical materials for aircraft rivets are aluminium alloys (2017, 2024, 2117, 7050, 5056, 55000, V-65), titanium, and nickel-based alloys (e.g., Monel). Some aluminum alloy rivets are too hard to buck and must be softened by solution treating (precipitation hardening) prior to being bucked. "Ice box" aluminum alloy rivets harden with age, and must likewise be annealed and then kept at sub-freezing temperatures (hence the name "ice box") to slow the age-hardening process. Steel rivets can be found in static structures such as bridges, cranes, and building frames.

The setting of these fasteners requires access to both sides of a structure. Solid rivets are driven using a hydraulically, pneumatically, or electromagnetically actuated squeezing tool or even a handheld hammer. Applications where only one side is accessible require "blind" rivets.

Solid rivets are also used by some artisans, in the construction of modern reproduction of medieval armour, jewellery and Metal Couture

High-strength structural steel rivets

Structural steel rivets like this one were used in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930s.
Women rivet heaters, with their tongs and catching buckets, Puget Sound Navy Yard, May 1919

Until relatively recently, structural steel connections were either welded or riveted. High-strength bolts have largely replaced structural steel rivets. Indeed, the latest steel construction specifications published by AISC (the 14th Edition) no longer covers their installation. The reason for the change is primarily due to the expense of skilled workers required to install high strength structural steel rivets. Whereas two relatively unskilled workers can install and tighten high strength bolts, it takes a minimum of four highly skilled riveters to install rivets.[citation needed]

At a central location near the areas being riveted, a furnace was set up. Rivets were placed in the furnace and heated to glowing hot (often to white hot) so that they were more plastic and easily deformed. The rivet warmer or "cook" used tongs to remove individual rivets and throw them to a catcher stationed near the joints to be riveted. The catcher (usually) caught the rivet in a leather or wooden bucket with an ash-lined bottom. He placed the rivet into the hole to be riveted, then quickly turned to catch the next rivet. The "holder up or holder on" would hold a heavy rivet set or dolly or another (larger) pneumatic jack against the round head of the rivet, while the riveter (sometimes two riveters) applied a hammer or pneumatic rivet hammer to the unformed head, making it mushroom tightly against the joint in its final domed shape. Alternatively the buck is hammered more or less flush with the structure in a counter sunk hole.[1] Before the use of pneumatic hammers, e.g. in the construction of RMS Titanic, the man who hammered the rivet was known as the "basher". Upon cooling, the rivet contracted and exerted further force, tightening the joint.

The last commonly used high strength structural steel rivets were designated ASTM A502 Grade 1 rivets.[2]

Such riveted structures may be insufficient to resist seismic loading from earthquakes if the structure was not engineered for such forces, a common problem of older steel bridges. This is because a hot rivet cannot be properly heat treated to add strength and hardness. In the seismic retrofit of such structures it is common practice to remove critical rivets with an oxygen torch, precision ream the hole, then insert a machined and heat treated bolt.

Semi-tubular rivets

A typical technical drawing of an oval head semi-tubular rivet

Semi-tubular rivets (also known as tubular rivets) are similar to solid rivets, except they have a partial hole (opposite the head) at the tip. The purpose of this hole is to reduce the amount of force needed for application by rolling the tubular portion outward. The force needed to apply a semitubular rivet is about 1/4 of the amount needed to apply a solid rivet. Tubular rivets are sometimes preferred for pivot points (a joint where movement is desired) since the swelling of the rivet is only at the tail. The type of equipment used to apply semi-tubular rivets range from prototyping tools to fully automated systems. Typical installation tools (from lowest to highest price) are hand set, manual squeezer, pneumatic squeezer, kick press, impact riveter, and finally PLC-controlled robotics. The most common machine is the impact riveter and the most common use of semitubular rivets is in lighting, brakes, ladders, binders, HVAC duct work, mechanical products, and electronics. They are offered from 1/16-inch (1.6 mm) to 3/8-inch (9.5 mm) in diameter (other sizes are considered highly special) and can be up to 8 inches (203 mm) long. A wide variety of materials and platings are available, most common base metals are steel, brass, copper, stainless, aluminum and most common platings are zinc, nickel, brass, tin. Tubular rivets are normally waxed to facilitate proper assembly. An installed tubular rivet has a head on one side, with a rolled over and exposed shallow blind hole on the other.

Blind rivets

Three aluminium blind rivets: 1/8", 3/32", and 1/16"
Animation of a rivet being tightened
Pop rivet gun with rivet inserted

Blind rivets, commonly referred to as "pop" rivets (POP is the brand name of the original manufacturer, now owned by Stanley Engineered Fastening, a division of Stanley Black & Decker) are tubular and are supplied with a mandrel through the center. The rivet assembly is inserted into a hole drilled through the parts to be joined and a specially designed tool is used to draw the mandrel into the rivet. This expands the blind end of the rivet and then the mandrel snaps off. These types of blind rivets have non-locking mandrels and are sometimes avoided for critical structural joints because the mandrels may fall out, due to vibration or other reasons, leaving a hollow rivet that has a lower load-carrying capability than solid rivets. Furthermore, because of the mandrel they are more prone to failure from corrosion and vibration. Unlike solid rivets, blind rivets can be inserted and fully installed in a joint from only one side of a part or structure, "blind" to the opposite side.[3]

Due to this feature, blind rivets are used mainly when access to the joint is available from only one side. The rivet is placed in a drilled hole and is set by pulling the mandrel head into the rivet body, expanding the rivet body and causing it to flare against the reverse side. As the head of the mandrel reaches the face of the blind side material, the pulling force is resisted, and at a predetermined force, the mandrel snaps at its break point, also called blind setting. A tight joint formed by the rivet body remains, the head of the mandrel remains encapsulated at the blind side, although variations of this are available, and the mandrel stem is ejected.

Prior to the adoption of blind rivets, installation of a solid rivet typically required access to both sides of the assembly: a rivet hammer on one side and a bucking bar on the other side. In 1916, Royal Navy reservist and engineer Hamilton Neil Wylie filed a patent for an "improved means of closing tubular rivets" (granted May 1917).[4] In 1922 Wylie joined the British aircraft manufacturer Armstrong-Whitworth Ltd to advise on metal construction techniques; here he continued to develop his rivet design with a further 1927 patent[5] that incorporated the pull-through mandrel, and allowed the rivet to be used blind. By 1928, the George Tucker Eyelet company produced a "cup" rivet based on the design. It required a separate GKN mandrel and the rivet body to be hand assembled prior to use for the building of the Siskin III aircraft. Together with Armstrong-Whitworth, the Geo. Tucker Co. further modified the rivet design to produce a one-piece unit incorporating mandrel and rivet.[6] This product was later developed in aluminium and trademarked as the "POP" rivet. The United Shoe Machinery Co. produced the design in the U.S. as inventors such as Carl Cherry and Lou Huck experimented with other techniques for expanding solid rivets.

They are available in flat head, countersunk head, and modified flush head with standard diameters of 1/8, 5/32 and 3/16 inch. Blind rivets are made from soft aluminum alloy, steel (including stainless steel), copper, and Monel.

There are also structural blind rivets, which are designed to take shear and tensile loads.[7]

The rivet body is normally manufactured using one of three methods:

Name Description
Wire the most common method
Tube common in longer lengths, not normally as strong as wire
Sheet least popular and generally the weakest option

There is a vast array of specialty blind rivets that are suited for high strength or plastic applications. Typical types include:

Name Description
TriFold a rivet that splits into three equal legs like a molly bolt. Typically used in soft plastics where a wide footprint is needed at the rear surface. Used in automotive interiors and vinyl fences. (See § Oscar rivets.)
Structural rivet(a) an "external" mechanically locked structural blind rivet that is used where a watertight, vibration resistant connection is of importance. Typically used in manufacture or repair of truck bodies. A special nosepiece is required to apply this rivet.
Structural rivet(b) an "internal" mechanically locked structural blind rivet that is used where a watertight, vibration resistant connection is of importance. Typically used in manufacture or repair of truck bodies.

Internally and externally locked structural blind rivets can be used in aircraft applications because, unlike other types of blind rivets, the locked mandrels cannot fall out and are watertight. Since the mandrel is locked into place, they have the same or greater load-carrying capacity as solid rivets and may be used to replace solid rivets on all but the most critical stressed aircraft structures.

The typical assembly process requires the operator to install the rivet in the nose of the tool by hand and then actuate the tool. However, in recent years automated riveting systems have become popular in an effort to reduce assembly costs and repetitive disorders. The cost of such tools range from US$1,500 for autofeed pneumatics to US$50,000 for fully robotic systems.

While structural blind rivets using a locked mandrel are common, there are also aircraft applications using "non-structural" blind rivets where the reduced, but still predictable, strength of the rivet without the mandrel is used as the design strength. A method popularized by Chris Heintz of Zenith Aircraft uses a common flat-head (countersunk) rivet which is drawn into a specially machined nosepiece that forms it into a round head rivet, taking up much of the variation inherent in hole size found in amateur aircraft construction. Aircraft designed with these rivets use rivet strength figures measured with the mandrel removed.[8]

Oscar rivets

Oscar Rivet shown with mandrel. (Dashed lines depict flare/flange after installation.)

Oscar rivets are similar to blind rivets in appearance and installation, but have splits (typically three) along the hollow shaft. These splits cause the shaft to fold and flare out (similar to the wings on a toggle bolt's nut) as the mandrel is drawn into the rivet. This flare (or flange) provides a wide bearing surface that reduces the chance of rivet pull-out. This design is ideal for high vibration applications where the back surface is inaccessible.

A version of the Oscar rivet is the Olympic rivet which uses an aluminum mandrel that is drawn into the rivet head. After installation, the head and mandrel are shaved off flush resulting in an appearance closely resembling a brazier head driven rivet. They are used in repair of Airstream trailers to replicate the look of the original rivets.

Drive rivet

A drive rivet is a form of blind rivet that has a short mandrel protruding from the head that is driven in with a hammer to flare out the end inserted in the hole. This is commonly used to rivet wood panels into place since the hole does not need to be drilled all the way through the panel, producing an aesthetically pleasing appearance. They can also be used with plastic, metal, and other materials and require no special setting tool other than a hammer and possibly a backing block (steel or some other dense material) placed behind the location of the rivet while hammering it into place. Drive rivets have less clamping force than most other rivets. Drive screws, possibly another name for drive rivets, are commonly used to hold nameplates into blind holes. They typically have spiral threads that grip the side of the hole.[9]

Flush rivet

A flush rivet is used primarily on external metal surfaces where good appearance and the elimination of unnecessary aerodynamic drag are important. A flush rivet takes advantage of a countersink hole; they are also commonly referred to as countersunk rivets. Countersunk or flush rivets are used extensively on the exterior of aircraft for aerodynamic reasons such as reduced drag and turbulence. Additional post-installation machining may be performed to perfect the airflow.

Friction-lock rivet

These resemble an expanding bolt except the shaft snaps below the surface when the tension is sufficient. The blind end may be either countersunk ('flush') or dome shaped.

One early form of blind rivet that was the first to be widely used for aircraft construction and repair was the Cherry friction-lock rivet. Originally, Cherry friction-locks were available in two styles, hollow shank pull-through and self-plugging types. The pull-through type is no longer common; however, the self-plugging Cherry friction-lock rivet is still used for repairing light aircraft.

Cherry friction-lock rivets are available in two head styles, universal and 100 degree countersunk. Furthermore, they are usually supplied in three standard diameters, 1/8, 5/32 and 3/16 inch.

A friction-lock rivet cannot replace a solid shank rivet, size for size. When a friction-lock is used to replace a solid shank rivet, it must be at least one size larger in diameter because the friction-lock rivet loses considerable strength if its center stem falls out due to vibrations or damage.

Rivet alloys, shear strengths, and driving condition

Alloy type Alphabetical letter Driven condition Marking on head
2117 AD 2117T3 DIMPLE
5056 B 5056H32 RAISED CROSS
2017 D 2017T31 RAISED DOT
7050 E (or KE per NAS) 7050T73 RAISED RING

Self-piercing rivets

Self-pierce riveting (SPR) is a process of joining two or more materials using an engineered rivet [10]. Unlike solid, blind and semi-tubular rivets, self-pierce rivets do not require a drilled or punched hole.

SPRs are cold forged to a semi-tubular shape and contain a partial hole to the opposite end of the head. The end geometry of the rivet has a chamfered poke that helps the rivet pierce the materials being joined. A hydraulic or electric servo rivet setter drives the rivet into the material, and an upsetting die provides a cavity for the displaced bottom sheet material to flow. The SPR process is described in hereSPR process.

The self-pierce rivet fully pierces the top sheet material(s) but only partially pierces the bottom sheet. As the tail end of the rivet does not break through the bottom sheet it provides a water or gas-tight joint. With the influence of the upsetting die, the tail end of the rivet flares and interlocks into the bottom sheet forming a low profile button.

Rivets need to be harder than the materials being joined [11]. they are heat treated to various levels of hardness depending on the material's ductility and hardness. Rivets come in a range of diameters and lengths depending on the materials being joined; head styles are either flush countersunk or pan heads.

Depending on the rivet setter configuration, i.e. hydraulic, servo, stroke, nose-to-die gap, feed system etc., cycle times can be as quick as one second. Rivets are typically fed to the rivet setter nose from tape and come in cassette or spool form for continuous production.

Riveting systems can be manual or automated depending on the application requirements; all systems are very flexible in terms of product design and ease of integration into a manufacturing process.

SPR joins a range of dissimilar materials such as steel, aluminum, plastics, composites and pre-coated or pre-painted materials[12]. Benefits include low energy demands, no heat, fumes, sparks or waste and very repeatable quality.

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