How to Remove a Stripped Screw
Even the most conscientious DIYer is bound to strip the occasional screw. The next time you’re faced with removing a screw with a stripped head, try one of these hacks for removing it.
The best-laid DIY project plans can hit a snag if a stripped screw turns up. Though stripped screws can certainly slow down a project’s progress, they’re not impossible to deal with. If you don’t own a stripped screw extractor—a special tapered drill bit with a square head—you’ll do just fine by following these effective tricks and tips for how to remove a stripped screw.
Removing Stripped Screws From Metal, Wood, and Plastic: Why the Material Matters
Most of the methods described below will work if a stripped screw is embedded in metal, wood, or plastic. Removing a stripped screw from each material, however, presents its own challenges.
- Stripped screws in metal need to be removed carefully, otherwise you risk scratches or damage. Be extra diligent when using power tools and cutting materials.
- A stripped screw in wood will likely be flush with the material or slightly lower than the surface, so using a stripped screw extractor may be your best bet to retrieve the screw.
- Plastic is a fairly soft material, and a light touch is a must if you want to reuse a hole in plastic after removing a screw. Hammering, grinding, and cutting to remove the screw may render the hole unusable.
No matter which material you’re working with, you’ll need a bit of muscle to remove stripped screws. You must use firm pressure and patience, moving the screw a fraction of a turn at a time, otherwise you risk breaking the screw and making the removal process all the more challenging.
1. Use rubber bands.
Before trying any other methods, try this one:
- Put a rubber band—the wider, the better—over the top of the stripped screw.
- Firmly insert the point of your screwdriver, then slowly unscrew the fastener. The rubber band adds traction, creating a better grip for your screwdriver to twist the screw. Expect to go through a few rubber bands when using this method, as they tend to break from the pressure of the screwdriver.
If you don’t have a rubber band handy, substitute a bit of steel wool or some of the abrasive material from the scouring side of a sponge.
2. Size up your driver bit.
If you’re trying to remove a stripped screw using a driver bit that’s sized for a screw in pristine condition, you’re likely wasting your time. When the slots in the head of the screw have worn out, the driver bit you’d typically use won’t fit properly. Try a bit that’s a little larger to see if it fits better.
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3. Use a stripped screw extractor.
Do you come across a lot of stripped screws in your projects? A dedicated set of stripped screw extractors may be the only solution you need. These attachments for your drill come in different types and sizes, and they involve a two-step process. You first use the drill bit to create a hole in the screw head, then you use the extractor to remove the screw.
4. Try a left-handed drill bit.
Typical screws loosen by turning to the left. The less common left-handed drill bit has flutes that twist in a counterclockwise direction. The torque applied by a left-handed drill bit can be more effective than a right-handed bit at loosening a stripped screw. For it to work, however, the drill must be set in reverse.
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5. Drill deeper into the screw head.
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!
6. Pull the screw with pliers.
Inspect the screw head closely. If there’s any daylight between the screw head and the surface to which it’s fastened, see if you can get hold of the screw with a pair of locking pliers (these are also known as vise grips). If you can get the tool to grab a firm hold of the screw, you should be able to turn the pliers until the screw loosens and pulls away.
This isn’t the least labor-intensive option, but under the right circumstances it works like a charm.
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7. Switch to a flathead screwdriver.
Does the stripped screw have a Phillips head? If so, reach for a flathead 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.
8. Use a hammer to get a better grip.
If the screw is made of soft metal, which is the kind most likely to become stripped in the first place, grab your hammer.
Use the hammer to tap the screwdriver down into the screw head. Lodge the screwdriver as firmly as you can into the screw head.
Doing so may provide the extra grip you need to twist the fastener.
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9. Apply a liquid abrasive.
Give your screwdriver or drill bit something to grip by using a liquid abrasive, which can be a great stripped screw remover. These fluids contain tiny crystals that anchor between the screwdriver and the screw to create friction where there was none. These liquids generally don’t stain, and you don’t need much more than a drop per screw.
10. Pull out the hot glue gun.
Rather than run out to purchase a new tool to remove stripped screws, turn to something you probably already have at home: your glue gun. Fill the screw head with glue, and stick in your screwdriver until it cools and dries. Then it’s just a matter of slowly twisting the stripped screw with a screwdriver until it comes out.
11. Cut in with an oscillating tool.
If there’s an oscillating tool in your workshop, such as a Dremel (and if you’re a committed DIYer, you probably should own one of these tools), affix the metal-cutting disc and create a new, deeper slot in the screw head. Follow up with a flathead screwdriver, pressing it firmly into the indentation and twisting it slowly.
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12. Weld a nut to the screw’s head.
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.
Removing a stripped screw is a beginner-level skill, one that you can easily do yourself as you work your way through many home projects. That said, expect that stripped screw removal will take time. Don’t try to rush the process, otherwise you might damage your project.
Armed with all these tips, the next time you strip a screw you can rest assured that it’s not the end of the world—it’s just another solvable, albeit annoying, problem. No single trick works every time. You may need to use a combination of techniques to remove the screw, but don’t overdo one method, or you risk stripping the screw even more. Once you know how to remove a stripped screw and become familiar with all of the options at your disposal, you’ll gradually learn to recognize which scenarios call for which particular solution.