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How to Rivet in Tight Places

John Ammeter, Seattle, WA
Puget Sound RVators

[This was originally posted to the RV List in July, 1996.  John won a Snap-On tool kit from Sport Aviation for this tip.—Ed]



Several postings have dealt with the difficulty involved in riveting the skin to the rib at the trailing edge of the control surfaces.  The following is an article I wrote a few years ago to help with that problem.  I’m sorry but the graphics didn’t paste into the email document.  The original article, complete with graphics, is in the “Best of Puget Sound RVators” available for $10.00 plus $2.50 shipping/handling from me.
Several of the flush rivets near the trailing edge of the control surfaces are very difficult to install; there isn’t room to use either a rivet gun and bucking bar or the conventional rivet squeezer.  Some builders have taken Vise Grip pliers and ground the jaws flat to use as a rivet squeezer.  This is entirely adequate but, with the price of even the inexpensive import pliers nearing $5.00 or $6.00, there has to be a cheaper way.

Even on the RV-6, which is almost all aluminum, there are fewer than 50 (out of 12,000) rivets that are located in such tight quarters.  Since most of the control surfaces will have been back-riveted, it is likely that you will have a large, heavy, flat piece of steel around the shop someplace.  If your shop is as organized as mine, take a few days off and find it; it is sure to be somewhere logical, like under the scrap aluminum pile.

Put the flat steel plate on the bench and carefully place the control surface (with the rivet in place in the hole) on it; you will probably have to block up the far end so it will sit flat on the plate.  Now take the square bar and carefully put the formed end on the working end of the rivet. The other end of the bar will sit on the flat plate.  At this point you have realized that you are about to use a hammer in close proximity to the piece of aluminum you have spent 2 weeks building.  This is not the time for shaky hands; if you value your airplane parts as much as I do there is a very simple way to shield the control surface from harm.  Either place your extra hand (whichever is not holding the hammer) on the control surface to act as a cushion in case you happen to come too close to the aluminum (this is guaranteed to increase your anxiety and make you even more shaky), or place a large piece of wood over the aluminum.  Personally, I prefer the use of wood over flesh; so does my wife and dog—fewer sound effects when I slip.  Now, very carefully, strike one blow with the hammer on the bar near the aluminum.  If all went as planned you now have a perfectly formed working head on the rivet.

This is a very simple solution to a very vexing problem.  I want to credit this idea to Mike Adams of Vancouver, WA.  He and his friend, Russ Parr, stopped by my shop recently and, seeing that I was building a new elevator for my RV-6, mentioned this method of riveting.  Thanks to both of them, my rivets turned out perfectly.

The square bar referred to is a 1/2” x 1/2” x 6” bar with one end tapered down to about 1/4” high.  Before you ask whether a hammer will give you a quality rivet, let me tell you that one of our local T-18 builders built his airplane using ‘pop-rivets’ and hammer driven rivets.  It flies fine and looks great.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend using a hammer more than necessary  but it is a cheap method; I like that.

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