Screws & Screw Removal – 7 Tips To Extract Stripped Screws

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Few things are quite as maddening as a stripped screw. Seriously, all these phrases ratchet up the innuendo points wildly. I actually get a bonus for scoring high on this scale. So, prepare yourselves for thinly veiled jokes as we discuss something that isn’t very fun at all – trying to get a #@&$ screw out of something when it is stripped out. We’ll cover 7 tips to help you achieve screw removal bliss.

screw removalFor a variety of reasons–a screw will become stripped.  (Dollar bills, too much torque, etc.) The head of the screw becomes impossible to get at with whatever type of tool it needs. Standard screws are famous for this.  Quickly–a bit of screw review.

Standard: Straight line across the head of the screw. Prone to stripping fairly easily…I hate standard screws.

Phillips: “X” marks the spot. At some point, someone named Phillips invented this because they knew standard screws suck.  A bit easier to avoid stripping.

Square Drive: A square is in the head of the screw. These seem great–but the bits like to cam-out for some reason.  At least in my experience.  Easy to strip.

Torx or Star-drive: Star shape in the head of the screw. These things do not strip very well–provided you have a good bit, and don’t let it cam-out.  More expensive, but I use them exclusively. Star-drive is the way to go.

Cam-out: The act of tool slippage when trying to screw, or unscrew. (This article is too much fun, seriously. I’m giggling like an idiot).

Ok–everyone knows the righty-tighty, lefty-loosey mantra. Before you go after the screw, just make sure that is indeed the case. Some weird screws are threaded different, so that may not always apply. Just make sure that is the case. If your tool isn’t getting a good bite on the screw–don’t force it. It will just make the problem worse. Cam-out mostly happens on power tools, but you can do it with a screwdriver by hand as well.

If the screw is stripped but the head is exposed, you are in luck. A simple needle-nose vice grip can do the trick. Just simply apply it to the head of the screw, and tighten. Then rotate the screw in the direction that it is suppose to go, and back it out. If you don’t care about the surface the screw is in, or it can be repaired/hidden later you can gouge out material by the screw to achieve the room you need to get the vice-grip/pliers in there. This screw removal technique isn’t always the most delicate.

Use some rubber.  Oh…man…it never ends.  Taking a rubber band and putting it between your screwdriver and the screw head can sometimes get you enough bite to be able to extract it.

Do it by hand:  A very sad thing for me to admit…but sometimes using a good ol’ screwdriver is better than using a power tool. You can control the torque better, and get a bit more pressure on the horizontal plane when trying to back out the screw.

Use lube: Seriously. Try squirting some LiQuifix or something like it on the shaft of the screw. (Is this even legal? Do we have to have that warning that won’t show the website unless you put in your birth date? Not that I’ve ever seen those sites…a friend told me about them). Try to avoid getting any on the head of the screw as you don’t want to be slipping on that part, just what is stuck.

If worst comes to worst…you can buy a tool that is designed for this: a screw extractor. It works by burying itself into the head of the stuck screw, and you can then get a hold of the extractor and get the screw out.  You just have to be careful not to drive it too far in–destroying the head of the screw and ruining all fun as you know it. Alden is pretty much the go-to company when it comes to screw removal and extraction. You can even check out a promo they did with the late Billy Mays here:

Ok–so you’ve tried all of the above–and the screw still won’t come out. Here is the short answer:  Give up. Live with it. Put a shrine around the screw, put candles around it, and say that the pattern from all your tool marks looks like Elvis. Charge people to come into your house to look at it.

Long answer: All may not be lost…you can take a metal drill bit, and drill into the head of the screw. At this point–we’ve pretty much given up on getting it out–and are just going to destroy it. Try to remain as true as possible, and drill slowly into the screw. Take your time and savor the moment, if you know what I mean. Don’t be a bonehead–wear eye protection.  You can easily get a bit of metal in your eye–and then who really cares about the screw?  Hot metal + Eyeball = No more screwing. Once the screw is drilled out–what ever it was holding together should come apart. Like I said–this is pretty much last resort, as it isn’t a 100% fix.

Ok…screw extraction article finished.  Clearly, stripping screws would not be complete without the words of the great Adam “Pacman” Jones…let no stripped screw defeat you–“make it rain on those #@^!&es!” You can find the Alden 2 Piece Screw Remover Kit for about $12.

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6 thoughts on “Screws & Screw Removal – 7 Tips To Extract Stripped Screws”

  1. I saw this somewhere else- If you’ve got part of the screw out, cut the head off, then insert the screw into your drill and tighten the chuck (just like you would for a bit)… I tried it for some square-drive screws that were stripped, they came right out.

  2. Never had much luck with extractors. I can never seem to bite into the fastener. Most of the time, I end up stripping a screw on the way in and can usually tell before it goes down all the way if I need to pull it back out. Lock pliers work best for me.

  3. Good call Jeff.
    I like the idea of not having to give up my power tools. Plus, it will justify more in the red column of my Dremel expense report!
    I do try to avoid extractors as much as possible, but sometimes it is the only way to go. Fortunately–most things I’m building aren’t exactly fine pieces of art, so a little destruction can be achieved, and I use the vise-grip method quite a bit.
    Of course–not stripping the screw in the first place is ideal–but then we can’t make stripper jokes.

  4. I do have a set of extractors but sometimes it’s just as easy to cut a slot in the fastener with the dremel and back it out by hand with a standard screwdriver or better yet a manual impact driver.


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