Whether you are building or repairing something, one of the things that you may have to deal with is a broken screw. By a broken screw, we mean one where the head has been broken off. Keep in mind that this article is not about screws that are stripped, a topic covered here.
Anyways, let’s get right to it and figure out how to remove a headless screw so that you can get back to the task at hand.
5 Techniques to Remove Headless Screws
What is important to note here is that these various techniques for removing a broken or headless screw are not really as much separate from each other as they are escalations from one to the next.
For example, as you can see, the first method that we have listed is using pliers. Well, this is only going to work if a part of the screw is still showing. If the whole screw is under the wood, then you’re going to have to move onto the second method, and if that doesn’t work, you have to move onto method three, all the way until you get to the fifth and final method, the last resort.
1. Using Pliers
All you need to do here is to get some needle nose pliers to grasp the shank of the screw, and then screw it out. Yes, this is the easiest method to remove a headless screw. But it is also very limited in use and if you found yourself here, chances are that you are simply not able to grab the screw with pliers.
2. Using a Utility Knife and Pliers
If the head of the screw is broken off and the shank is below the surface of the wood, you will need to dig the screw out at least partially before you can use pliers to remove it. For that, you can use a utility knife, a chisel, or even something like a screwdriver to remove some of the wood around the top of the shank of the screw.
Once you chip away enough wood, you should be able to grab the top of the screw with a pair of pliers and then screw it out. However, if the shank of the screw is down so deep that even chiseling away some of the wood is not enough to get to the top of it, move on to option three.
3. Using a Drill and Pliers
If the head of the screw is broken off and the shank is far down, you will first have to drill away part of the wood with a drill. What you need to do here is to remove enough of the wood with a small drill bit so that you can get to the shank of the screw with a pair of pliers.
Just keep in mind that if you want to preserve the rest of the wood, don’t use a drill bit that is too large, or else you’re going to destroy a lot of the surrounding area around the screw. Use a drill bit that is just large enough to create just enough of space in between the screw and the wood so you can get a pair of needle-nose pliers in there.
Unlike the previous method, this one can also be used when working with steel or other materials.
4. Using a Professional Screw Extractor
If all three of the broken screw removal methods have failed you up until this point, it might be time to use a professional screw extractor. These are special kits designed for this exact purpose.
With that being said, do keep in mind that for one they are most often designed for screws that have been stripped, not for screws that have completely broken off heads. However, there are some kinds specially designed for this purpose. Now do keep costs in mind because these are not cheap, so if it’s just a one-time thing, it might not be worth the investment.
5. Demolishing the Screw with a Drill
If all else fails and you don’t want to bother buying a professional screw extractor kit, your other option is to use a very hard drill bit to simply demolish the screw that has broken off inside of a piece of wood.
Use a strong drill bit, maybe even a carbide or diamond-tipped one, and simply destroy the screw. Keep drilling at it and shaving away the pieces until there is nothing left. Of course, this is not the ideal solution, but if all else fails, it’s going to be your last resort.
How to Remove a Headless Screw from Wood
OK, we’re going to assume that all methods have failed you up until this point. What we want to do now is to describe the best way to remove a broken screw that will work in virtually all scenarios and this is with the professional screw extractor kit. This is quite easy to do, as there are only a few steps, so let’s get to it.
Step 1: Drill the Screw
Your screw exactor kit will specify the size of the drill bit that you need to use to drill into your screw. Following these instructions, drill into the screw to the advertised depth as noted on the kit.
Step 2: Insert the Extractor
Now take the screw extractor that came with your kit, insert it into the drilled screw, and give it a good hit with a hammer.
Step 3: Unscrew It
All you have to do now is to get a good wrench, secure it around the screw extractor, and then unscrew it all in one fell swoop.
How to Remove a Headless Screw from Metal
Metal is a whole different story when compared to wood. If you have a screw that has a broken head inside of metal, removing it is going to be a bit of a challenge. However, with the right steps, it is possible. What makes it so difficult is that when you have a metal screw screwed into metal, rust can occur. When rust occurs, it’s literally going to bond the screw with the metal. Therefore, you need to find a way to deal with the rust.
The solution here is to use a specific chemical that will help dissolve or at least loosen the rust. Some of the products that you can use for this purpose include oven cleaners, Liquid Wrench, lemon juice, and various dark sodas such as Coke or Pepsi.
Allow this to soak for about ten minutes, and then use any of the broken screw removal methods that we have discussed so far. Of course, you cannot chip or drill the metal away to get to the screw, so if the shank of the screw is not above the metal, using a professional screw extractor is really your only option, besides using a drill bit to demolish the screw.
Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks
Lastly, when it comes to removing broken screws, there are a few tips and tricks that you should know about:
- If at all possible, if you’re using pliers to extract a screw, make sure to approach the screw from the side and not from the top; this will provide you with much better leverage
- Always unscrew broken screws, do not just try to pull them out like nails; if you try to just pull it out, you’re going to damage the material that the screw is inside of
- Keep in mind that if you need to chip or drill away at the wood to get to the screw, you might cause so much damage that the wood will be unusable
- Therefore, take this into account if you are going to cause way too much damage to the wood; you might be better off sawing off that piece of wood and replacing it
The bottom line here is that while a screw with a broken head may cause a good deal of frustration, it really is not a huge problem. In most cases, a simple pair of needle nose pliers should be enough. In the worst case, you just need to drill it out.