Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rivets Galore

I know it's been a week but things have been quite busy. I have been working on a few things (including painting the massive Stalk Tank) and I figured I should live up to that promise to talk about how I do my rivets.

The way I create and add my rivets would just be too simple, so I figured I'd add a few more examples that friends of mine also use. So here goes:

The Carrot-slicing Method (my favorite)

Simply begin by slicing across a plastic rod with a VERY sharp hobby knife. Slice away until you have a bunch of rivets (I typically cut around 20-30). On the right you can see a few slices cut from hex-rod, great for bolts or nuts.

A quick trick I use to keep the slices from shooting across the room (and hitting the cat in the eye) is to slice on my painting palette. Over time I let layers of paint build up (loads in this case). When I lay the rod down and start slicing, it sinks into the paint layers a bit and stops the dreaded "flying rivet". Much less frustrating.

The final step is to glue the rivet to the piece. If you're gluing to plastic then use polystyrene cement, if you're gluing them to anything else then super glue works just fine. As you can see on the left, I carefully pick up the rivets with a VERY and POINTY (x2) hobby knife and dip it in a puddle of glue. On the right you can see how I apply the rivet to the piece. Simply let the glue get a grip, "swirl" the rivet around a little, and then pull the knife blade out. 

Warning: don't push too hard with the knife blade, you'll cut through the rivet really easily!

Summary: I use this method because it is "cheap and cheerful" and I don't really have to plan out where I'll need my rivets until the final detailing stage of a project. It is really easy to cut various sizes (and shapes) of plastic rods too. You can also apply these rivets to any surface (plasticard, resin, plastic kits, metal pieces, etc. etc.).

The biggest down sides are that the rivets will never be completely consistent and you have to cut about 20% more than you think you'll need to replace the rivets that fly across the room or are cut in half by the sharp blade when applying them.

The Grandt Line Method (thanks to Jeff Hall)

A company called Grandt Line make some great stuff for fine-scale train modeling. Included in their range are some very small resin rivets. These rivets come in a variety of shapes including round heads, hex-nuts, and conical rivets. They come on a sprue as you can see above, and are easily cut from the sprue.

You can cut the rivets off at their "head" and apply them in the same fashion as the Carrot-slicing Method, but I decided to show you who they'd be typically applied on the scale trains.
On the left you can see me drilling holes into a sheet of plasticard. This is followed by dipping the rivet end into some super glue. Using a pair of fine tweezers you then drop the rivet into its hole. Finally you can see three rivets in the plasticard.

Summary: This is a great method if you have some more time (and money) but the best things about the Grandt Line rivets are that you can be assured they'll be consistent and they come in shapes you can't achieve from cutting rods. You can also apply these to any surface.

Apart from being a more costly than rod, you also need to be really careful when drilling your tiny holes as thin drill bits can snap just by looking at them.

To find these rivets online, just google "Grandt Line rivets"

The Leather Punch Method (thanks to Dan Cooper)

This method is also "cheap and cheerful" but requires a little more planning than the Carrot-slicing Method. It does require the purchase of a leather punch but once you have it you can create rivets galore. The leather punch has a single "pointy bit" and a disk with various size holes in it. The smaller the hole the smaller the rivet look you'll get. In the center panel you can see me applying pressure to the plasticard and in the final panel you can see the raised bumps that are your "rivets".

Note: this is not your traditional "Hole Punch" as you are not cutting a hole from the plasticard.

Summary: As you can see, this is quick and easy to do. Simply plan out where you want the rivets to go, then start applying your handy tool to the plasticard. The tool isn't too pricey (around US$15-17 if I remember correctly) either and the process is less time consuming and messy than the previous two.

On the down side you can only use this method on relatively thin sheets of plasticard (not thicker than 2mm) and you only get one shape, a round head rivet. For my typically unplanned projects, this method doesn't really fit as you have to know where you want the rivets before you assemble the pieces.

Unfortunately I can't remember which website I got this from, but a search for leather punches just lead me to the regular hole punch, not this one. If anyone knows where this kind can be found, please post a comment.

The Riveter! (thanks to Thomas Wynn)

When you want some serious precision, The Sensipress Riveter is the Cadillac of tools. At around US$70 it is also priced that way. Designed to punch rivets onto brass sheets for hyper-detailed fine-scale modeling it really is over the top for the things that I build, but I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to show it to you.

The physics are much like the leather punch above, but there are all sorts of ways to get you some super precision.

I'm not going to summarize this one, as the pros and cons are much like the leather punch, but I will say that Thomas did not buy this one himself, he got it as a gift from a friend.

The End

I hope that helps everyone. I know there are a few more ways to do the whole rivet thing but I think these cover the more accessible avenues (well, apart from The Riveter that is).

Happy modeling!


  1. Nice mini-tutorials Dave. Thanks for posting the various methods you've come across. One thing I definitely learned is that I keep my palette way to clean :)


  2. I've had some luck with your favored method but I just can't seem to be consistent enough. I've recently tried method described on the Exponent Wargames blog. Worked really well for me, but it was handy that he and I use the same water filter. If you check his site, it'll make sense.

  3. Nice article Dave. I use a set like this to make rivets. It has 8 different sizes.

  4. Golden Eagle leather punch is the search that should find that leather punch (provided they are still in business...). The punch has fallen out of favor for me as invariably one of the last rivets I will do on a plate will either crack (the surface of the plasticard will actually crack if the card is too thick or you go too deep) or I place it wrong.

    I am a huge fan of the Grandt Line rivets as for what they are, they aren't too expensive (~$2 for 175-300 depending on the size) and they ship them fast. For consistency and range of details (round rivets, cone rivets-l'il spikes, hex nuts, various washers and nuts...)they can't be beat. My only complaint with them is they need to get with the 90s and get an online ordering service.

    There is some sort of appliqué rivet detail line out there for Gundam kits. I haven't used it, or remember what it was called exactly, but it was essentially a fret of head shapes that were applied to the surface. If I remember, the nice thing about them as that they had different details like screw heads for a bit of variety.

    For other techniques, I have seen people online use drops of pva or super glue as rivets as well. My experiences with it turned out as horribly as one could expect, though some people get a good effect out of it. Perhaps using wax paper for the glue to bead and then apply it in a manner similar to the water filter technique...

  5. Nice blog mate, going to have to get one of those hole punches. As another little tip, I use the rivets off the bottom of my chimera's and russ's. Simply cut them off the bottom chassis before you put it together and hey presto, you have 30+ rivets that perfectly match the ones already on the vehicle.

  6. thanks dave, that was an excellent tutorial, it's nice to see how you guys do it and I am intrigued about the hole punch that just makes an indentation..very cool

  7. Oh, Just a thought you can get whats called a button hole punch at craft stores in the scrap booking section. It's for punching two small holes in heavy paper to add buttons to scrap books. it punches 2 1/16 or so diameter holes at a time out of thin styrene. In 20-30 min you can punch enough rivets to do a Baneblade. I think I paid less than $10.00 for one. They sell hole punches in many different sizes in round, square, rectangle and all sorts of shapes at craft stores.. have a look.

  8. Googled grandt line rivets... came back here xC