DIY Compact Blind-Rivet Puller



Use the least expensive off-the-shelf blind-rivet tool you can find. This one was about $12 including shipping on eBay.

While building my Panther tail kit, I came upon this note in the assembly manual in the elevator joiner photo: “This rivet is impossible to install with the head showing. You can install with the tail showing or leave it out.”

We pilots are a detail-oriented bunch. Double that for pilot-builders. We can’t have 13 rivets facing one way and one rivet facing the “wrong” way, can we? And we can’t deliberately leave a rivet out—we’d never be able to sleep, even knowing that it’s structurally perfectly fine without that 14th rivet.

So what’s the alternative? Well, it’s just the size of common blind-rivet tools that makes this particular placement impossible, so a more compact tool could overcome the limitation. It’s likely there are other places, in other kits, that have similar restricted spaces where this could come in handy.

Since such a tool would only be used in rare instances, in very limited spaces, it wouldn’t need to be a fast tool. Even if it took a minute to pull one rivet, that would be better than the insomnia-inducing alternatives.

So here is a blind-rivet tool you can fabricate that greatly reduces tool space requirements.

In addition to the blind-rivet tool, you will need a 9/16-18 die and handle, a 9/16-18 hex nut, a 4-inch length of 5/16-inch steel rod and a 7/8-inch open-end wrench.

Most of the needed parts are cannibalized from an inexpensive off-the-shelf blind-rivet tool. You can usually find one of these on eBay for as little as $12.

In addition to the cheap blind-rivet tool, you will need:

  • One 9/16-18 UNF threading die and handle
  • One 9/16-18 UNF hex nut
  • One 4-inch length of 5/16-inch steel rod
  • One 7/8-inch open-end wrench

To disassemble the blind-rivet tool, rotate the pivot pin 180° to disengage from the internal spring. Push the pin out, being careful of the spring as it may fly out.

Remove the pull-tube from the barrel. Remove the gripper jaws, jaw-pusher and spring from the pull-tube.

To disassemble, turn and push out the pivot pin, watching out for the spring (left). All the parts will then slide out from the barrel (right). Left to right: Off-the-shelf blind-rivet tool, pull-tube, gripper jaws, jaw-pusher, spring and pivot pin.

Most of these tools seem to use nearly identical parts, but check to make sure the pull-tube on yours has a diameter of approximately 0.530 inch. This is close enough to nominal for a usable 9/16-18 external thread.

From the rivet end, thread the pull-tube 11/2 inches (left). Cut the barrel off to a length of 11/8 inch, not including the nosepiece. Deburr and square the cut end (right).

Use the 9/16-18 die to thread the lower 11/2 inch of the pull-tube. Cut the barrel off to a length of 1-1/8 inch.

Reassemble the gripper jaws, the jaw-pusher and the spring back into the pull-tube. Compress the spring and insert the steel rod through the hole. Lightly grease the threads of the pull-tube. Spin the hex nut all the way onto the pull-tube. Install the appropriate-size nosepiece onto the barrel if not already installed. Slide the barrel onto the pull-tube.

Tool assembled and ready for use (left). Pull back on the barrel and insert a rivet (right).

Pull the barrel against the spring pressure toward the hex nut. This will cause the jaw pusher to open the jaws. Insert a rivet into the tool.

Position the rivet in the “impossible” hole. Use the rod to hold the pull-tube stationary while turning the hex nut clockwise with the 7/8-inch open-end wrench.

Use your shortest 7/8-inch wrench or shorten one if it’s too long for the space you’re working in. Or you can make your own open-end wrench. I made a crude one from 3/16-inch thick aluminum. The torque on the tool to pull a rivet is pretty small, so the wrench does not need to be super strong. In some locations a 7/8-inch crowfoot wrench might be useful. Continue turning until the stem breaks. Done!

Insert the rivet into the hole and hold the tool in place with the rod while turning the nut clockwise until the stem breaks (left). Rivet installed (right). (This was not an “impossible” location, just a mockup for the photo.)

To release the rivet stem, spin the hex nut all the way back up the pull-tube, then pull the barrel toward the hex nut as before to open the jaws. Sometimes the impossible has workarounds!



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