Carl's model train repair riveting tools

P.O. BOX 443
MEDFORD, MA 02155-0005
Tel. 781-367-7578  E-mail

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This is a word for word copy of the article appearing in the June 2001 issue of O Gauge Railroading Magazine

Erecting Shop OGR Product Reviews
by George Brown

Brakeman's Riverters and Tools
pages 58-61, June 2001

Original Brakeman's Riveter and Super Brakeman's Riveter tools for repairing toy trains.

Tools flair rivets to assemble toy train components without using a hammer or a press. Various tips and backing hardware are available for specialized repair jobs involving riveting or swaging.

Click image for twice size view.

Click here for view of tools outside of the box.

One of my modeling pleasures is rebuilding or restoring "distressed" post-war Lionel locomotives and cars into ones that I enjoy displaying as well as running. Of course, repairing contemporary and vintage 0 gauge rolling stock and accessories goes hand-in-hand with this aspect of my hobby. But until a couple of years ago, I usually avoided projects that involved riveting components together. By itself, a rivet is a simple and inexpensive mechanical fastener and it makes for a fast and relatively permanent assembly; that is, if one has riveting tools, which I didn't.

Several types of tools can be used to rivet model train components: a hammer with assorted sizes of riveting punches, a press with its specific purpose clinchers and anvils, and the Brakeman's Riveter with its tips and backing posts. Although a hammer and punch are inexpensive, it takes both hands to hold them, and a definite finesse is required to drive the rivet neatly without damaging either the components being assembled or the rivet itself. An arbor press is normally large, unless one finds an original one from a Lionel Service Station, usually requires permanent mounting on a sturdy table or workbench, and even though it can produce good results on a variety of projects, it is expensive, especially if used for nothing else but occasional riveting jobs. Either of the Brakeman's Riveters, when fitted with a riveting or swaging tip, is easy to use with one hand, takes up less space than a screwdriver in a drawer or workbench, and costs about the same as an 0 gauge freight car.

Both the original Brakeman's Riveter and the Brakeman's Super Riveter are essentially automatic hammers that use an internal, spring-loaded striker to create the mechanical impact required to flair or "drive" rivets or for swaging metal.

If you have ever seen or used a machinist's automatic punch, Brakeman's Riveters are identical, with the super riveter being a larger and heavier tool that employs a more powerful striker than the original riveter.

Pictured here, Carl Scire demonstrates his tools at a workshop at a Greenberg's Train Show.


The original riveter is for light-duty riveting, such as repairing automatic 0 gauge couplers, replacing sliding shoes on Lionel trucks, rebuilding steam locomotive valve gear rods, replacing electrical pickup rollers, and more. Brakeman's Super Riveter is for heavier jobs such as mounting trucks to car frames or swaging loose or replacement side frames onto trucks.

At the business end of the riveter, its internally threaded shank accepts the various screw-on tips. The tool's bare steel barrel is machined into a handsome industrial knurled grip that is not only utilitarian but is also comfortable to hold. Both riveters are adjustable for a lighter or heavier strike against the rivet or the material being swaged. The knurled end cap at the top of the riveter barrel screws in to compress the striker spring for a heavier hit or out to relax the spring for lighter action.

A center-punch marker tip and a coupler riveting tip are included with the original riveter; a tip designed specifically for working on sliding shoes and a new 1" extension for the riveter shank are also available. The super riveter includes a center-punch marker tip and either an S or 0 gauge truck riveting tip, plus a backing post for the large truck rivets. A swaging tip for mounting ladders on F3 frames and side frames on trucks is offered for the super riveter, as is a new tip for working small hardened or diecast rivets plus a new 1/2" shank extension. And no, tips and extensions are not interchangeable between the original and super riveter, as they are different diameters.

All of the Brakeman's Riveter tips and the shank extensions are machined from hardened tool steel, so they should serve for a number of years. While I'm on the subject of the tips, the coupler rivet tip submitted for this review would only screw about two threads into the original riveter's shank before binding. I couldn't see any apparent damage to the tip's 2-56 threads, but since this screw size is fairly small, I didn't attempt to "cut" through the bind and opted for getting a replacement tip. Carl Scire of Carl's Toy Trains stands fully behind his products.

For working on 0 gauge trains, Carl also offers a four-piece backing post set which I consider a must-have accessory for either of the Brakeman's Riveters. To set any rivet, its preformed head must be held against something anvil- solid so that the rivet won't move when it is flared, or peened. It's also critical that whatever "backs" the rivet be the same size or even slightly smaller so the rivet takes all the peening force. if the backing anvil is bigger than the rivet, it can, and most likely will put some of the force used to peen the rivet into the surrounding material, such as a plastic car body, and either squash or break the material. Carl's backing post set works quite well as an anvil for driving rivets with several sizes of posts to fit the riveting job.

Each backing post set includes a hardened steel base plate for holding the appropriate size tool steel post, with an Allen set screw securing the post tightly to the plate. Carl even provides an Allen wrench for tightening this set screw. The base plate has two screw holes at opposite corners for mounting it to a work surface, or you can use a small C-clamp to hold it to your workbench top as I did for several projects using the riveter tools. At the risk of sounding like I'm preaching, the main point is to rigidly secure the backing post plate as well as the post itself so neither will move while you're working with them.

If you do a lot of work with Lionel F3 and ALCO frames, especially replacing the rear ladders, a backing plate is available to hold the frame securely in place and to back it during riveting. Again, this plate is machined from hardened steel and, in its sheer size and depth of machine, is quite impressive looking. Although I didn't need to do any work to an F3 frame that is awaiting assembly, I did set it into the frame backing plate - very nice fit. I was disappointed that I didn't have any job to work with the F3 plate.

One of the Brakeman's tools is a bit unusual but is really handy for drilling out rivets that secure trucks to car bodles - the truck rivet securing tool. If you have ever tried to remove a truck rivet without damaging either the truck or its car body, this tool can relieve a lot of frustration. The working end of this tool is milled in a starburst pattern, radiating from the center of its tool steel post. It mounts in the backing post base plate or a vise, and you use it as a backing post with the starburst teeth griping the rivet head, keeping the rivet from turning while you drill its peened end. On the truck rivet securing tool I received, a small sliver of metal was still attached to the milled end of the tool, but it was easily removed.

Although I didn't get to use one of the tool sets submitted for this review, Carl's new three-piece S gauge American flyer link coupler repair tool set appeared to be quite capable for the job. It includes a drilled die block that I think would have a wide range of uses for train repair, beyond just working on Flyer link couplers.

The basswood box for storing the Brakemans' Riveter tools is also high on my list as a must-have, even though it initially seems a bit expensive at $35. I understand that the box is from piano maker Robert Smith of Boston, and it is every bit as finely built as a piano; for me, it's worth the cost. After unpacking all the tools that are on the Brakeman's Riveter price list, I found a place in the box for each tool or set.


As a general method for using either of the Brakeman's Riveters, you place its tip onto what you are riveting or swaging, grasp the riveter body against the heel of your hand, and then push the riveter against the work until the tool's internal striker actuates. If you've never used a machinist punch, it might be a good idea to operate the riveter once or twice against something solid, like a bench vice or scrap piece of lumber, to get used to the tool's action and to the report, or bang, from its striker. With the backing post set clamped to my workbench top, the report from both the original and super riveter sounds like I hit the bench with a small hammer - which is essentially what the riveter's internal striker does.

Repairing loose truck frames is one of the tasks easily performed with the riveter.

Depending on the size and thickness of the rivet, or the material being swaged, it may take several shots to complete the job. Until I had peened several rivets in practice assembly of some junk valve gear rods left over from prior repair jobs, I set the original riveter to its lightest blow. Too bad the valve gear rods were broken, because the fresh rivets looked and looked and worked great. Hmmm, perhaps I'll get replacements for the broken rods, and build up a surrogate valve gear set - for that day when I get another distressed Lionel 736 to rebuild. Several diecast trucks with either loose or separated side frames were in my box of things to repair whenever I located that elusive "round tuit" that rarely shows up. So with the swaging tip screwed onto the super riveter's shank, I placed the first of several loose trucks on top of the backing post. After two shots with a heavy setting on the striker, I had a truck ready to go back onto its car. In quick succession, all of the diecast trucks that were on the CCRWs [Carpet Central Railroad] bad-order line were ready to roll again; their cars are back on the rails as I write this.

In using the super riveter to install the rear retainer bracket on a Lionel F3 shell, I had to set the tool to a light strike because there just wasn't enough room inside the shell for aligning the tool and the rivet, with my full hand grasping it. But with several shots holding the riveter in my fingers with my thumb on its cap for leverage, the tool peened both rivets to where they looked and fit every bit as good as those in F3s assembled at Lionel's factory. And that is the ultimate test for any tool.

Attaching a new bracket to a F3 body is an easy job with the riveter tool. The arrows in picture show the new rivets.

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