Structural Fasteners – Solid Shank Rivets – Rivet Installation Tools (Part Two)

in Aircraft Metal Structural Repair

Pneumatic Rivet Gun

The pneumatic rivet gun is the most common rivet upsetting tool used in airframe repair work. It is available in many sizes and types. [Figure 4-86] The manufacturer’s recommended capacity for each gun is usually stamped on the barrel. Pneumatic guns operate on air pressure of 90 to 100 pounds per square inch and are used in conjunction with interchangeable rivet sets. Each set is designed to fit the specific type of rivet and the location of the work. The shank of the set is designed to fit into the rivet gun. An airdriven hammer inside the barrel of the gun supplies force to buck the rivet.

Figure 4-86. Rivet guns.

Figure 4-86. Rivet guns.

Slow hitting rivet guns that strike from 900 to 2,500 blows per minute are the most common type. [Figure 4-87] These blows are slow enough to be easily controlled and heavy enough to do the job. These guns are sized by the largest rivet size continuously driven with size often based on the Chicago Pneumatic Company’s old “X” series. A 4X gun (dash 8 or 1⁄4 rivet) is used for normal work. The less powerful 3X gun is used for smaller rivets in thinner structure. 7X guns are used for large rivets in thicker structures. A rivet gun should upset a rivet in 1 to 3 seconds. With practice, an aircraft technician learns the length of time needed to hold down the trigger.

Figure 4-87. Components of a rivet gun.

Figure 4-87. Components of a rivet gun. [click image to enlarge]

A rivet gun with the correct header (rivet set) must be held snugly against the rivet head and perpendicular to the surface while a bucking bar of the proper weight is held against the opposite end. The force of the gun must be absorbed by the bucking bar and not the structure being riveted. When the gun is triggered, the rivet is driven.

Always make sure the correct rivet header and the retaining spring are installed. Test the rivet gun on a piece of wood and adjust the air valve to a setting that is comfortable for the operator. The driving force of the rivet gun is adjusted by a needle valve on the handle. Adjustments should never be tested against anything harder than a wooden block to avoid header damage. If the adjustment fails to provide the best driving force, a different sized gun is needed. A gun that is too powerful is hard to control and may damage the work. On the other hand, if the gun is too light, it may work harden the rivet before the head can be fully formed.

The riveting action should start slowly and be one continued burst. If the riveting starts too fast, the rivet header might slip off the rivet and damage the rivet (smiley) or damage the skin (eyebrow). Try to drive the rivets within 3 seconds, because the rivet will work harden if the driving process takes too long. The dynamic of the driving process has the gun hitting, or vibrating, the rivet and material, which causes the bar to bounce, or countervibrate. These opposing blows (low frequency vibrations) squeeze the rivet, causing it to swell and then form the upset head.

Some precautions to be observed when using a rivet gun are:

  1. Never point a rivet gun at anyone at any time. A rivet gun should be used for one purpose only: to drive or install rivets.
  2. Never depress the trigger mechanism unless the set is held tightly against a block of wood or a rivet.
  3. Always disconnect the air hose from the rivet gun when it is not in use for any appreciable length of time.

While traditional tooling has changed little in the past 60 years, significant changes have been made in rivet gun ergonomics. Reduced vibration rivet guns and bucking bars have been developed to reduce the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome and enhance operator comfort.

Rivet Sets/Headers

Pneumatic guns are used in conjunction with interchangeable rivet sets or headers. Each is designed to fit the type of rivet and location of the work. The shank of the rivet header is designed to fit into the rivet gun. An appropriate header must be a correct match for the rivet being driven. The working face of a header should be properly designed and smoothly polished. They are made of forged steel, heat treated to be tough but not too brittle. Flush headers come in various sizes. Smaller ones concentrate the driving force in a small area for maximum efficiency. Larger ones spread the driving force over a larger area and are used for the riveting of thin skins.

Nonflush headers should fit to contact about the center twothirds of the rivet head. They must be shallow enough to allow slight upsetting of the head in driving and some misalignment without eyebrowing the riveted surface. Care must be taken to match the size of the rivet. A header that is too small marks the rivet; while one too large marks the material.

Rivet headers are made in a variety of styles. [Figure 4-88] The short, straight header is best when the gun can be brought close to the work. Offset headers may be used to reach rivets in obstructed places. Long headers are sometimes necessary when the gun cannot be brought close to the work due to structural interference. Rivet headers should be kept clean.

Figure 4-88. Rivet headers.

Figure 4-88. Rivet headers.

Compression Riveting

Compression riveting (squeezing) is of limited value because this method of riveting can be used only over the edges of sheets or assemblies where conditions permit, and where the reach of the rivet squeezer is deep enough. The three types of rivet squeezers—hand, pneumatic, and pneudraulic— operate on the same principles. In the hand rivet squeezer, compression is supplied by hand pressure; in the pneumatic rivet squeezer, by air pressure; and in the pneudraulic, by a combination of air and hydraulic pressure. One jaw is stationary and serves as a bucking bar, the other jaw is movable and does the upsetting. Riveting with a squeezer is a quick method and requires only one operator.

These riveters are equipped with either a C-yoke or an alligator yoke in various sizes to accommodate any size of rivet. The working capacity of a yoke is measured by its gap and its reach. The gap is the distance between the movable jaw and the stationary jaw; the reach is the inside length of the throat measured from the center of the end sets. End sets for rivet squeezers serve the same purpose as rivet sets for pneumatic rivet guns and are available with the same type heads, which are interchangeable to suit any type of rivet head. One part of each set is inserted in the stationary jaw, while the other part is placed in the movable jaws. The manufactured head end set is placed on the stationary jaw whenever possible. During some operations, it may be necessary to reverse the end sets, placing the manufactured head end set on the movable jaw.


A microshaver is used if the smoothness of the material (such as skin) requires that all countersunk rivets be driven within a specific tolerance. [Figure 4-89] This tool has a cutter, a stop, and two legs or stabilizers. The cutting portion of the microshaver is inside the stop. The depth of the cut can be adjusted by pulling outward on the stop and turning it in either direction (clockwise for deeper cuts). The marks on the stop permit adjustments of 0.001 inch. If the microshaver is adjusted and held correctly, it can cut the head of a countersunk rivet to within 0.002 inch without damaging the surrounding material.

Figure 4-89. Microshaver.

Figure 4-89. Microshaver.

Adjustments should always be made first on scrap material. When correctly adjusted, the microshaver leaves a small round dot about the size of a pinhead on the microshaved rivet. It may occasionally be necessary to shave rivets, normally restricted to MS20426 head rivets, after driving to obtain the required flushness. Shear head rivets should never be shaved.