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Dealing with the “R” Word...Rivets

Learn the time-tested techniques of how to properly apply vinyl over rivets. Discover a five-step process that will help you deal with these annoying, yet necessary fasteners.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Wouldn’t life be easier without rivets? Maybe for the vinyl installer. But let’s face it. Rivets are not going away. Learn some tips and tricks from the pros and take the headache out of applying vinyl over rivets.

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  • Whether you have been installing vinyl on the sides of semi-trucks for many years or you are just about to attempt your very first job, sign makers who set out to apply vinyl to cars, trucks and other metal objects all have one thing in common: They are forced to face the reality of rivets.

    Rivets are permanent mechanical fasters consisting of a smooth metal shaft with a head. Rivets are placed in the part requiring fastening and held in place by spreading the tip protruding through the material. In other words, rivets are those little obtrusive metal nubs that get in the way of an otherwise smooth vinyl application.

    For many, rivets are the dreaded “r” word that everyone would be happy to see disappear from fleets. But let’s face it. Rivets are not going away. That said, rivets don’t have to be a royal pain, either. You can ease the headaches that go along with applying vinyl over rivets by taking the advice of some old pros.

    Check out this five-step process courtesy of Chuck Bules, technical service manager for Arlon, a signage materials manufacturer in Santa Ana, Calif. Bules has applied vinyl over rivets with the best of them ­ and gotten the best of the rivets over which he has applied. Now he’d like to share some of the secrets to success with other installers who are determined not to let a little metal bump affect the beauty ­ or longevity - of their work.

    A Five-Step Process
    Are you ready to reinvent your approach to applying vinyl over rivets? Bules is betting that if you execute these five steps, along with some vinyl application common sense, then you will no longer dread rivets. Instead, you will view them as a conquerable challenge to face head on. Let’s get started…

    Rivet Application Step #1: Create a Uniform Dome over the Rivet

    With squeegee in hand, the first step in Bules handbook is to cross over all the rivets at what he calls a “very low attack angle.” The idea is to sweep over the rivets in much the same manner you would if you were holding a dustpan to the floor in preparation to sweep debris into it.

    “You want to sweep over the rivets at a very acute angle ­ about 30 degrees,” Bules says. “If your squeegee is on edge of the metal or at an obtuse angle, then you will wind up jamming the film. Jamming up the film will cause you major problems because once you’ve made that mistake you are going to have an extremely difficult time working with the rivets. You won’t be able to make a perfect dome over the rivet if you jam up the film.”

    Rivet Application Step #2: Secure the Corrugations

    Once you have swept over the rivets and created the uniform dome of which Bules spoke, the next step in the rivet application process is to secure all the corrugations.

    “Before you go any further, you need to finish all the work that you are going to do on the substrate with your application tape still on,” Bules says. “So that means all the trimming, the registration, and putting down all the primer. Then you can pull your application tape off very slowly and smoothly over the rivets so you don’t pull it up and rip the film.”

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    Rivet Application Step #3: Create Air Ventilation

    With the application tape removed, the next step in Bules process is to create air ventilation. This is extremely important because you are about to press the vinyl down around the rivet head. Bules says it is important to distinguish between kinds of holes. For example, you don’t want to make a hole with a razor blade that is basically a slit. Instead, you want to perforate it so it has round holes. With the pinholes in the vinyl, you avoid air bubbles that could cause vinyl failure later on.

    “You want to use a round object to make the holes, like the head of a dart,” Bules explains. “There are lots of tools for perforating the vinyl. You want to punch two to four holes around each rivet head. Remember, this is after you’ve taken your application paper off.”

    Rivet Application Step #4: Apply Pressure

    The fourth step to successfully applying vinyl over rivets is to apply pressure. When you apply pressure to the rivets, it puts the vinyl in place.

    “After you have perforated the vinyl over the rivet, then get out your rivet brush and immediately sweep around each rivet,” Bules says. “Do not heat the film at this point. With this first sweep all you are trying to do is make contact with the metal elements. You get pretty close to full contact on the first sweep.”

    Rivet Application Step #5: Add Heat

    The fifth and final step in Bules proven process is to add heat. If you are an accomplished installer, then you are most likely going to grab your blowtorch and go at it. But if you are less experienced, then it is wiser to use a heat gun. If you do this type of work only occasionally or are just learning, then you may even use a high-powered hair dryer.

    “Heat the rivet head just with a sweep of the heat gun or torch and then sweep over it again with the rivet brush to make sure that everything is tight,” Bules says. “Once you’ve got it down completely tight, then you sweep the whole rivet row with your heat source one more time.”

    Bules says the secret is that you use pressure to put the vinyl in place and you use heat to keep it in place. So you may need to repeat steps four and five if certain rivets did not respond to the first round of pressure and heat.

    So what are you waiting for? Don’t let rivets intimidate you from taking on those profitable jobs applying vinyl to fleets. Put these five steps to good use and watch them work for you every time.

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