What Ever Happened to the Rivet?


What Ever Happened to the Rivet?

The hallmark of iron and steel work that was manufactured in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century was the rivet. Neat lines and arrays of those characteristic domed heads – they gave a distinct look and charm to railway bridges, building frames, machinery, boilers, tanks, ships and aircraft that is usually only seen today in vintage industrial iron and steel construction.


Industrial Rivets on Brooklyn Bridge

By Manfred Wassmann, alias BerlinSight (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A rivet is essentially a steel shaft with a domed or mushroom shaped head that is heated red hot, inserted into a punched or drilled hole and formed into a dome shape at the other end to fasten the joint together. The rivet was heated to allow the blunt end to be shaped and also because as the rivet cooled, it contracted and created a very tight joint, a real advantage of the rivet.

Riveted steel industrial furniture

Rosie the Riveter - By J. Howard Miller, artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 


Riveting was a noisy process, requiring a pneumatic rivet gun to form the end into a second dome. It was also labour intensive, requiring another worker to tightly hold the head in place with what was called a bucking bar while the riveter ran the pneumatic gun. The crew also needed someone to heat the rivets and someone else to pass them to the riveters. It was because riveting was labour intensive that it could only be done in an era of cheap labour, which is one of the reasons for the rivet’s demise.

So what ever did happen to the rivet? In addition to rivet installation being a labour intensive process, the rivet has largely been replaced by welding and high strength bolts. Although it has all but disappeared from steel construction, the rivet is still widely used in various forms in industry for anything from aluminum and sheet metal to aircraft and jeans.

Riveting has also made a revival in vintage style industrial furniture. RetroWorks has made the rivet a signature motif in all of our pieces. Take a look at our collection and we’re sure you’ll agree that our rivets add an attractive nostalgic accent.

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