At Airstream, we like to tell people that there is an average of 4,000 rivets in every Airstream travel trailer. Small, mushroom-shaped pieces of hardware, each rivet requires a team of two during installation. One works on the outside with a rivet gun, the other inside with a bucking bar – tool that's held against the stem-end of the rivet as the rivet gun hammers away outside. The process flattens the stem-end, pinching the two pieces of aluminum together. But the result is one of the strongest, most permanent methods of attachment. They are highly resistant to loosening during vibration, and they are an essential way of joining hard-to-weld aluminum. That’s why rivets have always been the fastener of choice in the construction of every Airstream Travel Trailer in Jackson Center, Ohio.
In the unlikely event that you should need to replace rivets in your Airstream travel trailer, Airstream Supply Co. offers a variety of options. But it can be confusing figuring out which rivet you need for the job. With that in mind, we've created this handy guide to rivets.
Overview of Airstream Rivets
- Buck rivets: The solid rivets installed with a pneumatic gun at the factory to assemble the Airstream shell. Installation of buck rivets requires two-sided access.
- Olympic rivets: Manufactured by Oympic, these rivets most resemble the factory-installed buck rivets – but they can be installed by one person and don't require two-sided access.
- Open-End Blind rivets: Used for the inside skin attachment, curtain tracks, snaps mounting cabinetry and other inside trims, as well as in the belly pan. Note: Blind rivets are often refered to by the brand name POP® rivets.
- Closed-End Blind rivets: Used for exterior applications such as rub rail and beltline installation. Offers increased leak resistance.
- Huck rivets: Require two-sided access and special equipment for installation. Only used by Airstream to fasten roof and sidewall extrusions at the factory. These would rarely be installed after a unit leaves the factory.
Diagnosing Rivet Problems
In general, trim rivets are the first to wear. Once one trim rivet loosens, vibrations can c cause the other trim rivets to start shaking loose. Attending to trim rivet issues promptly can save a lot of time in the long run. A basic rivet gun and closed-end POP rivets are all you need to do the job.
Different than a buck rivet, a POP (or blind) rivet requires the use of a special POP Rivet Handgun to install. Each blind rivet has three parts – a shell that's inserted into the hole, the rounded-flat head, and the mandrel (a long stem that's pulled by the POP rivet gun in order to collapse the rivet).
For rivets you purchase from Airstream Supply Company, a unique coding system identifies the rivet material and size. Example:
All Airstream rivet codes begin with AD to signify they are Aluminum (A) and Dimple (D).
The two numerical digits 43 identify the shell diameter (4 = 4/32") and the grip range (3 = 3/32")
Finally, the last three letters ABS identify the material used in the shell (the cylindrical part of the rivet that's inserted into the hole) and the stem (the mandrel that is pulled out to collapse the rivet). The B in this code tells us it's a blind rivet, and the A tells us the shell is aluminum, and the S tells us the mandrel is made of steel.
Identifying the correct rivet for the job
You'll need to measure two things: The diameter of the hole where you'll place the rivet (shell diameter), and the thickness of the material to be riveted (the grip range). Once you've measured, refer to the section above and determine the correct rivet code for your job.