Previously, I wrote about 4 tips that can help you avoid stripping screws. However, chances are that even if you follow all of them, you will still damage a screw every now and then.
When that happens, you will have to remove the stripped screw and replace it with a new one. Depending on the material you are using and how far you were able to tighten the screw before stripping it, that might be easier said than done.
Below, I will introduce you to five techniques that will help you with the damaged screw extraction. And, I will also give you some material-specific tips on how to remove such screws from wood, metal, and plastic.
5 Techniques to Remove a Stripped Screw
If your screw gets damaged while its head is still sticking out a fair amount, then you can fairly easily remove it with regular pliers or locking pliers (Vise-Grip).
If the head is flush with or even lower than the wood’s surface level, though, you will have a harder time removing the screw. With some effort, you should still be able to do so using one of the techniques mentioned below.
1. Using Screw Extraction Pliers
While all the other techniques on this list work regardless of whether the screw is completely in the wood or not, this one only works if the screw head is still on the surface of the wood.
As mentioned above, using pliers is the easiest way to remove stripped screws if they are not screwed in completely. If the screw head is almost flush with the surface of the wood or other material you are screwing it into, though, then it’s difficult to get a grip on it using regular or locking pliers.
That’s where screw extraction pliers like the Vampliers come in handy. They have “sharper” jaws than normal pliers that are designed to get the maximum amount of grip even with the tiniest gripping space (like a small part of the screw head that is sticking out).
2. The Rubber Band Method
Using a rubber band is a traditional method of removing screws that existed long before screw extraction pliers and screw extractors – which I will talk about further down – were invented.
The idea is simple. You place a rubber band over the screw’s head and use a screwdriver on top of that. The rubber band is meant to create friction and, essentially, be the replacement of the damaged screw drive.
While this idea works great in theory, in practice, you might go through a few rubber bands before you are finally able to remove the stripped screw. As such, make sure to have enough rubber bands and patience if you decide to try this method.
3. Cutting a Slot in the Screw
Another classic way of removing a stripped screw is by cutting a slot into the screw’s head to create a new screw drive. Once you cut the notch, you can remove the screw easily with a slotted screwdriver.
As for the tool you should use to cut the slot, it will depend both on the size of the screw as well as how far into the material you managed to screw it in before stripping it.
If the screw head is still sticking out of the material, you will be able to use a handsaw.
On the other hand, if the head is already flush with (or even under) the surface of the material then you will have to use something with a cutting disc. For most screws, a small rotary tool (Dremel) will work well. For larger screws, you might be able to use an angle grinder as well.
4. Using a Damaged Screw Extractor
If you tend to encounter the problem of the stripped screw fairly often – or if you are in a situation where you tried all of the above, but none works – you should consider getting a dedicated set of damaged screw extractors.
These tools – like the Alden Pro Grabit – are attachments to your impact driver that have a drill bit on one side and an extractor on the other (with some products they come as two separate bits).
As you might suspect by this point, they are designed to remove a damaged screw in a two-step process. First, you use the drill bit to create a hole in the screw head that will become the new drive. Then, you flip the bit and use the extractor to loosen the screw.
Keep in mind that during both of these steps – even during the drilling, as counterintuitive as that may sound – your drill should be spinning in the counter-clockwise direction. The products were designed that way to prevent any further tightening of the damaged screw.
5. Keeping the Screw in the Material
Finally, the last “technique” I am going to mention here is simply keeping the damaged screw in the material.
While in many cases – like when working on your car, electronics, or similar – you will need to remove the screw, in other cases – like when working on a DIY woodworking project – you can afford to keep it in. In fact, oftentimes that is the easiest, quickest, and “good enough” solution.
If you decide not to extract the damaged screw, you can either cut the screw flush with the surface of the material you are screwing it into, bend the screw so that it becomes almost flush with the surface, or try to hammer the screw in.
The first option – cutting the screw off – is the best solution, but if you are working with wood, you will be able to get away with the latter two in many cases as well.
Removing Stripped Screws from Specific Materials
The above should give you a good idea about what techniques you can use to remove stripped screws in general. Most of those will work regardless of the material you are screwing into.
That said, there are some things to keep in mind when working with specific materials, so let’s take a quick look at that.
How to Remove a Stripped Screw from Wood
When trying to get a stripped screw out of a piece of wood, you can use pretty much any of the techniques below. However, you are also the most likely to be in a situation where the damaged screw head is flush with or even under the surface of the wood.
As such, if you do a lot of woodworking, you might want to have a stripped screw extractor in your toolkit.
You should also keep in mind that if you simply reuse the hole with a new screw, the joint might not be as solid as it should be. Instead, you should either fix the hole first or put the new screw in a different spot.
In fact, if you are able to put the new screw in a different spot, then you might want to consider using technique no. 5 from the list above, and just leaving the damaged screw in the wood.
How to Remove a Stripped Screw from Metal
In general, you can use any of the five methods to remove a stripped screw from a piece of metal. That said, chances are that if you will find yourself with a damaged screw inside metal, you will be working with your car, an electronic device, or similar.
With that in mind, you will want to be careful not to damage whatever it is that you are working on. And, you might also want to avoid the more “aggressive” methods like cutting a notch into the screw (especially with a power tool) or leaving the screw in the material and simply cutting it off.
How to Remove a Stripped Screw from Plastic
Finally, if you are working with a plastic item, keep in mind that the material can be fairly soft and that you might not be able to reuse the hole after you remove the screw.
Because of that, when removing a stripped screw from plastic, be gentle. Avoid using an angle grinder, hammering the screw, and so on as well.
And, be prepared to have to put the screw in a different place.
It can be frustrating to be in “the flow” of working on a project just to get slowed down by a stripped screw.
Luckily, though, there are numerous techniques that can help you remove a stripped screw fairly easily. Some of those take longer but require no specialized tools while others might be quicker but require specialized tools.
If you work with screws fairly often and damage a screw head regularly (whether it’s once a week or once a month), I recommend you to get a pair of screw extraction pliers and a damaged screw extractor. Having those two tools handy will save you a lot of time and frustration.
On the other hand, if you only damage a screw head rarely, you might get away with the rubber band method or with a pair of regular pliers which you already likely have. Even then, though, I would still recommend getting the two tools above if possible.