Replacing Rivets in Pinball Machines


Rivets are used in various places in the construction of pinball machine parts.  They are typically used to join two flat materials together.  Often this type of construction can be found at:

This web page is put together to share the information I gathered while investigating rivets and their installation in pinball machine parts.  It's broken down into the following sections (click on pictures for their full image):

Broken Playfield Plastic

My investigation into rivets used in pinball machine parts started when I needed to replace a broken plastic on my World Cup Soccer '94 pin.  

WCS '94 "Kick" playfield plastic

The removal of the "Kick" plastic is pretty easy, so there's no problem there.  To replace the plastic though, requires the removal of the stainless lamp support bracket for the "Striker's Hideout" lamp.  The metal bracket is joined to the plastic via rivets.

Removed playfield plastic


Rivet Removal

Here's some close up pictures of how the lamp support bracket is joined to the plastic.  This view shows the top of the rivet and how it holds the stainless metal lamp support.






Here you can see the rivets have been clinched/set with a back up washer used for additional support.


Rivets holding lamp support

Rivets with back up washers


I used Dremel with a carbide tip to grind/shear off the back of the rivet. 

Another way to remove the rivet is to use a drill bit that's larger than the diameter of the rivet.  I prefer using a Dremel because using the drill bit method the rivet tends to spin with the bit.


Shear off rivets with Dremel

Here you can see the progress of grinding off the back of the rivet and back up washer.  

Quite a bit of heat can be generated by grinding the rivet.  This can be a problem if the rivet top is against plastic and not metal as is the case here.  If more than one rivet is being replaced, alternate moving from one rivet to another until the job is done.  The point is to take your time and go slow, if you're in a hurry use a wet cloth to help cool down the rivet.


Rivet grinding progress

Here you can see the Striker's Hide Out lamp support has been removed from the original plastic.  Also in the picture is the new "Kick" playfield plastic that has yet to have the lamp supported joined to it.


Lamp support bracket removed



After searching local and distant fastener companies, I learned the rivet type used in pinball machines is called a semi-tubular rivet.  It's semi-tubular because the top half is solid and the bottom have is like a tube.  The tube part is clinched, or flared, to join and hold the work pieces together.  I purchased two lengths (6/32" and 7/32") of the 1/8" diameter (distance "A") rivets.  If I had to place another order, I'd also pick up the 5/32" length rivets to cover more possibilities and they're cheap too!


I ended up purchasing the rivets, back up washers and rivet clinching/setting tool from Hanson Rivet Company.  Their web site is just a single information page, so there's not much information.  Instead, request a catalog (60+ pages) for all the details on the numerous rivet varieties and related tools.

  Hanson Rivet & Supply Co.
  2727 San Fernando Road
  Los Angeles, CA 90065-1318
  Phone: 323.227.4000
  Fax: 323.221.5300

I believe the minimum order is $25.  Here's what I ordered.

Part Number / Description Quantity Price
HT-174 Hand Rivet Clincher 1/8" 1 25.00
MS20450-C8-7 Steel Rivet  (7/32" length)
Clear zinc finish
100 4.37
MS20450-C8-6 Steel Rivet  (6/32" length)
Clear zinc finish
100 4.28
SBUP-4S Steel Washer
Clear Zinc Finish
.130/.132 x .312 x .032
200 3.92
  Shipping 4.50
  Total 42.07

  • Hanson also carries nickel-plated brass semi-tubular rivets.  You can see evidence of the brass in the original rivet here - notice the yellow tinge that's under the finish.  The brass rivet is easier to clinch vs. steel and was originally used on parts where playfield plastics were joined to other parts.  The nickel finish isn't as shiny as the clear zinc finish, so take this into consideration when ordering.  The part numbers for the nickel-plated brass semi-tubular rivets is MS20450-C8-BxN, where 'x' represents the length of the rivet in 32nds of an inch.
  • To purchase just a couple of rivets contact Steve Young at The Pinball Resource or DMS Pinballs.


Rivet specifications

Hanson order

Rivets and washers


Rivet Tools

The tools used to clinch/set semi-tubular rivets is a piece of hardened steel that's like a punch.  They come in different sizes based on the rivet diameter size.  This one is for 1/8" diameter rivets. 





Another tool is used to securely hold the rivet head in place.  You can see the tool's concave portion the receives the rivet head.

This tool was slightly modified.  A metal file was used to shave off the end to the reduce the depth that holds the rivet head.  This was done so that the tool only presses against the rivet and not the materials being joined.

Depending on your setup, Hanson Rivet Company also sells an optional "squeezer die" that has a similar function.  Information on the squeezer die is found on the catalog page for Hand Rivet Clinchers.

The rivet head tool was purchased through Tandy Leather.  The cost was $1.49 plus shipping.  

   Company: Tandy Leather Company
   Part: Small Rivet Setter
   Part Number: 809900
   Web Site:
   Phone: 888.890.1611

Rivet setting/clinching tool tip

Rivet head tool

Tandy catalog


Custom Rivet Press

Hanson Rivet Co. wanted around $225 for a hand tool to clinch the rivets.  This was way out of my budget, so my friend and I put our heads together to build rivet press out of some scrap metal.  Fortunately for me, my friend is an avid welder so actually building the press was something I didn't have to do.

The press is built out of angle iron, 3/4" all thread, nuts, and bolts.  The all thread was drilled out to receive each rivet tool that holds and clinches the rivet.  A nut is welded at the end of each all thread piece.  A bolt goes through the end nut and is used to tighten and push the rivet tool.  This clinches and sets the rivet tubular portion.  You can easily control how much pressure is used to clinch the rivet based on how much the end bolt is tightened.

Besides building a press from scratch, another idea is to use a drill press.  The clinch tool could be tightened in the chuck and then a downward force could be applied.

After my custom press was built, I later saw on a a C clamp like tool to clinch the rivets selling for about $45.  I don't know if it includes the clinching part to set the rivet.  

There are a number of ways to clinch semi-tubular rivets whether it be a custom press, drill press or some other tool.  I would caution against using hammer because a slight slip could spell disaster for a new playfield plastic.  The force to strike the rivet clinching tool also can't be accurately controlled.

I'm real happy on how my custom rivet press turned out.  I have to thank my friend again for building it.  Half the fun of this project was designing and building something from scratch and seeing it all successfully work.



Custom rivet press


Here's a close up of one end of a drilled out all thread piece that receives a rivet tool.  The all thread piece is adjustable by the large nut welded between the two angle iron pieces.  A back up nut is also used to keep the all thread piece in place after its final adjustment. 


Rivet tool receiver

Here's one end of the press with the rivet clinching tool loaded.


Loaded rivet tool


Here's the press ready to go with both rivet tools loaded.  The press is adjustable by the all thread pieces moving back and forth.  Also adjustable are the rivet tools based on the end bolts.

The press is clamped down with Quick Grips to keep it steady.  Only a single 1/2" wrench is used to tighten the end bolt going into the rivet clinching tool.  The other tool that backs up the rivet head remains stationary.


Rivet press ready!


Clinching/Setting Rivet

The rivet holes of the new plastic were a bit unfinished. A reamer was used to clean them out so the rivet would fit properly.


Enlarge plastic rivet holes

Be sure to use the correct rivet length for the job.  If the rivet is too short it won't have enough material to clinch and securely hold the playfield pieces.  If it's too long the rivet will clinch nicely, but the playfield pieces won't be tightly joined together.

Here's a section out of Hanson's catalog on how to determine the correct rivet length.  It's a combination of the total thickness of all materials plus a clinch allowance factor.  A 1/8" diameter rivet has a clinch allowance of .074 (just over a 1/16").  



This picture illustrates the correct rivet length.  The overall rivet length extends about 1/16" past the back up washer.  

Determine correct rivet length

Correct rivet length 

Here the rivet tools are lined up in the press with the playfield pieces and new rivet.  To clinch/set the rivet, all that's needed is the gentle tightening of the outside bolt to push the rivet clinching tool.



Clinching rivet with press


New Rivet

Here's how the new rivets turned out after using the press to clinch them.  The back up washers provide support for holding together the playfield plastic and stainless steel lamp support.  The application of back up washers is important where the rivet is clinched against plastic, otherwise it usually isn't needed.  Also note there is minimal splitting of the clinched rivet's tubular portion due to using the correct length.




New clinched rivets


 Here's another picture showing the top view of the stainless steel lamp support and playfield plastic.  The rivets are nice and shiny and look good as new.


New playfield plastic and rivets


All Done

Here's the new assembled playfield plastic installed back in the pinball machine.  A plastic washer was also installed in between the plastic and playfield post to help protect the plastic from breaking.  Plastic washers can be bought at


Broken playfield plastic