Make a Rivet Paint Mask


It’s not uncommon: You paint a panel of some kind for your aircraft and then, later on, you have to mount the panel with a rivet. But now the rivet is unpainted and doesn’t look finished. Because you have just installed the panel in your cockpit, you can’t pull out the spray gun (or can) to touch it up. The mess you make would be worse than leaving the rivet unpainted. So what do you do?

So you’ve got a line of unpaired rivets on a pre-painted panel that need touching up? This is a job for a mask.

The answer is simple. Reach into your scrap bin and pull out a sliver of the thinnest aluminum you have. Drill a hole in it the size of your rivet head (if it’s a typical 1/8-inch pulled rivet, I bet a 1/4-inch hole will be the right size to fit over the head) and cut/grind away excess material to make a little paint mask. Put a little bend in it to make it easy to handle. Place the mask over the rivet head and paint with a small brush or a paint marker. If this is a line of rivets, move on to the next one.

A 1/4-inch hole just fits over the heads of these 1/8-inch rivets and allows you to color the heads without getting paint on the surrounding panel.
A paint marker does a great job of getting the color just where you want it. But you can use a fine brush and paint from a jar if that’s what you have handy.

In these pictures, we had just installed the glareshield on our eXenos project with close to 100 pulled rivets. The glareshield had been painted flat black a couple of years ago and we didn’t want all those rivets reflecting off the inside of the windshield. So we whipped up a mask and painted them all black in about 10 minutes.

Save your masks in your “special tools” drawer so you can find them. There’s a good chance you end up using them again!

It’s coming up with simple tricks like this that make building fun and shows those looking at your airplane later that you put some time and effort into solving the thousands of little problems that come up in the building process.

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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


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