Structural Fasteners – Solid Shank Rivets

in Aircraft Metal Structural Repair

Structural fasteners, used to join sheet metal structures securely, come in thousands of shapes and sizes with many of them specialized and specific to certain aircraft. Since some structural fasteners are common to all aircraft, this section focuses on the more frequently used fasteners. For the purposes of this discussion, fasteners are divided into two main groups: solid shank rivets and special purpose fasteners that include blind rivets.

Solid Shank Rivet

The solid shank rivet is the most common type of rivet used in aircraft construction. Used to join aircraft structures, solid shank rivets are one of the oldest and most reliable types of fastener. Widely used in the aircraft manufacturing industry, solid shank rivets are relatively low-cost, permanently installed fasteners. They are faster to install than bolts and nuts since they adapt well to automatic, high-speed installation tools. Rivets should not be used in thick materials or in tensile applications, as their tensile strengths are quite low relative to their shear strength. The longer the total grip length (the total thickness of sheets being joined), the more difficult it becomes to lock the rivet.

Riveted joints are neither airtight nor watertight unless special seals or coatings are used. Since rivets are permanently installed, they must be removed by drilling them out, a laborious task.


Before installation, the rivet consists of a smooth cylindrical shaft with a factory head on one end. The opposite end is called the bucktail. To secure two or more pieces of sheet metal together, the rivet is placed into a hole cut just a bit larger in diameter than the rivet itself. Once placed in this predrilled hole, the bucktail is upset or deformed by any of several methods from hand-held hammers to pneumatically driven squeezing tools. This action causes the rivet to expand about 11⁄2 times the original shaft diameter, forming a second head that firmly holds the material in place.

Rivet Head Shape

Solid rivets are available in several head shapes, but the universal and the 100° countersunk head are the most commonly used in aircraft structures. Universal head rivets were developed specifically for the aircraft industry and designed as a replacement for both the round and brazier head rivets. These rivets replaced all protruding head rivets and are used primarily where the protruding head has no aerodynamic significant. They have a flat area on the head, a head diameter twice the shank diameter, and a head height approximately 42.5 percent of the shank diameter. [Figure 4-74]

Figure 4-74. Solid shank rivet styles.

Figure 4-74. Solid shank rivet styles.

The countersunk head angle can vary from 60° to 120°, but the 100° has been adopted as standard because this head style provides the best possible compromise between tension/ shear strength and flushness requirements. This rivet is used where flushness is required because the rivet is flat-topped and undercut to allow the head to fit into a countersunk or dimpled hole. The countersunk rivet is primarily intended for use when aerodynamics smoothness is critical, such as on the external surface of a high-speed aircraft.

Typically, rivets are fabricated from aluminum alloys, such as 2017-T4, 2024-T4, 2117-T4, 7050, and 5056. Titanium, nickel-based alloys, such as Monel® (corrosion-resistant steel), mild steel or iron, and copper rivets are also used for rivets in certain cases.

Rivets are available in a wide variety of alloys, head shapes, and sizes and have a wide variety of uses in aircraft structure. Rivets that are satisfactory for one part of the aircraft are often unsatisfactory for another part. Therefore, it is important that an aircraft technician know the strength and driving properties of the various types of rivets and how to identify them, as well as how to drive or install them.

Solid rivets are classified by their head shape, by the material from which they are manufactured, and by their size. Identification codes used are derived from a combination of the Military Standard (MS) and National Aerospace Standard (NAS) systems, as well as an older classification system known as AN for Army/Navy. For example, the prefix MS identifies hardware that conforms to written military standards. A letter or letters following the head-shaped code identify the material or alloy from which the rivet was made. The alloy code is followed by two numbers separated by a dash. The first number is the numerator of a fraction, which specifies the shank diameter in thirty-seconds of an inch. The second number is the numerator of a fraction in sixteenths of an inch and identifies the length of the rivet. Rivet head shapes and their identifying code numbers are shown in Figure 4-75.

Figure 4-75. Rivet head shapes and their identifying code numbers.

Figure 4-75. Rivet head shapes and their identifying code numbers.

The most frequently used repair rivet is the AD rivet because it can be installed in the received condition. Some rivet alloys, such as DD rivets (alloy 2024-T4), are too hard to drive in the received condition and must be annealed before they can be installed. Typically, these rivets are annealed and stored in a freezer to retard hardening, which has led to the nickname “ice box rivets.” They are removed from the freezer just prior to use. Most DD rivets have been replaced by E-type rivets which can be installed in the received condition.

The head type, size, and strength required in a rivet are governed by such factors as the kind of forces present at the point riveted, the kind and thickness of the material to be riveted, and the location of the part on the aircraft. The type of head needed for a particular job is determined by where it is to be installed. Countersunk head rivets should be used where a smooth aerodynamic surface is required. Universal head rivets may be used in most other areas.

The size (or diameter) of the selected rivet shank should correspond in general to the thickness of the material being riveted. If an excessively large rivet is used in a thin material, the force necessary to drive the rivet properly causes an undesirable bulging around the rivet head. On the other hand, if an excessively small rivet diameter is selected for thick material, the shear strength of the rivet is not great enough to carry the load of the joint. As a general rule, the rivet diameter should be at least two and a half to three times the thickness of the thicker sheet. Rivets most commonly chosen in the assembly and repair of aircraft range from 3⁄32-inch to 3⁄8-inch in diameter. Ordinarily, rivets smaller than 3⁄32- inch in diameter are never used on any structural parts that carry stresses.

The proper sized rivets to use for any repair can also be determined by referring to the rivets (used by the manufacturer) in the next parallel row inboard on the wing or forward on the fuselage. Another method of determining the size of rivets to be used is to multiply the skin’s thickness by 3 and use the next larger size rivet corresponding to that figure. For example, if the skin is 0.040 inch thick, multiply 0.040 inch by 3 to get 0.120 inch and use the next larger size of rivet, 1⁄8-inch (0.125 inch).

When rivets are to pass completely through tubular members, select a rivet diameter equivalent to at least 1⁄8 the outside diameter of the tube. If one tube sleeves or fits over another, take the outside diameter of the outside tube and use oneeighth of that distance as the minimum rivet diameter. A good practice is to calculate the minimum rivet diameter and then use the next larger size rivet.

Whenever possible, select rivets of the same alloy number as the material being riveted. For example, use 1100 and 3003 rivets on parts fabricated from 1100 and 3003 alloys, and 2117-1 and 2017-T rivets on parts fabricated from 2017 and 2024 alloys.

The size of the formed head is the visual standard of a proper rivet installation. The minimum and maximum sizes, as well as the ideal size, are shown in Figure 4-76.

Figure 4-76. Rivet formed head dimensions.

Figure 4-76. Rivet formed head dimensions.