Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bucking Rivets

Now that the shell is snugly resting on the trailer frame, we get to use aircraft rivets to keep it in place. For this project, I've recruited Ted and Wilson. They graciously drove up on Saturday night from Oregon to participate in our rivet marathon. I am really indebted to them for this one. It was a long day and a ton of work.

Buckmeister Wilson as seen through a hole in the side of the trailer:

Ted and Wilson have both used blind rivets (pop rivets), but never the aircraft rivets used on Airstream trailers. They both have 1970's Airstreams. Both of their Airstreams need rivet work. I sense I will be helping them both with their rivet projects in the future.

We decided to start off the day with the wheel wells. All the existing rivet holes lined up, so we spread a bead of Vulkum sealant between the trailer skin and wheel well.

One rivet hole at a time, Ted removed the cleco then drilled out the hole to accept the new rivet. I placed the rivet in the hole and Wilson held a bucking bar against it. As he gave me the 'ready' call, I used the air riveter to vibrate the rivet in place forever.

The vibration from the tool combined with the pressure between myself and Buckmaster Wilson causes the rivet to mushroom and lock the metals in place. Ear protection IS required.

When the rivet is bucked and cleaned, we repeat. Many, many, many times. As you work from rivet to rivet, the work is dull. But as you look at the growing line of finished rivets, it gets exciting to see that you have accomplished something that looks good and will last.

Later in the morning, Norm came by to inspect the work and watch the technique.

It was not long before everyone was in on the rivet action.

Now I'm remembering that Wilson was on the bucking bar for every rivet and didn't get to work the air tool. Next time, Wilson!

She's looking like a trailer, again!

After getting a lot of rivets in place, we turned our focus to replacing two panels. The most important panel to replace was at the front curbside.

A previous owner must have had their tail gate down as they turned sharply. BAD CAN OPENER! A patch had been applied and it looked pretty bad. So, we drilled it out.

The second panel to replace was the front one under the window. The water filler had been removed and a large, uneven patch had been applied. It started getting breezy inside!

We laid out the new Alclad aluminum on the shop table and traced the pattern on from the old sheets. Next, we drilled out the rivet holes with a small drill.

I can't say enough about the five-in-one tool. I hear the seven in-one-tool has a bottle opener. Hmmm.... Maybe for my birthday?

New panel was fit in place, drilled, then clecoed.

Next, we pulled the clecos one seam at a time and applied Vulkum. The clecos were put back in every other hole to hold the panel tight. We riveted the empty holes, pulled the remaining clecos and riveted again.

This went on and on until everything was in place. We were ready to call it a day! Or night as it turned out.


  1. WOW! That's alot of riveting. Looking good.


  2. I really enjoy the buck riveting, I find that it feels solid and satissfying and more than a little bit "manly." :)

    But you're right, it does wear on after a while, and there's nothing like a look back at a growing line of rivets to keep you going.

    Your progress is fantastic, and your work is top-notch.


  3. Great work a'bickin & a'rivetting... she looks fantastic. I'm just about to start reuniting the body & chassis of my 53 Flying Cloud. Have a pile of rivets from Aircraft Spruce but the shorter ones ( - 4 & -5) have lettering on their heads. Did yours too? If not where did you source them.
    Thanks, Chris

  4. Chris,

    All my rivets have some kind of lettering on the head. The 5's have the least, just a fancy 'P' I think. I just got a package of 4's and I don't recall what they have. I buy all my rivets from spenceraircraft.com but they likely get them from Aircraft Spruce too.