Stripped screws are annoying — if not common — issues you might face when working on any DIY project. In fact, knowing how to remove stripped screws can be one of the most frustrating time wasters you encounter to finish the job.
But it's not impossible. If you have the right tools, you can easily remove stripped screws in no time. Read on to learn and try these simple techniques for removing stripped screws that use standard tools and household items.
The 7 Best Techniques for Removing a Stripped Screw
It is important to know that there is no "right way" to accomplish most building tasks, and removing a stripped head is no different. You could spend hours looking online for the perfect YouTube trick to find even more comments that disagree with that method. Everyone has an opinion, but you can use trial and error to see which approach from the list below works best for you.
1. Grip With a Rubber Band
Rubber bands can be used for hundreds of applications, but they are convenient for adding extra grip and creating friction to your screwdriver when you need to remove a stripped screw.
The flexible, elastic band structure of rubber bands can expand and grip the interior surface of a stripped drive when you add pressure. This expansion fills in the gaps between the drill bit and the damaged grooves of the stripped drive, allowing you to remove the screw with ease.
If you don't have rubber bands on hand, duct tape can also be an excellent alternative. Duct tape may not have the elasticity of rubber products, but its sticky adhesive can form a firm hold on your drill bit or screwdriver tip and fill in the gaps just as well.
2. Cut a New Slot With a Rotary Tool
One method to remove a stripped screw requires using a powerful multi-tool — or rotary tool — fixed with a spinning metal blade. Hold the tool horizontally and make a thin cut across the screw head that is deep and wide enough to engage with your drill bit of choice.
This trick does come with a safety warning, however, since its high-speed blade can emit metal slivers and flying debris. Always use the proper protective gear to protect your eyes, ears and hands, and read the operator's manual to follow manufacturer guidelines before you use any power tool.
3. Add Extra Grip With Steel Wool
Using the steel wool method to remove a stripped screw is an easy, low-cost choice because it does not require special tools. People often use steel wool for cleaning pots and pans, but it can be the perfect material to fill in the surrounding surface of the damaged screw head and provide a better grip for your drill bit.
If you don't have any steel wool, there are more options that mimic this idea, including a liquid abrasive or a manufactured abrasive powder that you may use to clean the kitchen or bathroom.
4. Use a Screw Extractor Kit
Screw extractors use a set of left-handed drill bits — or a specialized screw extractor bit — to remove a stripped screw. To use one, first, select a regular drill bit with a smaller diameter than the screw shank and continue drilling down vertically to form a small hole at the center of the screw head. Then, swap out the drill bit for an extractor bit and place the drill in the reverse position once the screw extractor engages to remove the damaged screw.
5. Use a Manual Screwdriver and Hammer
If you find your screw stuck in a thick wood, metal or plastic surface, you may need to avoid using power tools that could further damage the screw head. Instead, choose a flathead screwdriver and a hammer to loosen the sunken threads slowly.
Hold the screwdriver straight and plumb on the screw head and insert the tip into the drive grooves with firm pressure.
Once your screwdriver is aligned and you have a good grip on your tool, hit the handle end with a hammer, using controlled swings and steady, firm pressure. This process will carve a new slot for a large drill bit to engage and turn the screw.
Some manufacturers have also produced a hammer impact driver specially designed for this task, delivering a torque-controlled twist with each hammer impact.
6. Grab the Screw Shank With a Pair of Pliers
One of the simplest ways to remove a stripped screw is by gripping the screw head or shank with a pair of clamp-locking pliers. As the name suggests, you can adjust these pliers to clamp and lock around a stuck screw, allowing you to twist and pull it loose from the target surface. You can also use a set of broad-nosed or slip-joint pliers to accomplish this task, but avoid using needle-nosed pliers since they do not provide the necessary surface area to establish a firm grip on the smooth, round surface of the screw head. Non-locking options will require considerably more grip strength to twist the screw loose.
7. Use a Larger Drill Bit
One of the most common causes of stripped screws is using the wrong-sized screwdriver or drill bit for the drive. If you fail to insert the drill bit and seat it entirely into the grooves, you will notice a lack of engagement, and the high-speed driver will grind away the slots.
You can often remove this screw with a large, flathead screwdriver, but this problem becomes more challenging when stripping occurs after you have driven the screw nearly flush. Ensure you maintain a better grip on your tool and firmly press downward as you drive the screw to avoid this issue in the future.
How to Avoid a Stripped Screw Head
Hopefully, this list has supplied you with various tips and tricks to remove a stripped screw but it's best to avoid getting stripped screws altogether. Here are some tips on how.
Fully charge your electric drill battery before each use. Drained batteries produce less driving power and torque, which can cause spinning drill bits and damaged slots.
Press firmly and use steady pressure while driving screws. Some people tend to reduce their downward force as the screw nears the target surface. This hesitancy is often because they fear they'll overdrive a screw. But most modern impact drivers have a depth setting that will provide an unmistakable sign or noise when you drive the screw flush.
Maintain a better grip on your tool to ensure steady, even pressure. Set the screw vertically and plumb to avoid a crooked fastener that will be more likely to strip once it reaches the target surface.
Now That's Interesting
Many anthropologists believe that screws are some of the oldest hardware components in human history. The ancient Greeks and Romans used screws in grape presses, and the famous fasteners became a linchpin for moving mechanical parts in printing presses during the Middle Ages. So, next time you're enjoying a sunny afternoon with a good book and a glass of vino, thank the unknown inventor of screws for keeping it all together.
Originally Published: May 10, 2011
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