How to remove rivets with a drill

Sometimes in the course of making a modification or a repair, you have to remove a rivet or eyelet so you can disassemble it. By far the easiest way is to drill out the rivet. So here’s how to remove rivets with a drill.

What you need

All you need to remove rivets with a drill is a drill or drill press, some clamps to hold your piece in place while you work, a drill bit just large enough to not fit through the center of the rivet head, and in some cases, another drill bit just one size larger.

Safety first

Always wear goggles when drilling metal, in case any bits of metal go flying. Flying metal is a possibility when drilling out rivets, especially if you use a drill press. Clamp your piece in place rather than trying to hold it with your hand, and tighten your drill bit tightly, so it doesn’t wobble while you drill.

How a rivet works

A rivet is just a cylindrical piece of metal with a head on each side that holds the cylinder in place, and holds two other pieces together along with it. Removing the rivet is just a matter of drilling through enough of the rivet head so that it pops off so you can disassemble it. To reassemble, you just replace the rivet, either with a new rivet or eyelet, or with a nut and bolt of appropriate size.

Choosing a drill bit size

How to remove rivets with a drill
Having a drill index with a complete assortment of bits makes it much easier to drill out rivets.

The key to how to remove rivets with a drill is getting the drill bit size right. Too small, and the rivet just stays put. Too big, and you risk drilling right through the rivet and through the work piece, enlarging the hole and complicating reassembly. Choose a drill bit that’s slightly too large to fit through the center of the rivet head for best results.

Having a drill index really helps, because then you can step up to the next larger bit as needed and repeat until you drill out the rivet completely.

How to remove rivets with a drill press

If you have a drill press, it’s much easier to use it to remove a rivet. Find a drill bit that’s slightly too large to fit into the rivet’s cylinder. Chuck the drill bit into your drill press, then line up the piece with the drill so the bit goes into the center of the rivet head. Clamp the piece into place, and add support if necessary to hold it straight while the drill press is pressing against it. When everything looks good, apply power. Crank the drill press down into the rivet, applying enough pressure that it engages. You’ll hear when the bit penetrates the rivet head.

Sometimes you may drill all the way through the wall of the rivet but not loosen the head. In that case, switch to the next higher drill bit size and repeat. Usually when you’ve drilled a rivet once, following up with a larger bit will work pretty quickly.

How to remove rivets with a drill

If you don’t have a drill press, you can still get the job done with an ordinary drill. Find a drill bit that’s slightly too large to fit into the rivet’s cylinder. Chuck the drill bit into your drill. Clamp the piece to a working surface so you don’t have to hold it while drilling. Give it support if needed. Line up the piece with the drill so the bit goes into the center of the rivet head. Hold the drill at a 90-degree angle and pull the trigger. Depending on the hardness of the rivet, you may need to lean into the drill a bit to get enough pressure. Try to hold the drill at as close to a 90-degree angle as you can and drill straight into the rivet head to avoid breaking the bit. The most common cause of broken drill bits is drilling at odd angles that put unnecessary pressure on the bit.

Sometimes you may drill all the way through the wall of the rivet but not loosen the head. In that case, switch to the next higher drill bit size and repeat. Usually when you’ve drilled a rivet once, following up with a larger bit will work pretty quickly.

In conclusion

That’s how to remove rivets with a drill. It’s not really any harder than drilling into any other material. Good luck with your project!

One thought on “How to remove rivets with a drill

  • February 21, 2018 at 10:18 pm
    Permalink

    Depending on the type of rivet you might benefit from using a center punch to make a dent in the center of the rivet to guide the drill bit.

    Reply

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