The Buck (Rivet) Stops Here

The Buck (Rivet) Stops Here

When this big shiny trailer first came home, she still had a lot of her original systems that no longer worked and needed replacement – primarily the old water heater and furnace that each seemingly weighed a ton.

The new water heater and furnace will be contained in a single, space-saving unit: the innovative and energy-saving TwinTemp Jr. tankless water heater and hydronic heating system made by PrecisionTemp, right here in the USA.

Because this new unit takes up about half the space the old furnace and water heater did, replaces two devices with one, and vents through the floor of our Airstream using a tailpipe, I now had two gigantic access holes/vents in the trailer walls that were no longer needed. Time to learn to patch aluminum!

furnace_hole

The former location of the furnace

With the help of a former Air Force plane mechanic who built his own airplane, I was well equipped with all the tools and training needed to repair our “land plane.” After ordering some new sheets of aluminum and a few comical nights of sorting a bucket of various sized rivets in our chip ‘n’ dip bowl while watching tv, we were ready to get started.

If you’ve ever riveted anything or are looking to, clecos are your best friend. These handy little guys tightly hold the sheets of aluminum together after you drill your holes for rivets, both before and during rivet installation. In our case, we were buck riveting, which requires access to the backside of the rivets, to pneumatically hammer them against a steel block called a bucking bar. The bucking bar is held by a second person against the interior end of the rivet to provide resistance.

Since the inner walls are removed, this is the only chance we have to make these repairs this way. Buck rivets are the best method for structural metal repairs that also need to be waterproof, due to the way they mushroom out behind the pieces being riveted.

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The new aluminum panel being held in place by clecos until it’s ready to be riveted

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After riveting!

Riveting was actually rather fun, other than the noise and subsequent numbness of hands and arms for a while after the hammering ceased. It was exciting to see a formerly jagged, ugly hole turn into a much more visually pleasing – and most importantly, waterproof – exterior trailer wall!

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I decided to rivet closed the rear storage compartment that was the cause of so many leaks in the rear of the trailer. The bed will be there anyway, and will have storage under it.

1965 Airstream Overlander rear bumper

The taped over parts are where the new tail light surrounds will be riveted in

Now that she’s watertight, the trailer is ready for more reassembly from the inside out. I can insulate the walls now that I don’t need access to the inside for riveting, add new wiring, followed by a second layer of insulation, then reinstall the aluminum interior walls.

It’s so much fun to see the transformation now that the projects are smaller, less dependent on weather, and more easily accomplished!

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