What the title says.
I first learned of electric drill riveters during the 2016 season. These are tools that attach to a standard electric hand drill that allow the user to drive pop rivets. Typically they are compatible with 3/32", 1/8", 5/32", and 3/16" rivets, making them very useful for FRC. Although they are beat out in speed by pneumatic riveters, they don’t need compressed air and are significantly cheaper.
Here’s a video of one in use: https://youtu.be/pCJ1DC-DHb0?t=105
Things were not always so bullish for drill rivet attachments. Back in 2016, only a bare handful of these tools were available, and they retailed for $80 to $130 depending on the source - Astro and Bryke were pretty much the only sellers on Amazon or eBay that sold them. However, in 2017, I came across what we will call “Rev. 1” of the Chinese clone rivet drills for a mere $24.65 shipped on eBay:
The characteristics of the Rev. 1 included a large plastic housing, a metal nozzle holder, and a short hex shoulder just past the grip to help disassembly. The dotted pattern on the “grip” of the housing was also common to this first revision. It came with a nozzle change wrench, a housing disassembly wrench, and 4 nozzles. The disassembly wrench could also be used as a handle when driving 3/16" steel-mandrel rivets, but this was somewhat clunky. 1072 used one of these for the 2018 season to drive almost all the rivets on the robot. However, at our second competition that year, it failed. Disassembly soon showed that the culprit was a melted M8 drive screw, rendering the unit useless.
Lesson learned: don’t operate these at the “3” speed of a Dewalt drill, and take it apart and oil it occasionally. We also learned that hands would get sore using it after several minutes, because opposing the driving torque by gripping the smoother housing put a strain on hands. Disassembly was made a pain because some units did not come with a wrench large enough to take the whole nozzle off, so when it jammed, you would need to hunt down a large adjustable wrench to take the nozzle holder off and clear whatever wreckage was in the jaws.
I replaced this unit with China’s newest invention: The Rev. 2.
(Not a video, this is just the best picture I could find)
The Rev. 2 was very similar to the Rev. 1 in design, but can be identified by the longer hex shoulder after the grip. The cost had also dropped to $21 shipped. This model upgraded the M8 leadscrew into an M10 one. This appeared to reduce wear on the screw. Some models came with a nice rubber handle that would screw into the large wrench, allowing the user to use the disassembly wrench as an actual handle instead of an improvised one. I sought one of these out to replace the Rev 1 that 1072 had, and it functioned for a long time after that. 1072 acquired a pneumatic riveter in 2019, so the rivet drill saw less use, but it was taken to competitions for use in the pits. Last I checked it was still operational (circa 2022) but it definitely jammed more often than it did when it was new.
At some point between 2019 and 2021, the Rev. 3 started becoming more common.
I bought one of these for 6619 in early 2022 for $16.75 shipped, also from eBay. The all-metal housing and dedicated operation handle were clear improvements to the old design. The cost of rivet drill attachments had also been steadily dropping for the last several years. However, the biggest improvement was the addition of a spare set of jaws, stored inside the handle itself. This meant that as the riveter experienced wear or tear, you had minimum one chance to swap out the jaws to give it new life. Spare parts for these riveters are difficult to come by despite their pervasiveness, so spare jaws can literally double the useable life of the tool. I do have a couple of prospective candidates on order. 6619 used a Rev. 3 for about half the rivets on the robot this season with no issues. Some Rev. 3 have decreased in price to under $15 shipped from eBay.
A minor variant I call Rev. 3A is also available for ~$23:
The only difference between Rev. 3A and Rev. 3 is that the nozzles are knurled instead of a hex shape. It also tends to come in blue and looks shinier. There are also variants of Rev. 3 with a slightly different housing casting with a smaller diameter.
Compared to normal Rev. 3:
A random image I found of the internals of a Rev 3:
Finally, I’ve been seeing a few Rev. 4 on the market recently:
These look like a definite downgrade from Rev. 3. For one, the disassembly wrench is missing, replaced by a nozzle swap-only wrench. This means that to clear a jam you’ll have to go track down a big adjustable wrench and try to fit it on the tiny flat on the nozzle holder. Furthermore, getting rid of the nozzle wrench tapped holes means that the only place to store the nozzles is within the handle with the spare jaws. Repeated removal of the cap on the handle will probably loosen it (it did not feel very premium on Rev. 3) and if it ever comes off accidentally, the spare jaws may be lost. The strange nozzle shape also worries me as they may break compatibility with other riveter jaws. If you’re looking to buy a rivet drill tool, stick with Rev. 3 for now.
I have a Rev. 3A on order right now from Aliexpress for testing, along with a couple of sets of spare jaw candidates. I will update this thread later with information on internals and reparability once those arrive.