If you’ve ever been in the middle of a DIY project and came across a screw that your screwdriver couldn’t seem to lock onto, you probably had a stripped screw on your hands. The head of the screw is so damaged, it can seem almost impossible to remove with a screwdriver. While you may not own a screw extractor, there are some handy ways to easily remove a stripped screw.
Why do the screws become stripped?
Most stripped screws are the result of using incorrect tools or simple user error. Screw heads usually wear out because the screwdriver or drill bit used on it was too small. The screwdriver or drill bit spins without a good grip on the screw, and the result is a stripped head on the screw. Turning screws at an angle can also cause stripping. Always align your screwdriver or drill directly in line with the screw. When inserting screws, it’s best to create pilot holes first.
How to prevent screws from stripping
Pay close attention to your screw while drilling it. If you notice that a screw you are inserting or removing is starting to strip, make sure you are using the right size screwdriver or drill bit. A partially stripped screw is far easier to remove than a completely stripped screw. If you were inserting the screw, it’s best to remove the screw and start over with a new one. Don’t continue to use a screw that has started to strip.
Use a rubber band to for grip
If you can’t get the screw out with only your screwdriver, place a rubber band over the screw head then firmly insert your screwdriver’s point. With a firm grip, slowly unscrew the screw. If you can’t find a rubber band, cut away a piece of the green abrasive from the scouring side of a sponge or use steel wool. The idea here is to simply provide some grip for easier removal.
Drill into the stripped screw
To make your screwdriver reach deeper into the screw for a better grip, drill a tiny hole into the head of the screw. Be sure to use a metal drill bit (not wood) if you try this method. Drill in small, slow increments. Drilling too far down could make the screw head pop off.
Use pliers, if possible
Can you see daylight between the screw’s head and the surface the screw is drilled into? If so, pliers may be your answer. Grab hold of the screw with a pair of locking pliers, then turn the pliers until the screw loosens. This method can be a bit labor-intensive, but it works well.
Stripped screws are frustrating, but even the professionals deal with them now and then. Remember, removing a stripped screw is not impossible. It’s merely an annoying problem. If you’re struggling with one, take a break and come back to it. Over time, you’ll learn which method works best in different situations.
Try a flat-head screwdriver
Chances are, your stripped screw has a Philips head. If so, find a flat-head screwdriver narrow enough to fit completely inside the Philips-head hole, then slowly loosen the screw. You can combine the rubber band method with the flat-head screwdriver method for an even better grip on the screw.
Use a hammer and screwdriver
If your screw is made of soft metal, try using a hammer to tap your screwdriver deeper into the screw head. Once it’s lodged in firmly, you might get enough grip to remove the screw. Not sure if your screw is soft metal? It probably is. Soft metal screws are the kind most likely to become stripped in the first place.
Use an oscillating tool, if you have access to one
An oscillating tool is a portable power tool equipped with many interchangeable blades. It can be used to cut, sand, grind, scrape, and even polish. If you’re an avid DIYer, you probably have an oscillating tool in your garage. To remove the stripped screw, first use the oscillating tool’s metal cutting disc to cut a deep slot in the screwhead. Then press a flat-head screwdriver firmly into the new groove and slowly twist.
Try adhering a nut to the screw
This last-chance method requires some welding skills and special equipment, but it might be just what you need to remove a stubborn screw. Weld a nut to the top of the stripped screw and wait for it to set. Then use a socket wrench to remove both the screw and the nut together.