I currently work as a trainee AME and want to eventually start specialising in sheet metal / composite repairs as I've heard the money is really good for these specialist skills. I've bought myself a pneumatic rivet gun to start practicing some basics and have an array of sets for the rivet sizes and types.

My question to any aircraft structural engineers / experienced sheet metal workers in this forum is how to stop getting the smiley faces on the solid universal rivet head? I'm putting enough pressure on the gun to stop it bouncing and the bucking bar is setting a good rivet tail but on some of my rivets I have this smile crease / dent at the bottom of the rivet head. Does this mean the gun isn't in line enough with the rivet? I'm always trying my best to keep the gun 90 degrees to the sheet metal. Or am I doing something else wrong? I've been told I'm using the correct set and air pressures so I'm sure it's my technique letting me down on some of these rivets. Although less mistakes are happening when I get someone to hold the bucking bar so I can use two hands I still have the same smiley face problem on some. Any tips and tricks would be much appreciated.


1 Answer 1


I banged rivets on a production line in a previous life (in the 70s). A trick that works wonders (although it may be frowned upon by purists, and your school instructors may prevent you from using such a "cheat" while learning) until you get good at holding it perfectly perpendicular is to put a little piece of masking tape over the tip of the rivet snap. It moves the snap a few thousandths of an inch away so that more misalignment is tolerated as well as putting a barrier between the edge of the snap and the skin surface if it does touch. You will find your smiley rate goes way down.

I tried to draw a little picture of what I meant in Paint but I couldn't do it without it looking like a rude bathroom stall drawing, if you know what I mean...

The other thing I see people doing is just shooting it full blast, then off. Don't do that. The gun has a "feathering" trigger that lets you ease in the air for a reason. When you start to set the rivet, ease on just a bit of air, just enough to get it ratatatatting, and feel for the feedback of the bucking bar on the other side to tell you you have good contact, then give it a full shot.

Each shot should sound like, "ssstat tat tat tat tat tat brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr".

Especially when you have a partner bucking, you'll know right away if they don't have the bar in place on the shop side. This helps prevent depressing the metal around the rivet, as well as reducing the risk of smileys.

Another one is don't hold the rivet gun by the handle like a pistol. You have to be able to push in line with the snap. Old time rivet guns were made U shaped for this purpose, but all the modern ones have the terrible pistol shape. Move your hand as high as possible so you are pushing with the heel of your hand on the back of the rivet gun's body, with your wrist more or less in line with the snap. Your index finger will be too high, so use the middle or second last finger to work the trigger. Like this:

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