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The Garrattfan's DIY Rivet Press

Etched kits often require small half etched holes to be pressed out as a rivet.
Pressing out by hand is tricky business. No matter how accurately you work, the etch will bend and the rivets will be irregular. Specialists' tools are often very expensive. In a trice you can make your own rivet pliers that are cheap and deliver reasonable quality.

When making etched kits it not always possible for kit suppliers to etch all rows of rivets. Very often the other side of the sheet must be etched as well and etching the rivets renders the sheet too thin or the process too complicated. The kit supplier solve this by providing half etched holes on the backside of the sheet. The modeler should press these holes through with a punch of some sort, resulting in a rivet.

The simplest of methods is riveting by hand, well sort of. Put the sheet on a flat surface and push a pin with pliers in the hole. It will work but it produces mediocre results. The rivets are rarely regularly shaped. The pin is not always held straight, one time you push harder than the other, and every now and then your pliers buzz off possibly damaging your sheet. The underlying surface is also problematic. Too hard means the rivet is not correctly formed, too soft spells bending of the etch sheet. This calls for better solutions.

A more professional solution is a device that uses a drop weight. It is for sale at Godfathers' Models & Supplies for appr. €22. In essence it is a rod that you place in the etched hole. Lift the weight and drop it along the rod. The impact will press the brass outward. The drop height determines the impact so repeatability is good. The problem of the underlying surface is not solved though.

One step further is the "professional" rivet press. This fancy thing accommodates a punch and die and features adjustable pressure. Some models are fitted with a crosstable to deliver neat regular and straight rows of rivets. A crosstable is the top I guess but only necessary for scratchbuilders and not for kitbuilders that are already supplied with rows of pre-etched holes.

If you fancy beautiful tools, like I do, this is something to dream about. But prices soar way over $200, shattering your dreams. NWSL's Sensipress currently sells for $129,95 (price level April 2009) and the Riveter attachment to it costs $69,95. On top of that you'll need the various punches and embossing tooling. Godfather Models and Supplies also has a rivet press in stock. The basic version costs €132 (at the time of writing $172) and the version with a cross table will cost you an impressive (nice equivoke ;-) €259 / $338 !!!

The most extreme solution I found is one that generates rivet patterns from CAD-drawing and punches them computer controlled in the brass sheet. I don't even want to start thinking about the costs, but it is nice to read about.

There is no doubt in my mind that presses and computer controlled riveters deliver superior quality. They'd better, for that price!! But such prices inspire me to find a solution of my own that will do better than hand riveting but will cost much less than a stock riveter.
The good news is: I found just that solution. Follow me.

Rivet pliers (rivet press 1.0)


The basis for the DIY Riveter is a pair of long nose pliers.

I cut off the first centimeter or so because this is too thin to drill a hole deep enough to hold the actual rivet punch.

After some filing I drilled a 0,7 mm hole close to the front edge. The distances to the edges will determine how close the rivets can be punched to each other, so keep the clearances as tight as possible. I soldered the head of a common "every household" steel pin in place. Placing the one for the first time is a little fiddly: it must be positioned absolutely straight to all sides. The more it is straight, the longer it will last during pressing.

The countersunk hole

Once the punch is in place the pliers are closed and the exact location of the countersunk hole is determined, which you see here drilled after positioning took place. The size of this countersunk hole is very important. If it's too deep or too wide your rivet punch will drive through the brass. This hole is 0,5mm wide and probably not much deeper. In hindsight I might better have used 0,3 by 0,3 mm, so maybe I'll sacrifice another pair of pliers on the altar of cheap DIY tooling. Question in that matter is whether I'll be able to drill a hole that small in the hardened steel of the pliers. The 0,5 was difficult enough!!

The length of the punch is also relevant. It should be long enough to hold the pliers open wide enough to accommodate the brass etching when reaching all the way over the etching. On the other hand, the longer it gets the more prone it will be to breaking or bending. Mine is appr. 2,5 mm.

When the DIY Riveter closes, the punch drives exactly into the countersunk hole. If the punch needs replacement, cut off a new one from a steel household pin, place into its hole, close the pliers so that the head will fit into the countersunk hole and than solder it into its base.

Time to go to work. As you see demonstrated here, the length of the pliers is sufficient to reach over a normal OO etch. The length of the punch keeps the pliers open wide enough.
Simply position the punch in the hole, ease the pliers closed, see to it that the bottom plier is flush with the brass plate end press. If the brass sheet is flush on the counter sunk side it will not deform.

The resulting row of rivets.

You can see that the rivets are regular shaped and the brass plate is as straight as need be!!

Total cost: €4,95 !!for the pliers and a few bucks for the 0,5 mm drills I wasted on the hardened steel of the pliers

While working on my NGG16 I discovered another application of the RivetPliers. Drilling small holes often requires a small dent in the brass to prevent the drill from running all over the place before getting hold exactly where you didn't want a hole!! For sheet metal you can now use the pliers to pre-press this pilot dent

Rivet Press 2.0


My rivet pliers (above) went out of business some time ago because the punch broke :-( When I had to press out rivets again when building my Fairlie Merddin Emrys I was confronted with the immediate need to have one. I got an idea. The basis was a hand punch that was contained in a cheap screw driver set. I had once bought an extra set so I had two punches. I thought I could put my drill stand with cross table to good use when combined with this punch. After all my drill stand withits cross table has very much the same functions as the expensive rivet presses.

I sawed one punch short and filed the shaft down. The collar takes up the forces of the pressing action and prevents it from sliding into the chuck of the drill.

To obtain an anvil I took a large stainless steel M6 bolt, of which I filed the head flat and drilled a 0.5 mm hole in the centre. It is easy to make anvils with various depths and widths of counter sunk holes. Cheap too, each bolt costs only a few cents.


The head is 10mm wide measured over the flat sides.

This is how the two will work together. The anvil is placed in the vise's V-shaped recess which there to clamp round forms. The anvil rests on the bottom of the vise so the force of the pressing action wil not push it down.

I can position the anvil very precisely with the cross table with so it matches the punch exactly.

I can use the drill stand's arm (blue arrow) to lower the punch and it gives me enough "feel" to guess the pressure I need to exert.

The drill stand has an adjustable stopper which makes it possible to get very repeatable rivets and also prevents too heavy pressing (yellow arrow).


Merddin Emrys' apron with its rivets done in this fashion.