Warbirds in my Workshop

David Glen BSc (Hons) MSc, Model Maker, Journalist and Author

Formerly Spitfire in my Workshop

An individual take on rivetting

Tuesday, 28th December, 2010

As far as humanly possible, I detail my 1/5th scale models rivet for rivet true to the original, using the manufacturers’ drawings. It takes a lot of time and it’s not for everyone, but for those interested, here’s how I do it:
Firstly, it’s important to appreciate that over most of the model surface, I’m drilling through litho-plate and into a balsa core. Lithoplate, especially when annealed, damages easily, and because of this I drill by hand using a pin chuck rather than a power tool. I purchase roundhead alloy rivets in 1/16 and 3/32 shank diameters, and successively larger where I’m using shank sizes to represent scaled down flush-heads.
Let’s assume we are simulating countersunk rivets. A run has been marked out onto the skin of the model and the pitch between each rivet transferred from the drawing…
First, spot out with a tiny ‘centre punch’ (I use a pointed probe for this). Next, drill a pilot hole, then open this out to the final snug fit size (for the larger rivets this may need several stages to prevent wander). Finally, create an almost imperceptible chamferwith a still larger drill bit to channel the cyanoacrylate. This sounds overkill, but if ‘Superglue’ oozes over onto the skin, it’s unsightly and very difficult to remove.
Each rivet is then pressed gently but firmly into the hole with a tiny dab of glue. The excess shank is clipped off with end cutters then rubbed down flush with successive grades of wet and dry paper.
Roundheads, of course, are pushed all the way home and then some more, if a strongly dimpled effect is called for. Dimpling is a very subtle business and needs close study of the original. The P51 wing, for example, was pristine, so much so that filler was used to enhance the laminar airflow. By contrast, the control surfaces looked like patchwork quilts. It takes a bit of practise, but by varying the pressure applied and the subsequent rub down, you vary the effect. The touch test is often best to check if you have it right!
That’s about it. No magic or slick effects, just a lot of painstaking and repetitious work. But the end result has a subtle credibility that I don’t believe can be achieved in any other way.

Back to Techniques

Rivet runs are marked and drilled with a pilot hole and opened out to final size (as below)
Each rivet is gently pressed into its hole using tweezers and a tiny dab of Superglue
Work in progress on the P51D's elevator and the underwing (below).
End cutters are used to clip off the excess, and the cut ends are flushed off with successive fine grades of abrasive paper
Heavy duty rivets where the port and starboard main planes join. The control column has been fixed in place temporarily.
The images of the Spitfire wing and the P51D nose section(top) shows how it's possible to achieve a subtle dimpled effect
Both snaphead and flush rivets seen in the Spitfire's fuselage skin.
Not all of my rivets are dummies, as the Spitfire flap and P51 fuselage frames demonstrate.
Mustang in my Workshop book cover

Mustang in my Workshop

A book to inspire, encourage and empower the enthusiastic model maker to scratch build a masterpiece.