Why Olympic Rivets?
When a riveted trailer is assembled at the factory, the inside walls are not attached until after the exterior shell is constructed. This sequence allows the factory to use solid head "buck" aircraft rivets in attaching the shell to the aluminum ribs. To install solid head rivets, you need to have access to the front and back of the rivet.
After the interior walls have been installed, you can no longer get to the back of the rivets used on the shell. To make repairs and replace those rivets while the interior walls are in place, the best solution is a solid head look-alike. Gesipa Fasteners developed the Olympic Bulb-Tite rivet for exactly this situation. It is the only rivet on the market that looks like a solid dome head rivet when finished.
The bulb-tite is a blind "pop" rivet that when installed--and shaved correctly--closely resembles a true solid head rivet.
To correctly finish the rivet, the mandrel (which breaks above the head of the rivet), must be snipped flush with the rivet head and then shaved with a specially sized shaver tool. When done correctly, the mandrel and very top of the head are shaved to form a solid dome.
Which size should I use for Airstreams?
These rivets can be installed with most standard pop rivet tools after sizing the hole in your aluminum to just slightly larger than the rivet body diameter (see chart in Technical Specs section below pricing table).
The special shave tool for Olympic rivets (VTS-177) is required to finish to a nice domed appearance. If have just a small number of rivets to finish and want to try to avoid purchasing the shave tool, you may find a Dremel or mill file can do a decent job of smoothing the head. However, the shave tool will create a far superior finish.
For years, Airstream Inc has recommended using the version of these rivets WITH washers for the tops of Airstreams and the rivets WITHOUT washers for the sides and bottoms "where appropriate." We don't agree.
When using Olympic rivets on the exterior of an Airstream, Spartan or any other travel trailer, we recommend using the type WITHOUT washers in almost all applications.
We believe it provides a better seal over time, and the rivet sits tightly against the skin for a more original look. In addition, there is some risk with the washer that the sharp edge of the hole in the skin may cut the rubber washer during road vibration if any part of the washer slips into the hole. If that happens, your rivet will be loose and no longer be water tight.
No matter which version you use, always squirt a little dab of Trempro 635 or other quality urethane sealant in the hole and on the shaft of the rivet before installing it. This will provide the best watertight seal. If done correctly, a little extra Trempro 635 will squeeze back out when you're installing the rivet. Just wipe it up immediately with a clean rag and a little mineral spirits. Using this method WITHOUT the washers will provide an excellent seal.
It is handy to keep a small number of rivets WITH washers in your toolkit when on the road in case you need to make a repair and don't have Vulkem on hand. Washers can always be removed before installation.