It was supposed to be a quick and easy repair. But darn it, one of the screws wouldn’t budge, and so by the time you finally finished, it had grown dark outside. Yes, stripped screws are extremely frustrating, but they’re not impossible to deal with. In fact, it can be pretty easy to remove a stripped screw. If you don’t own a screw extractor—a special tapered drill bit with a square head—then all you need to know are a handful of (lifesaving) tips. Scroll down to see what they are.
1. RUBBER BANDS
Before trying anything else, try this: Put a rubber band over the stripped screw, firmly insert the point of your screwdriver, then slowly unscrew the fastener. Don’t have access to a rubber band? Substitute a bit of steel wool instead or some of the green abrasive from the scouring side of a sponge.
Inspect the screw head closely. Is there any daylight between it and the surface to which it’s fastened. If so, see if you can get hold of the screw with a pair of locking pliers, also known as vise grips. Provided that the tool has a firm grip on the screw, you should be able to turn the pliers until the screw loosens and pulls away.
Use a hammer to tap the screwdriver down, lodging it as firmly as you can into the screw head. Doing so may provide the extra grip you need to twist the fastener, especially if it’s made of soft metal—and, of course, soft metal screws are the kind that are most likely to become stripped in the first place.
4. FLAT-HEAD SCREWDRIVER
Does the stripped screw have a Phillips head? If so, reach for a flat-head screwdriver narrow enough to fit (in its entirety) within the Phillips-head hole. Keep in mind that it takes real muscle to pull this off. To facilitate things, it’s smart to combine this clever strategy with the rubber band method described in Option 1.
5. OSCILLATING TOOL
If there’s a Dremel in your workshop—and if you’re a committed DIYer, you probably should own one of these handy oscillating tools—affix the metal-cutting disc and create a new, deeper slot in the screw head. Follow up with a flat-head screwdriver, pressing it firmly into the indentation and twisting it slowly.
Sometimes drilling a small hole into a stripped screw can allow your screwdriver to reach deeper into—and achieve a better grip on—the stuck fastener. If you’re going to try this approach, make certain to use a drill bit designed for use on metal, not wood. And don’t drill too far down; the screw head could pop off!
If you’re experienced with welding and have the necessary equipment on hand—and you really want to remove that pesky stripped screw—here’s a last-ditch effort you can make. Spot-weld a nut to the top of the screw head, wait a sufficient period of time, then remove both screw and nut by means of a socket wrench.
Armed with all these tips, the next time you strip a screw you can rest assured it’s not the end of the world—it’s just another solvable, albeit annoying, problem. No single trick works every time, but once you’re familiar with the options at your disposal, you’ll gradually learn to recognize which scenarios call for which particular solution.