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How To Remove Rivets With a Drill Bit

Removing rivets is simple with this easy-to-follow method.

Have you ever wondered how you go about removing rivets? Rivets fasten thin-gauge metals like gutter straps and sheet metal cladding, and they are permanent solutions.

Once in place, they are there for good. But what do you do if you need to remove them?

We show you how to remove rivets with a drill bit and explain which drill bits you should use.

Remove Rivets with a Drill Bit the Easy Way

Find the center of the rivet and place the drill bit on the rivet head. Start the drill slowly as the bit starts to cut into the surface. Going slowly is better because you need to apply more pressure than speed. Make sure the drill bit is slightly larger than the shank of the rivet.

Why Do Rivets Break?

There are several reasons why rivets break. As we said in the introduction, rivets are a permanent fixing solution, designed to stay put. However, rivets that do break, typically are as a result of a second-rate installation.

It could be that the person putting the rivets in was too aggressive with the rivet. Driving down on the rivet too hard will increase the strain on the metal and cause it to shear off. However, a rivet with too little pressure applied is likely to come loose.

Perhaps the construction worker was using the wrong tool or in a hurry to get the job done. There are any number of variables that could cause your rivets to break.

What You Need

You are going to need some tools to remove rivets effectively. Here is a handy list:

  • Drill: preferably a cordless drill because you are potentially working at a height.
  • Titanium Drill Bits: titanium is super-tough and can resist heat better.
  • Screwdriver: to reattach any elements with gutter screws.
  • A Hammer: just in case the rivet is being stubborn.
  • A Punch: to insert in the hole if the rivet refuses to come out.
  • Safety Goggles: it sounds obvious, but drilling through metal can be dangerous.
  • A Ladder: make sure it is long enough because you typically find most rivets near the fascias and roofline.

How To Remove Rivets with a Drill Bit

1. Locate the Rivets

There is a strong chance that if a couple of rivets have failed, others are likely to follow suit. Before you undertake any drilling, you would be wise to locate all the rivets first. Pop rivets are found in guttering, guttering straps and any other thin sheet metal used in the construction of your house.

If you want to remove a gutter or downpipe, you will need to remove all of the rivets.

2. Choose the Drill Bit

Drill bit set

Most rivets have a small hole in the center. Offer up your drill bit to check the size. If the drill bit fits in the hole, it is too small. Typically, a drill bit of 0.125 inches will suffice. It needs to be slightly wider than the gap, or the drill bit won’t work.

When you are happy that you have found the correct size, secure it in the chuck of your cordless drill.

3. It’s Time to Drill Out the Rivet

If you are working high off the ground, place the ladder against the wall of the house, making sure that you firmly wedge the feet in the ground to avoid the ladder slipping. It might be worth pressing your weight down on the first step, making double-sure it doesn’t slip.

Also, when working with a ladder, make sure the ground is even.

Once the rivet is within reach, offer up the drill to the center hole of the rivet. Keep the drill straight and press the trigger. Go very slowly, because drilling out a rivet is about the pressure you apply rather than the speed you work.

At some point, you should hear the drill bit change pitch as it bites through the shank of the rivet. Ease off with the pressure at this critical moment because you don’t want the drill bit to punch through the rivet and damage your house.

When the head comes loose, the rivet will detach from the hole. Now remove the drill. If the rivet is stubborn, grab the hammer and punch and insert the punch into the hole. Give it a sharp tap to dislodge the rivet.

4. Repeat

Continue this same process until you have drilled out all of the rivets.

5. Attach the Screws

You will need to reattach the material you have removed the rivets from and so grab your gutter screws and screwdriver. You could insert new rivets if you have the appropriate tools, but very few people have a riveter at hand. Also, screws can be removed easily, which means you avoid another protracted job of drilling out more rivets later down the line.

If the old holes no longer line up, use the same drill bit and cut new ones to insert the screws.

Top Tips for Removing Rivets

Use Hand Tools

If you don’t have a power drill, a chisel, a hammer and a punch will do. Place the sharp edge of the chisel under the lip of the rivet head and hit it firmly with a hammer. Repeat until the head of the rivet falls off.

Place the punch in the center of the hole where the head was and give it a tap with the hammer. The rivet should fall away.


This is not a fail-safe method, and it will take longer to complete.

Use a Grinder

You could also use a grinder to slice the head off the rivet and repeat the same procedure with the hammer and punch.

Hand-Turn the Bit

If you hand-turn the drill bit on the surface of the rivet head, it makes a neater pilot hole and gives you better control of the drill bit.

File the Rivet Head

Some rivets have a curved head, which can be challenging to drill through. The 470 rivet is a prime example of a rivet head that curves. Grab a file and work a small section of the head until it has flattened. It gives you a better surface to make your pilot mark with a drill bit.

Remove Paint

It is a wise idea to sand away any paint around the head of the rivet for two reasons. The first is that it unbinds the rivet head and makes it easier to find the lip to remove it. And the second reason is that when the rivet detaches, it won’t take any excess paint away from the surface. It saves you a paint touch-up job later.

Rivets Are Riveting

So, there you have it. Removing rivets is more straightforward than you thought. The next time your DIY project is stopped in its tracks, thanks to some stubborn rivets, reach for the drill, and get drilling.

Once you get the hang of it, you could be removing rivets for fun and have the job done in double-quick time.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.