The Forgotten Art Of Riveted Structures

If you are in the habit of seeking out abandoned railways, you may have stood in the shadow of more than one Victorian iron bridge. Massive in construction, these structures have proved to be extremely robust, with many of them still in excellent condition even after years of neglect.

A handsome riveted railway bridge, over the River Avon near Stratford-upon-Avon, UK.
A handsome riveted railway bridge, over the River Avon near Stratford-upon-Avon, UK.

When you examine them closely, an immediate difference emerges between them and any modern counterparts, unlike almost all similar metalwork created today they contain no welded joints. Arc welders like reliable electrical supplies were many decades away when they were constructed, so instead they are held together with hundreds of massive rivets. They would have been prefabricated in sections and transported to the site, where they would have been assembled by a riveting gang with a portable forge.


So for an audience in 2018, what is a rivet? If you’ve immediately thought of a pop rivet then it shares the function of joining two sheets of material by pulling them tightly together, but differs completely in its construction. These rivets start life as pieces of steel bar formed into pins with one end formed into a mushroom-style dome, probably in a hot drop-forging process.

A rivet is heated to red-hot, then placed through pre-aligned holes in the sheets to be joined, and its straight end is hammered to a mushroom shape to match the domed end. The rivet then cools down and contracts, putting it under tension and drawing the two sheets together very tightly. Tightly enough in fact that it can form a seal against water or high-pressure steam, as shown by iron rivets being used in the construction of ships, or high-pressure boilers. How is this possible? Let’s take a look!

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Barb Makes Mechanical Pokey Finger With Filament Rivets

We were trolling around, and we stumbled on [Barb]’s video series called (naturally enough) “Barb Makes Things“. The plot of her videos is simple — Barb points a time-lapse camera at her desk and makes stuff. Neat stuff.

Two particularly neat projects caught our attention: a mechanical pointy-finger thing and the useful 3D-printing-filament rivets that she used to make it. (Both of which are embedded below.) The finger is neat because the scissor-like extension mechanism is straight out of Wile E. Coyote’s lab.


But the real winners are the rivets that hold it together. [Barb] takes a strand of filament, and using something hot like the side of a hot-glue gun, melts and squashes the end into a mushroom rivet-head. Run the filament through your pieces, mushroom the other end, and you’re set. It’s so obvious after seeing the video that we just had to share. (Indeed, a lot of cheap plastic toys are assembled using this technique.) It’s quick, removable, and seems to make a very low-friction pivot, which is something that printed pins-into-holes tends not to. Great idea!

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