dealing with stripped screws

Removing a screw is usually as simple as twisting it out with a screwdriver or a drill in reverse. When a screw becomes stripped, the drive on the screw head wears out, making the fastener much more challenging to remove. Your screwdriver or drill bit will not be able to grip onto the slot in the screw head, meaning you need to find another way to extract it. You may need a specialized tool to remove the damaged screw.

Best Ways to Avoid Stripping Screws

Keep in mind what causes a stripped screw in the first place. While some normal wear and tear, rust or corrosion can wear down the shape of the drive, the following causes are preventable:

  • Using a screwdriver that’s too large or too small for the screw.
  • Using the wrong type of screwdriver for the screw head.
  • Using a power drill, especially at a high-speed setting or the wrong angle.
  • Applying too much torque or inserting the screwdriver incorrectly.
  • Working with certain drive types, such as slotted drives, which are more likely to strip.

Once you understand the factors at play, you can take a few precautions to ensure you can get your screws in and out.

How to Avoid Stripping Screws With a Screwdriver

Overall, you’re less likely to strip a screw with a manual driver. If you find that your screwdriver is stripping screws, it may be the wrong tool for your application. It must be the right size and design for your screw drive. A Phillips head screw requires a Phillips head screwdriver, and a Robertson screw head requires a square screwdriver.

You can also use some preventive measures such as:

  1. Create a pilot hole when necessary: For some applications, pre-drilling a hole allows you to screw in your fastener with less force. Drill a pilot hole with a slightly thinner diameter than your shank to ensure a tight fit.
  2. Choose the right screw: Always choose the right screw designed for your specific application. For example, select fasteners for the HVAC industry for any HVAC jobs.
  3. Choose a strip-resistant screw drive: While it’s not always possible to switch out one drive for another, if you have a few options, choose the screw head least likely to strip. A drive with more points of contact will provide a better grip for the screwdriver. A square drive and a Phillips drive offer four points of contact, making them less likely to strip than a slotted screw. Hex and Torx screws both offer six points of contact, reducing the likelihood of stripping compared to Phillips and square drives.
  4. Align with the axis: Hold your screwdriver perfectly straight, in line with the screw at a 90-degree angle from the medium you are screwing into.


How to Avoid Stripping Screws With a Power Drill

Using a cordless drill is one of the risk factors for stripping a screw because it provides powerful torque and high speeds. The most important step is to maintain solid contact with the head, so the drill bit doesn’t grind down on the edges of the drive shape.

You can prevent your power drill from stripping screws using these tips:

  1. Pre-drill your holes: You can also use a pilot hole with a power drill. Create a hole that’s the same depth as your screw and slightly thinner than its shank.
  2. Use new drill bits: Worn drill bits are more likely to slip out of place. As they continue to spin, they’ll wear down the screw’s drive. Using a new drill bit provides a secure fit to prevent slippage.
  3. Start with low force: Your drill’s clutch lets you set the amount of force you use. Start at the lowest setting and go up in small increments until you’ve found the right setting for the screw. This precaution will also prevent the screw head from snapping off.
  4. Only control speed with the speed switch: While squeezing the trigger more gently to slow the speed feels more intuitive, it’s better to press the trigger all the way down and use the speed switch to go slower or faster. Use the slow setting to screw with more torque and the faster setting to drill holes.
  5. Apply even pressure at 90 degrees: As with a screwdriver, align your drill perfectly with the screw, perpendicular to your material. Maintain firm pressure, especially as you begin to feel more resistance.


How to Remove a Stripped Screw

Once a screw has been stripped, you won’t be able to drive it any deeper or remove it with a screwdriver or power drill. Depending on the state of your screw, you have a few different options you can try.

How to Remove a Stuck or Stripped Screw

If you have a small screw that got stuck before you could get it flush with your material, you can work it back out with a pair of locking pliers. You can remove small stripped screws using these steps:

  1. Clamp the pliers down starting from as close as possible to the wood or other material.
  2. Turn counterclockwise and be gentle to avoid breaking off the screw head.

Screws size #12 and larger will require a screw extractor. Follow these steps:

  1. Choose the largest screw extractor that will fit your stripped screw.
  2. Drill a hole in the center of the screw, about 1/8 inch deep.
  3. Place the extractor tip into the hole and spin counterclockwise to insert it until you feel the threads bite into the screw.
  4. Turn clockwise until the screw starts to pull away from the wood
  5. Once the screw is far enough out, grab it with your locking pliers and twist it out the rest of the way.


How to Remove a Screw With No Head

No-head screws and screws with the head broken off present unique challenges because they have nothing for your pliers to hold onto or screw extractor to bite into. In some applications, you can leave the broken screw in place and place a new one 1/4 inch away from the original screw. In more precise applications, you must remove the broken screw, patch up the damaged wood and insert a new screw.

Your extraction method depends on the screw’s position:

  1. When the shank is still sticking out: If enough is exposed for your pliers to grasp, you can clamp onto the shank and turn gently counterclockwise.
  2. When the screw is level with the surface: Using a sharp utility knife blade, cut away some of the wood around the shank until you have enough room to grab on with your pliers and back it out. You can then plug the space left behind with a wooden dowel. If you need the wood grain to match, you can use a wood plug instead. Then you can screw your new fastener directly into the dowel or wood plug.
  3. When the screw is below the surface: If possible, leave the screw in place when this happens. If you must keep the fastener in this precise spot, you’ll need a hollow screw extractor bit. First drill a hole into a piece of scrap wood and center it around the stripped screw to create a guide for your drill. Using your hollow extractor, place your drill in reverse, insert it into the template and drill around the shaft to bore out the wood. Then, use needle-nose pliers to back out the screw and patch the hole with a wooden dowel.

Turn to All Points Fasteners for All Your Screws and Power Bits

At All Points Fasteners, we offer a wide selection of screws and drill bits to fit your company’s unique applications. Whether you need screws for sheet metal, HVAC systems, gutters, roofs and siding, decks, woodworking or general construction, we have what you’re looking for. We offer various drives and matching drill bits for many applications, including drive designs to reduce slippage and stripping. The best part is that everything is made in the United States and offers the highest quality at an affordable price.

Browse our screws index today to find screws for a wide range of applications. Looking for something more specialized or industry-specific? Reach out to All Points Fasteners online, by phone or by email. We’ll help track down product data and specialty fasteners for your needs.

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Head Screw Lady Since 1986! Specializing in breaking down the language barrier between suppliers and end users. During her 35 years working in the fastener industry, MaryLouise has worked directly with end users, contractor’s, OEM’S and DIY, as well working within the import industry, working with fastener manufacturers and distributors. This has given her the unique perspective of having the technical knowledge needed to perform in the fastener world but also be familiar with the needs of end users who don’t necessarily know the fastener jargon or applications to know exactly what they need for their jobs.