How To: Remove a Stripped Screw
Even the most conscientious DIYer is bound to strip the occasional screw. Don't let this annoyance get in your way! Next time, try one of these useful tips for removing a stripped screw. You'll be back to work in no time.
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 handy tips.
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.
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!
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 (also known as vise grips).
- If you can get the tool to grab 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.
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.
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.
6. 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 flat-head screwdriver, pressing it firmly into the indentation and twisting it slowly.
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 all of the options at your disposal for how to remove a stripped screw, you’ll gradually learn to recognize which scenarios call for which particular solution.