Countersunk Rivets

An improperly made countersink reduces the strength of a flush-riveted joint and may even cause failure of the sheet or the rivet head. The two methods of countersinking commonly used for flush riveting in aircraft construction and repair are:

  • Machine or drill countersinking.
  • Dimpling or press countersinking.
The proper method for any particular application depends on the thickness of the parts to be riveted, the height and angle of the countersunk head, the tools available, and accessibility.


When using countersunk rivets, it is necessary to make a conical recess in the skin for the head. The type of countersink required depends upon the relation of the thickness of the sheets to the depth of the rivet head. Use the proper degree and diameter countersink and cut only deep enough for the rivet head and metal to form a flush surface.

Countersinking is an important factor in the design of fastener patterns, as the removal of material in the countersinking process necessitates an increase in the number of fasteners to assure the required load-transfer strength. If countersinking is done on metal below a certain thickness, a knife edge with less than the minimum bearing surface or actual enlarging of the hole may result. The edge distance required when using countersunk fasteners is greater than when universal head fasteners are used.

The general rule for countersinking and flush fastener installation procedures has been reevaluated in recent years because countersunk holes have been responsible for fatigue cracks in aircraft pressurized skin. In the past, the general rule for countersinking held that the fastener head must be contained within the outer sheet. A combination of countersinks too deep (creating a knife edge), number of pressurization cycles, fatigue, deterioration of bonding materials, and working fasteners caused a high stress concentration that resulted in skin cracks and fastener failures. In primary structure and pressurized skin repairs, some manufacturers are currently recommending the countersink depth be no more than 2⁄3 the outer sheet thickness or down to 0.020-inch minimum fastener shank depth, whichever is greater. Dimple the skin if it is too thin for machine countersinking. [Figure 1]

Figure 1. Countersinking dimensions

Keep the rivet high before driving to ensure the force of riveting is applied to the rivet and not to the skin. If the rivet is driven while it is flush or too deep, the surrounding skin is work hardened.

Countersinking Tools

While there are many types of countersink tools, the most commonly used has an included angle of 100°. Sometimes types of 82° or 120° are used to form countersunk wells. A six-fluted countersink works best in aluminum. There are also four- and three-fluted countersinks, but those are harder to control from a chatter standpoint. A single-flute type, such as those manufactured by the Weldon Tool Company®, works best for corrosion-resistant steel. [Figure 2]

Figure 2. Single-flute countersink

The microstop countersink is the preferred countersinking tool. It has an adjustable-sleeve cage that functions as a limit stop and holds the revolving countersink in a vertical position. Its threaded and replaceable cutters may have either a removable or an integral pilot that keeps the cutter centered in the hole. The pilot should be approximately 0.002-inch smaller than the hole size. It is recommended to test adjustments on a piece of scrap material before countersinking repair or replacement parts.

Freehand countersinking is needed where a microstop countersink cannot fit. This method should be practiced on scrap material to develop the required skill. Holding the drill motor steady and perpendicular is as critical during this operation as when drilling.

Chattering is the most common problem encountered when countersinking. Some precautions that may eliminate or minimize chatter include:

  • Use sharp tooling.
  • Use a slow speed and steady firm pressure.
  • Use a piloted countersink with a pilot approximately 0.002-inch smaller than the hole.
  • Use back-up material to hold the pilot steady when countersinking thin sheet material.
  • Use a cutter with a different number of flutes.
  • Pilot drill an undersized hole, countersink, and then enlarge the hole to final size.


Dimpling is the process of making an indentation or a dimple around a rivet hole to make the top of the head of a countersunk rivet flush with the surface of the metal. Dimpling is done with a male and female die, or forms, often called punch and die set. The male die has a guide the size of the rivet hole and is beveled to correspond to the degree of countersink of the rivet head. The female die has a hole into which the male guide fits and is beveled to a corresponding degree of countersink.

When dimpling, rest the female die on a solid surface. Then, place the material to be dimpled on the female die. Insert the male die in the hole to be dimpled and, with a hammer, strike the male die until the dimple is formed. Two or three solid hammer blows should be sufficient. A separate set of dies is necessary for each size of rivet and shape of rivet head. An alternate method is to use a countersunk head rivet instead of the regular male punch die, and a draw set instead of the female die, and hammer the rivet until the dimple is formed.

Dimpling dies for light work can be used in portable pneumatic or hand squeezers. [Figure 3] If the dies are used with a squeezer, they must be adjusted accurately to the thickness of the sheet being dimpled. A table riveter is also used for dimpling thin skin material and installing rivets. [Figure 4]

Figure 3. Hand squeezers

Figure 4. Table riveter

Coin Dimpling

The coin dimpling, or coin pressing, method uses a countersink rivet as the male dimpling die. Place the female die in the usual position and back it with a bucking bar. Place the rivet of the required type into the hole and strike the rivet with a pneumatic riveting hammer. Coin dimpling should be used only when the regular male die is broken or not available. Coin pressing has the distinct disadvantage of the rivet hole needing to be drilled to correct rivet size before the dimpling operation is accomplished. Since the metal stretches during the dimpling operation, the hole becomes enlarged and the rivet must be swelled slightly before driving to produce a close fit. Because the rivet head causes slight distortions in the recess, and these are characteristic only to that particular rivet head, it is wise to drive the same rivet that was used as the male die during the dimpling process. Do not substitute another rivet, either of the same size or a size larger.

Radius Dimpling

Radius dimpling uses special die sets that have a radius and are often used with stationary or portable squeezers. Dimpling removes no metal and, due to the nestling effect, gives a stronger joint than the non-flush type. A dimpled joint reduces the shear loading on the rivet and places more load on the riveted sheets.

NOTE: Dimpling is also done for flush bolts and other flush fasteners.

Dimpling is required for sheets that are thinner than the minimum specified thickness for countersinking. However, dimpling is not limited to thin materials. Heavier parts may be dimpled without cracking by specialized hot dimpling equipment. The temper of the material, rivet size, and available equipment are all factors to be considered in dimpling. [Figure 5]

Figure 5. Dimpling techniques

Hot Dimpling

Hot dimpling is the process that uses heated dimpling dies to ensure the metal flows better during the dimpling process. Hot dimpling is often performed with large stationary equipment available in a sheet metal shop. The metal being used is an important factor because each metal presents different dimpling problems. For example, 2024-T3 aluminum alloy can be satisfactorily dimpled either hot or cold, but may crack in the vicinity of the dimple after cold dimpling because of hard spots in the metal. Hot dimpling prevents such cracking.

7075-T6 aluminum alloys are always hot dimpled. Magnesium alloys also must be hot dimpled because, like 7075-T6, they have low formability qualities. Titanium is another metal that must be hot dimpled because it is tough and resists forming. The same temperature and dwell time used to hot dimple 7075-T6 is used for titanium.

100° Combination Predimple and Countersink Method

Metals of different thicknesses are sometimes joined by a combination of dimpling and countersinking. [Figure 6] A countersink well made to receive a dimple is called a subcountersink. These are most often seen where a thin web is attached to heavy structure. It is also used on thin gap seals, wear strips, and repairs for worn countersinks.

Figure 6. Predimple and countersink method

Dimpling Inspection

To determine the quality of a dimple, it is necessary to make a close visual inspection. Several features must be checked. The rivet head should fit flush and there should be a sharp break from the surface into the dimple. The sharpness of the break is affected by dimpling pressure and metal thickness. Selected dimples should be checked by inserting a fastener to make sure that the flushness requirements are met. Cracked dimples are caused by poor dies, rough holes, or improper heating. Two types of cracks may form during dimpling:

  • Radial cracks—start at the edge and spread outward as the metal within the dimple stretches. They are most common in 2024-T3. A rough hole or a dimple that is too deep causes such cracks. A small tolerance is usually allowed for radial cracks.
  • Circumferential cracks—downward bending into the draw die causes tension stresses in the upper portion of the metal. Under some conditions, a crack may be created that runs around the edge of the dimple. Such cracks do not always show since they may be underneath the cladding. When found, they are cause for rejection. These cracks are most common in hotdimpled 7075 T6 aluminum alloy material. The usual cause is insufficient dimpling heat.