How to set countersunk aluminum rivets

Written by michael signal
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How to set countersunk aluminum rivets
Fast moving aircfraft like fighter jets need smooth skins attached with countersunk rivets. (jet aeroplane image by NorthShoreSurfPhotos from

Solid aluminium rivets tend to be used on aluminium structures to prevent dissimilar metals from expediting corrosion. Countersunk rivets are used in aerodynamically important areas or in areas where moving parts might contact or chaff against protruding head rivets.

Countersunk rivet wholes require an extra step of hole preparation. The holes have to be countersunk to an angle matching the rivets' countersink angle. After that, the rivets install just like a typical protruding head rivet.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Power drill
  • Drill and countersink bits
  • Deburring Tool
  • Pneumatic rivet gun
  • Countersunk rivets
  • Bucking bars
  • Ear protection

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  1. 1

    Layout your hole pattern and mark hole locations with a permanent marker. The documentation for your particular installation or repair should detail rivet location and spacing.

  2. 2

    Drill the rivet holes with an appropriately sized bit. If possible, clamp all the materials that are being riveted together and drill the holes through all the material layers simultaneously. This will ensure that the holes line up perfectly, as long as they are clamped securely.

    How to set countersunk aluminum rivets
    Drill the rivet holes after you have marked their layout. (drill image by hugy from
  3. 3

    Insert an appropriately sized countersink in a power drill and countersink the rivet holes. Be sure to hold the drill straight and steady. A wobbly or crooked drill could deform the countersinks.

  4. 4

    Check the countersink with a rivet. The countersink is the correct depth when the rivet sits flush. The countersink is to deep if the rivet sits below the surface of the material. You'll have to redrill the hole for a larger rivet and recountersink.

  1. 1

    Place the right sized rivet in a rivet hole. The rivet will have a slightly smaller diameter than the hole diameter and be a little longer than the total material thickness.

  2. 2

    Position another worker on the back side of the rivet with heavy bucking bars.

  3. 3

    Insert a flat die into a pneumatic rivet gun and hold it flush against the rivet. Make sure the die is aligned in the same direction as the rivet.

  4. 4

    Wait until the rivet bucker signals that he is ready with his bucking bar pressed firmly against the tail of the rivet, then squeeze the trigger on the rivet gun. Release the trigger when the bucker signals you to do so.

    How to set countersunk aluminum rivets
    Ear protection is a riveting requirement. (ear image by Byron Moore from
  5. 5

    Check the rivet tail. It should be flat, round and centred on the rivet. It should be about as thick as the rivet's diameter and 50 per cent wider than the rivet's diameter.

  6. 6

    Repeat the riveting steps with the rest of the rivets. Any poorly installed rivets will have to be drilled out and reinstalled.

Tips and warnings

  • Always use ear protection when installing solid rivets.

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