Introduction: Cheap Tubular Rivet Press From an Arbor Press

I work on Pinball machines and it seems that there are a lot of tubular rivets involved in holding things together. They are used to hold ramps together and secure the faces on stand up targets. The rivets need to be low profile and strong; they have a one inch steel ball battering on them. Readily available aluminum pop rivets just won't work for many of these applications. They look wrong and can't take the beating.

Installing tubular rivets is more involved than pop rivets. You need to install the rivet from the front and then peen or roll over the back side. They make punches for doing this with a hammer, but the results can be inconsistent and you can damage fragile plastic pieces. Using a press allows you to control the pressure and evenly roll the back.

Unfortunately, a bench-top rivet press cost about $300 from Hansen rivets and most the hand held units are over $100. The hand held units were about right for my price point, but they seem just barely up to the task of steel rivets.

I have seen converted arbor presses online, but for the money I can drill two holes. So this is a few pages explaining how I drilled two holes... basically.

What you will need:

An Arbor press. Any will work, but mine is the one ton from harbor freight. It retails for $57 dollars if you catch it on sale or use a 20% off coupon it's around $50. Keep an eye on Craigslist, these come up pretty often.

A 3/16 inch drill and something to spin it. I used my old drill press, but if you are careful this could be done by hand.

A die set. I got mine from Hansen Rivet online. I used the 1 inch reach ones. I figured I could use all the reach I could get. While I bought 1/8 inch rivets, this will hold all sizes once you have drilled your two holes. There are two parts to a die set the Tubular Roll Dies and the Flush Squeezer Die. You can get shaped dies to cradle the rivet head, but they don't really offer much support and the flush one will work fine. The flush head also gives you some wiggle room if you screw up the alignment. The two dies cost me $32 plus shipping

Flush Squeezer Die SQ-3-15 CA2003-15 3/8 DIA. X 1 LG.


Step 1: Square Your Drill Press

The most important part is to get your drill press squared up. The table on my drill press turns so it is always at some funny angle. The first step is to grab your electronic level. Mine is a Wixey from Amazon. There are a few brands available.

Zero out the level on the drill bit (first picture). Do this on the side, because the drill press doesn't get out of square front to back. Now place the zeroed out level on the table and rotate it until it is at 90 degrees. That's it, your press is level (enough).

Step 2: Drill Your First Hole

The first hole goes into the moving part. It's called the rack, but the up-down part is way more descriptive.

The first step is to draw a cross from the four corners to find the center. It technically doesn't matter if it's perfectly centered, but why not try. I used a marking punch to make a divot in the middle of the rack. This helps keep the drill bit from wandering. In a drill press it probably isn't necessary.

I then held the rack steady and drilled my .187 or 3/16 inch hole straight into it.

Step 3: Find the Spot on the Anvil Wheel

I reassembled my press and inserted the squeezer die into the rack.

I dipped the squeezer die into some black paint and then pressed it down onto the anvil wheel. This left a mark in the correct spot.

Step 4: Drill Your Second Hole

Double check your squareness before drilling.

Drill the .187 or 3/16 inch hole for the flush squeezer die.

Step 5: Enjoy Squeezing Rivets

This is a good shot of how nicely everything aligned. This is the shaped rivet holder I mentioned early in the Instructable that you don't need. It does show off that alignment.

Final note: I didn't take any action shots of using the press. I'll sneak out to the garage and get some another day. I might even clean off my bench so it looks like I'm not a slob.