What Are Rivets?

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Bolts, nails, and screws are common fasteners that you’ve probably used before. But there’s another fastener you might not think about too often: the rivet.

Here’s what you need to know about rivets.

What’s a Rivet?

A rivet is a permanent mechanical fastener used to join two plates together. Because they’re permanent in nature, their joints are similar to those of adhesive or welded joints. They’re very strong.

The rivet is a cylindrical piece of steel that is usually made out of low carbon, but is sometimes made from aluminum, monel, or copper if weight or corrosion are factors for the application at hand. It has a body, called the shank, a forged head on one end, which fastens two separate materials, and a tail on the other, which is bucked.

A large rivet can join pieces of metal but a smaller rivet can even join paper or wood materials, making it a versatile fastener. Though it’s typically used to support shear loads that are perpendicular to the axis of the shaft, it can still support tension loads that are parallel to the axis, too, though bolts and screws are better for this type of support.

Types of Rivets

There are several different types of rivets, based on function, material, and shape. They include the standard solid/round head, semi-tubular, countersunk, blind, Oscar, drive, flush, friction-lock, and self-pierce.

The blind rivet, standard rivet and countersunk rivet, though, are the most popular types used today. The standard type is used when a smooth exterior isn’t necessary for aesthetics or on surfaces that won’t fit against another part. The countersunk type is used on flat surfaces where a smooth exterior is necessary. Finally, the blind rivet is used when you can only access one side of the plates being joined. 

The Rivet of the Past

Rivets have been used for hundreds of years. Before welding and brazing became so widespread, the rivet was the go-to fastener for heavy industry, such as bridge, skyscraper, and ship building. Airplanes, automobiles, and buildings were also joined together through riveting. They were even used in the Titanic, in ships in the First World War, and in tanks during the Second World War. Though riveting isn’t the most popular form of fastening now, it still has its uses in the modern day.

Hand Riveting Installation

A rivet is placed in a previously drilled or punched hole on installation. It’s then pounded with a hammer or specially shaped tool into the hole, which bucks (deforms) it so that it expands into the hole, filling it completely. Essentially, the tail is pounded until it’s deformed and turned into a new “head,” taking on a dumbbell shape. This holds the rivet in place.

Advantages

Although they’re not the most popular form of fastening, rivets still have their advantages. They’re inexpensive and easy to assemble. Additionally, they’re durable, strong, and lightweight, and they can be used to join just about any type of materials. They can also be polished and painted over for a smooth finish for aesthetic purposes.

Disadvantage

The rivet does have one main disadvantage though: its permanence. Because it is a permanent fastener, it’s not so easy to disassemble it. It needs to be drilled out.

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