Even though there are various ways to extract them, there are fewer things more frustrating for handymen and DIYers than stripped screws.
They can not only slow you down but – if you are working without spare screws – they might bring your project to a complete halt. As such, it is important to learn proper screw driving techniques and to avoid stripping screws whenever possible.
Below, I share four tips that should, to a large extent, help you avoid the problem.
What Is a Stripped Screw and What Causes It?
A stripped screw generally refers to a screw that had its head damaged to the point where it cannot be tightened or loosened using a regular screwdriver. The screws that get stripped the most often are those with a Phillips drive. That said, screws with other drives – including hex and Pozidriv – can suffer from the problem too.
The most common ways that screws get stripped include:
- Wrong technique: applying too much force when tightening a screw, having your impact driver at an angle, etc.
- Using the wrong tool: using a screwdriver designed for a different type of drive, using a screwdriver that’s the wrong size, using a dull or low-quality screwdriver, etc.
- Using the wrong hardware: using cheap screws made out of relatively soft metal, using screws meant for different material, etc.
4 Tips to Avoid Stripping a Screw
As mentioned in the introduction, while there are several ways to remove stripped screws, “prevention is the best medicine.” Luckily, tightening screws properly without damaging their head is fairly easy if you follow the tips below.
1. Use the Right Tools and Hardware
Just as with any other job, having the right tool is the number one requirement when tightening screws. What you have to be careful about is that you are using a screwdriver suitable the type of screw that you are about to tighten.
While that might sound fairly easy – after all, who couldn’t tell apart the “-” and “+” shapes that most screws come in – it’s actually a bit more complex.
That’s especially the case with screws with a cross-shaped drive. Most of those come with what’s called a “Phillips drive,” but some do not. For example, while a Philips drive and Pozidriv might seem similar to each other, they should each be used with drivers specifically designed for that drive.
Separate from that, you should also use a screwdriver that is not too small (or too large) for the screw you are trying to screw in and make sure that it is not too dull or sharp.
Also, while there is no such thing as a completely strip-proof screw, some screw head types (like hex and slotted) are better than others in avoiding stripping. Some screws are also of higher quality than others, and so – if you are the one buying the hardware – make sure not to go with the cheapest, lowest quality option.
2. Make Sure You Are Screwing Straight
Whether you are using a screwdriver or an impact driver, it is important that you hold it straight, in-line with the screw. The lower the quality of the tool and hardware you are using, the more important this becomes.
As such, every time before you press your impact driver’s trigger or turn the screwdriver, make sure that it is not at an angle. Make sure that it stays straight throughout the tightening process as well.
3. Apply the Right Amount of Force
While it’s certainly possible to apply too much pressure on a screw with a manual screwdriver and strip a screw that way, it’s much more common when using an impact driver.
What I see happen the most often is that the person trying to screw puts the Phillips bit on the screw and – often without even confirming if the bit is in the screw or if the driver is straight – just hits the trigger. Or, more specifically, presses the trigger all the way down.
Don’t do that.
Instead, when using an impact driver, first make sure the screwdriver bit is in the right place and that it’s straight. Then, slowly start pressing the trigger and increasing the RPM. Depending on how powerful your driver is, chances are you will not have to press the trigger all the way down. You should be fairly easily able to tell whether you are going too fast – and starting to strip the screw – by the sound.
In some cases – like when working on your car – screws might have a specific torque that should be applied when screwing them in to prevent stripping and overtightening. If that’s the case, you will want to get a torque screwdriver that will let you adjust the torque with precision.
4. If a Screw Starts Stripping, Stop Immediately
Einstein once said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Yet, I see many people realizing that something is wrong and that their screw started stripping, yet continuing their attempt to tighten it without adjusting their technique, changing their tool, or doing anything else differently.
Instead, when you notice that your screw is starting to strip or that your screwdriver keeps camming out of the drive, immediately stop tightening it and re-assess the situation.
Decide whether you need to get a different screwdriver or just hold the one you are using straight. Decide whether you should continue or whether you should extract the screw and use a new one.
One of the most important things to remember here is that it is easier to remove a stripped screw that is still largely sticking out of the material you are screwing it into. That way, you can grab it with a pair of pliers and screw it out.
Regardless of your skill level, chances are that you strip a screw every now and then – whether because the screw is of low quality or because you mistakenly pick the wrong tool. And, if that happens, it’s no big deal – you simply remove the screw and continue your work.
That said, as much as possible, you should avoid the problem – and the easiest way to do so is by following the four tips above. Pick the right tool and hardware, and apply the right amount of force.
Most importantly, though, if you get to the point where you feel like the screw is starting to get stripped, just stop to re-assess the situation.