Best Practices For Rivet Removal
Today, we will be removing a panel from the exterior of the camper. To do this, we will have to remove a lot of rivets: buck rivets. After a year of experience, we have a favorite method of tackling rows of rivets which we will share with you today!
For this process, you will need a:
- Power Drill
- Rivet Removal Tool
- 7/64″ titanium coated drill bit (or thinner than shaft of rivet)
- 5/32″ titanium coated drill bit (or thicker than shaft of rivet)
Things to Know Ahead of Time
When we are removing rivets, we have two goals. The first is quite obvious: to remove the rivet from the aluminum sheet. The second is less obvious: to do as little damage to the aluminum sheet as possible. We destroy rivets in the de-riveting process but, more often than not, we will be reusing the aluminum sheet. That means that we don’t want to scratch the exterior and (arguably more important) we don’t want to enlarge the rivet holes beyond their current size. Larger holes require larger rivets to be properly resealed. Keeping each hole consistent will minimize complications. So, using the right sized bits can be critical!
We approach rivet removal as a three step process. First, we use the rivet removal tool to form a dimple in the center of the rivet. See how the collar around the rivet removal tool wraps around the rivet head and centers the interior drill bit. The dimple doesn’t have to be very deep, just enough to guide the drill bits.
Once we have the dimple drilled, we switch to the first drill bit. We are using a 7/64″ drill bit because that is smaller than the 1/8″ shaft of the rivet. You can use other sizes, but the goal is to pick a bit narrower than the rivet shaft. Use the dimple as a guide to drill through the body of the rivet. You don’t have to drill all the way through the rivet, just through the mushroom shaped head, into the level of the sheet aluminum.
Technically, we could use the rivet removal tool to do this. But we prefer the small drill bit because it allows us to better see what we are doing.
Finally, we switch to the second drill bit. We are using a 5/32″ titanium coated drill bit. This drill bit is wider than the shaft of the rivet. Drill into the same hole but, this time, you should not need to drill very much at all for the rivet head to pop free.
Do not drill into the aluminum sheet itself. If the rivet head is resistant and won’t pop off, try stepping back down to the smaller drill bit and make sure you have drilled deeply enough and then return to the larger drill bit. If that still does not free the rivet head, step to an even larger drill bit and see if it can free the rivet still without damaging the aluminum sheet.
While this three step process may seem overly complicated to just remove some rivets, we have found it to be the most efficient way to remove a lot of rivets with the least amount of damage to the aluminum shell
If you have any further questions or your own experience in rivet removal to contribute, please share it in the comments!
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