Pop Riveting on a RV

Three days ago I placed my very first pop rivet. It didn’t exactly go smoothly, but I learned a lot. The next time I need to do one it should go much quicker. I thought I’d share the experience and explain how I did it for anyone else out there who’s mechanically challenged like me.

There should be lots of photos with this post because I took several as I went, but I’ve been unable to get my pictures from my iphone onto my computer despite a lot of google searching. Once I get them moved over I’ll add them in but I didn’t want to delay this any longer. The header photo is two women putting a much larger rivet in a ship circa 1941, thankfully pop rivets are easier to do.  **Edit 8/16/12 – Photos now included!**

There was a rivet missing in the Casita when I first bought it you might remember. I had noticed it in the WalMart parking lot as I was bringing it home, but it had actually failed long ago and the previous owner’s patch job had just recently failed. There was no easy way to get a new rivet in it, so I just redid the patch job and left it at that.

The one I took care of this time still had a rivet in it, but it was loose and crooked, and the snap cap and base were missing. I noticed the carpet around it on the inside was getting damp when it rained, and that’s how I knew there was a problem. As a temporary measure, I caulked a snap cap over top of it until I had the time to get up there and fix it proper.

Step one is to find a willing helper, because riveting is a two person job. Part of the reason I waited so long to fix mine is because Julie and my schedules don’t line up well. Step two is making sure you have all the supplies you need before starting, as it would be unfortunate to leave a hole in your RV while you run out to get the rest of what you need.


  • Appropriately sized rivet – the Casita takes 1/8” and 3/16” depending on location, and several different lengths.
  • Pop rivet gun – got mine at Home Depot for $10, make sure it can do the size rivets that you need.
  • Snap cap and base – obtained from Little House Customs which sells Casita specific items. If your RV uses something different contacting the manufacturer for spare parts might be the key.
  • Acorn nut – or whatever it is the rivet is going to be popping into. I’ve heard people say that they are re-usable if the one on the bad rivet is still in good shape, but I couldn’t see how to get it off of the old one.
  • Drill and appropriately sized drill bit that is rated for metal – $30 for the cheapest cordless drill Home Depot had, then about $6.50 for the two different sizes of drill bits. If it’s cordless, make sure it’s charged ahead of time.
  • Pliers – for…well I’ll explain in a bit.
  • Other stuff. For instance a caulk scraper in my case since I had to get my temporary patch off first. I also had to run back to Home Depot for a wire cutters, but I’ll explain that in a bit.

Now for a bit of explaining about these different pieces of the puzzle.

Snap caps are the little pieces of plastic that fit over top of the rivets on the outside of Casitas. They snap onto a clear plastic base that is threaded through the rivet before it is popped into place. They protect the rivet against the elements. Over time the caps get brittle from exposure, but they can be easily replaced as long as the bases are still intact. If you don’t replace the caps though, the base is exposed to UV rays and bad weather and become unusable. There is no way to replace the base without replacing the whole rivet. So if you have a Casita or another kind of fiberglass RV that uses pop rivets, do yourself a favor and check on those snap caps every now and then, and replace them when needed.

You’ll want a drill bit the same diameter as the shaft of the rivet. For example the roof rivet on my Casita is 3/16” so I bought a drill bit in that size. Not all drill bits are created equal, make sure you get one that is rated for metal, it’ll be a bit more expensive than ones that just go through wood. I opted for a cordless drill, running a cord from inside the trailer up to the roof was not going to be fun or easy. I also went for the cheapest one I could find because there really wasn’t much drilling to be done and I don’t see myself using it often.

Also, be safe. I read through the manual for the drill before I started since I’d never used one before, the rivet gun actually didn’t come with one which proved to be an issue later on. I had also gone online to read advice from other Casita owners on how to fix the rivet, so I wasn’t totally uninformed. My ladder was too short to be able to reach the rivet without standing on my toes and leaning, so I borrowed a taller one from my neighbor. Goggles are recommended while drilling, I used sunglasses because it was so bright I couldn’t see otherwise.

Once you have your supplies assembled, it’s time to get to work. Drilling out the old rivet comes first.

  1. Have your helper stand inside the RV and hold onto the acorn nut with the pliers to keep it from spinning in the hole once you start drilling. Mine were hexagonal in shape with a rounded end to them.
  2. Start drilling in the dimple in the very center of the rivet head on the outside of the RV. Hold the drill so that it’s perpendicular to the rivet head so that it goes straight in.
  3. You don’t need to drill through the whole rivet. In fact, if you try you’ll probably get off center at some point and end up with an enlarged hole. Only drill until the head of the rivet comes off of the shaft.
  4. Once the head is detached, your helper can pull the shaft of the rivet through from the inside using the pliers.

Now you have a hole. Better get that plugged up with your new rivet.

  1. Thread the rivet through the plastic snap base. If you forget to do this before putting the rivet in you’re out of luck.
  2. Load your rivet into the rivet gun. I had no idea how to do this and since I didn’t have directions I had to look up YouTube on my iphone in the middle of the job to find out. For my model the trick was squeezing the handle and then putting the rivet into the gun from the front.
  3. Have your helper stand inside the RV with the new acorn nut held up to the hole. We used the pliers to do it since we weren’t sure how safe it was going to be using bare hands.
  4. Put the shaft of the new rivet down into the hole, it should be long enough to meet the nut on the other side but not so long that it pushes the nut away from the ceiling (or wall, depending on where your rivet is)
  5. Pull the trigger (handle) of the rivet gun until you hear a pop. It may take more than one time pulling the trigger. The rivet gun compresses the head down onto the shaft and causes it to expand in the hole and the nut, this is what secures it in place. This is where I got stuck because when I pulled the trigger the rivet gun didn’t slide farther down the shaft to press on the head again for the second time. After some glowering and muttering, Julie finally figured out that the pressure had to be all the way released on the rivet gun to allow it to slide farther down the shaft.

Once you hear the pop the rivet should be secured. The piece of the shaft that the rivet gun is holding onto should break off at the head, but it might not. On mine it didn’t, and I had to cover it up with duct tape overnight until I could run back to Home Depot the next day to buy a wire cutters. Once the extra was cut off I could attach the snap cap over the rivet head and it was complete.

A big thunderstorm blew in right after I finished getting the snap cap on, literally as I was putting the ladder and supplies away, and did me the favor of testing out the new rivet. It’s a little hard to tell from this picture but the clouds were rolling vertically, it literally looked like a wall of clouds that reached down and had a higher center to it, pretty crazy to look at.  In the rain that followed I had no wet carpet, success!

Header image courtesy of BiblioArchives

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8 Responses to Pop Riveting on a RV

  1. hobopals August 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Becky, do you follow RV Sue and Her Canine Crew? http://rvsueandcrew.com If you don’t, I know you would enjoy it. You’ll learn that you can do a lot that you didn’t think you could do, and the bonus is that you won’t panic when things aren’t quite right. I should have more of a comment, but I have no rivets! Glad to see you’re making progress toward your goal. I was over in Charleston not long ago, and I thought of you when I saw a sign “Hunting Island”.
    hobopals recently posted..The RescueMy Profile

    • Becky August 3, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

      Yes I have been following Sue’s blog for quite some time, it’s a blast! I saw on your blog that you had been in Charleston a while ago and made a comment about it on one of your comments here but I guess you didn’t see it. Charleston and Savannah are both some pretty and unique cities.

  2. Dennis August 2, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Girl power. You go do it girlfriend……

    • cozygirl August 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

      Becky…that pic is perfect! Reading outloud and saying to myself, “you have sure managed the learning curves of riveting that’s for sure!” Best part,no leaks!!! Thinking to myself you will take off soon…and I’m going to follow along for sure! May the angel of happiness and safety be with you on your journey! ~cozygirl

      • Becky August 3, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

        Thanks Cozy! Luckily with the internet I don’t really have to tackle any of these projects on my own, I have all sorts of resources at my fingertips for figuring out how to do this stuff.

        I’m glad to hear that your first big yard sale went well, I’ll be doing another pruning of my stuff before I actually leave in September. I thought I’d be done with all of this once I started living in the Casita but even now there are things I brought in here with me that I don’t really need, plus whats left in the storage locker. Still so much to do, but it’s getting done step by step! I hope your DH recovers well from the shoulder work and you two get on the road sooner rather than later!

    • Becky August 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

      I certainly will! With some help from a willing volunteer and and and a slew of online how-to’s and first hand accounts. 😉

  3. William February 26, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    Thank you for your blog. Following you has been so much fun. I just found a missing rivet and your write up was the top of the google search so I knew it would explain the fix. Thanks again and keep up the good blog.

    • Becky February 28, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

      Glad to hear that it helped you William! Good luck in replacing your missing rivet, if the whole thing came out at least you won’t need to drill it, that’s one less step.

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