12 Ways How To Remove a Stripped Screw
What Is a Stripped Screw?
A stripped screw drive is a common issue in fastener installation, and knowing how to remove a screw with a stripped head is a vital skill for any engineer. Stripping occurs when the screw drive becomes so damaged that a driver no longer engages correctly with the screw, causing a screwdriver or drill to slip and rotate within the drive, rather than drive the screw.
Stripping commonly occurs due to improper installation or poor-quality tooling, but may also occur as an unavoidable result of heavy use if a screw is regularly reused. Stripping can also be slightly more common in aluminium screws, which although amazingly lightweight, due to their lower density are more vulnerable to stripping. Tightening screws to the correct torque though can avoid stripping altogether.
In this article, we'll show 12 different ways how to remove a stripped screw including the tools for removing screws that you'll need. These methods cover how to remove a stripped screw without drilling, how to remove broken screws, and how to remove a screw with no head from metal, wood, plastic and other common material types.
Solutions are broken up into the following categories:
- How to remove a stripped screw that has some drive left
- How to remove a rounded screw with no drive left
- How to remove screws with no head
- How to remove a recessed stripped screw
- If all else fails…
- Useful tips to avoid stripping and rounding your screws
How To Remove a Screw With a Stripped Head
Increasing the Friction between the screw and the driver is one of the simplest ways to remove a stripped screw. This works by providing extra grip between the drive of the screw and the screwdriver tip or drive bit.
We'd recommend attempting these methods for heads that are only slightly damaged and still have a noticeable cross or hex shape. For removing rounded screws where the drive is completely destroyed, head to the next section.
So then, let's jump in and begin to answer the question, how do you unscrew a stripped screw?
1. Removing a Screw by Increasing the Size of the Driver
Our first tip would be to try and use a larger screwdriver or drill bit to increase the surface contact and friction between the bit and the head of the screw. So if you're using a PZ1-sized screwdriver, attempt to use a PZ2 to see if that helps.
However, you may find this method only works on slightly damaged screws and you risk potentially causing more damage to the screw head. Be gentle and try not to apply too much torque if this doesn't seem to be working.
2. How To Remove a Stripped Screw With a Rubber Band
While it may sound odd, using a rubber band to remove a stripped screw is an old trade trick passed along from engineer to apprentice. Here's what to try:
- 1. Place a wide rubber band on top of the stripped screw head - ideally industrial quality
- 2. Engage the tip of your screwdriver with the head of the screw, sandwiching the rubber band between the two. You may find it easier to use a slightly larger driver.
- 3. With low speed and high torque, loosen the screw by turning it anti-clockwise. The increased friction between the drive, rubber band and the stripped screw should help to loosen it.
3. How To Remove a Stripped Screw With Duct Tape
Similar to using a rubber band, duct tape can also be used to increase friction between the screw and the driver.
- 1. Place a small piece of duct tape with the sticky side down onto the screw head.
- 2. Secure the screwdriver tip to the screw head and apply gentle pressure to lodge the duct tape between the two.
- 3. In an anti-clockwise motion, attempt to unscrew the screw, using low speed and high torque.
4. How To Remove a Stripped Screw With Super Glue
Our last suggestion in this section can also work for removing a rounded screw. Applying super glue to the head of a screw and letting it set with the tip of a screwdriver inserted may introduce enough of a bond to help finally remove it. Follow these steps:
- 1. Add a small amount of low to medium-strength superglue to the head of the screw.
- 2. Gently insert the screwdriver or driver bit and allow it to set.
- 3. Pro tip: Try to avoid using your best tools for this although if you need them, Accu does stock Wera screwdrivers which can act as a perfect replacement.
- 4. Once set, attempt to unscrew slowly trying your best to not break the bond created by the super glue.
How To Remove a Rounded Screw
Unfortunately, sometimes the above methods will still not have enough bite on a stripped screw head. After a certain point, the cross or hex shape of the head becomes entirely rounded, making it almost impossible to use a normal driver; thus we then need to go about removing a rounded screw.
Since the head on the screw at this point is unusable, we can now be a little more aggressive with our approach. Thankfully, these next suggestions are also ideal for learning how to remove a recessed stripped screw.
So then, how do you remove a screw when the head is damaged? Our next three steps might just be the solutions you need.
5. Removing a Rounded Screw With a Left-Handed Drill Bit
One of the most effective tools for removing a rounded screw is a left-handed drill bit. When employed at low speeds, it can grip the stripped head of the screw, allowing for removal. Here's a step-by-step:
- 1. Locate a left-handed drill bit, slightly larger than the rounded hole but smaller than the entire head. You can test this by using the circular end of the bit; if it covers up the drive hole but is smaller than the head then this should work.
- 2. Place it into the chuck of your drill and using a low speed and high torque setting, very slowly and gently drill into the top of the screw, applying steady pressure.
- 3. As the drill bit penetrates the screw head, it may catch or bite onto the screw, causing it to loosen and unscrew.
- 4. You've only got one attempt at this so it may be worth it to try our other methods prior to this one.
6. Cutting a Slot With a Rotary Tool To Remove a Rounded Screw
A tried and tested method of removing a rounded screw is to cut a slot into the head with a rotary tool allowing for removal with a slotted screwdriver. Care must be taken with this method however as it can cause damage to your workpiece if the screw head is recessed or countersunk.
That said, attempting this method first still allows you to try the other two methods mentioned in this section.
Caution: Always use appropriate PPE when using any high-speed cutting tools.
Tools you’ll need:
- Eye protection
- A rotary tool such as a Dremel
- Cutting disk
- Slotted screwdriver
Here's what to do:
- 1. Attach a cutting disc about the thickness of a typical flathead screwdriver to your rotary tool.
- 2. Cut along the top of the rounded screw, perpendicular to the material surface, a few millimetres deep.
- 3. Using a flathead screwdriver, insert the tip into the slot you've created and attempt to gently twist the head counter-clockwise to remove the screw.
7. Attach a Nut to the Top of the Rounded Screw
While this method may sound unconventional, it is pretty simple yet ingenious. In essence, using epoxy or a very strong bonding agent, attach a hexagonal nut to the screw head making a makeshift hexagon bolt. You can then use a hexagonal socket to attempt to loosen the screw.
Here are the tools that you will need:
- Masking tape
- Epoxy or strong adhesive
- Hexagon nut (smaller than the head of the screw)
- Socket wrench or spanner
Here's how to approach this method:
- 1. Important: lightly mask off around the screw head in order to not damage the surrounding material and prevent the epoxy from forming a bond with it.
- 2. Using a strong epoxy adhesive, attach an oversized flat hexagon nut to the top of the screw head trying to make sure it is level and central to the shaft of the screw. We'd recommend trying to leave 1mm between the nut and screw head to make sure the epoxy isn't too thin.
- 3. Allow this to set fully, overnight if possible.
- 4. Using a hexagonal socket, attempt to gently unscrew your makeshift bolt counterclockwise.
How To Remove Protruding Screws With No Head
Removing screws without their heads seemingly makes the dilemma more complex, as it leaves you with very little material to grab onto to remove the screw. Using pliers or a claw hammer provides simple, quick solutions to rid your project of a stubborn protruding screw with no head.
8. Using Pliers To Remove Stripped Screws With No Head
We believe this is one of the simplest ways of removing screws without a head, and requires very little hardware, using only a single pair of pliers. This is what you can do:
- 1. Attach pliers to the side of the protruding shaft of the screw, clamped in a firm grip, biting into the threads for leverage.
- 2. Pro tip: Using locking pliers will help to generate maximum grip initially so you can then focus on the next step.
- 3. Twist the pliers and the screw anticlockwise to release the screw out of the material.
9. Using a Claw Hammer To Release the Screw
Claw Hammers can be used in a similar way to using pliers to remove the broken-off shaft of a screw. Moreover, they can also be used to remove soft material around the screw to loosen it further, by essentially digging around the site of the screw. However, this does mean that this method may damage your workpiece. Here is how you can try it:
- 1. Position the claws beneath the threads about 10mm away from the top of the screw (you could also use the head if it still has one). Align the shaft of the screw within the gap between the two claws, applying sufficient pressure to bite onto the threads.
- 2. Twist anticlockwise, pulling upwards for additional bite to remove the screw.
- 3. Alternative: You could also attempt removing the screw by using the head of the hammer as a fulcrum and pulling directly upward, as you would for a broken nail. Please take into consideration that this may result in unwanted damage to your workpiece.
How To Remove a Recessed Stripped Screw With No Head
Removing recessed screws seemingly presents an additional layer of difficulty due to the entire shaft being completely concealed within the material. The following methods are highly effective when removing unwanted recessed screws.
10. How To Remove a Recessed Stripped Screw Using a Screw Removal Tool
Using a screw removal tool is an effective method which works miracles when removing larger recessed screws with no head and sufficient cross-section to drill a pilot hole down through the shaft; this can also be used on smaller screws with their heads still present. While this may look more complex at face value, here’s an easy-to-follow step-by-step:
For this method you will need:
- A Screw Removal Tool
- T-Wrench Handle Tool or a screwdriver bit holder
- A small amount of oil
- Metal Drill Bit (slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw removal tool)
- Drill (Electric ideally)
Step by step you should:
- 1. Attach the screw removal tool to a T-wrench handle tool or a screwdriver. This is what you use later on to twist the screw out.
- 2. Add a small amount of oil to the top of the screw - this prevents the drill bit in the next step from becoming damaged.
- 3. Drill a hole down the shaft of the screw using a standard metal drill bit, around 5mm deep - enough that the threads of the removal tool can form a strong grip with the sides of the screw.
- 4. Tap the stripped screw removal tool into the pilot hole with a hammer, ensuring that the tool fits snugly in the pilot hole.
- 5. Twist anti-clockwise to remove the screw, taking care not to cam out as this could cause damage to the pilot hole, necessitating that another pilot hole must be driven.
If All Else Fails…
Some damaged screws may still not want to dislodge, nevertheless, there are alternative ways available to remove them, albeit more destructive. We caution against using these methods lightly as they are likely to damage your workpiece and leave an unwanted untidy appearance.
11. Drilling out the Shaft of the Screw
Drilling out screws is a relatively fast and effective method of how to remove a screw with no head, using very basic tools and know-how. Please note that this method can be somewhat damaging to your workpiece as it will affect the size of the hole created, potentially leaving an untidy aesthetic on your project. Here are the tools you need:
Tools you'll need:
- Electric drill or Pillar Drill
- Small Metal Drill Bit (for drilling a pilot hole)
- Larger Metal Drill Bit (slightly larger than the size of the threaded hole)
- A small amount of oil
- 1. Add a small amount of oil to the surface of the screw.
- 2. Drill a pilot hole using the smaller drill bit, applying steady pressure, drill perpendicularly down through the shaft. Take care to avoid slippage here as this could cause unwanted damage to the workpiece.
- 3. Use the larger metal drill bit, one size larger than the diameter of the screw in a high-torque drill to drill through the screw, precisely following the path of the pilot hole.
- 4. This should leave a clean new hole, ready to be re-tapped with a slightly larger thread.
12. Use Professional Spark Erosion
By far the most drastic and expensive method on this list, spark erosion, or EDM (electrical discharge machining), can be used to essentially burn the screw out of its hole with an intense electrical field. This works best with metal as the high temperatures leave blackened marks on wood and melt the plastic.
It is also key to note that a trained professional should only perform spark erosion in a safe environment. It is critical to wear the correct PPE as hazardous fumes and sparks are given off by the process. We believe this should only be used by engineering companies on projects in the later stages of development as this can be quite time-consuming and expensive. Spark erosion is particularly useful with extremely hard metals which cannot be damaged by more traditional tooling. For more information about this process, please contact your local workshop, who will help point you in the right direction to find EDM services nearby.
Considering Materials When Removing a Rounded Screw
It is always best to consider the material you are using as some methods of removal work better with different material types. In most applications, we suggest following these guidelines to choose the best removal method for your project.
How To Remove a Screw With No Head From Metal and Plastics
When dealing with metals and plastics, we would favour the following methods, not only for their ease of use but for their effectiveness, as well as their higher chance of a clean removal:
- Increasing Friction Methods
- Attaching a nut to the screw
- Screw Removal Tool
- Drilling out the shaft of the screw
- EDM (metals only)
How To Remove a Screw With No Head From Wood
Screws in wood can also be removed using the following methods, though please be aware that some methods have a higher chance of causing damage to the wood due to the density of the screw and material.
- Increasing Friction Methods
- Attach a Nut to the Top of the Rounded Screw
- Using a Left Hand Drill Bit
- Using a Screw Removal Tool
- Using pliers or a claw hammer
- Attaching a nut to the screw
- Cutting a Slot With a Rotary Tool To Remove a Rounded Screw
Tips! How You Can Prevent Rounding and Stripping Screws.
Here are a few ways that we recommend to avoid stripping screws in the first place:
- 1. Ensure that the driver bit or screwdriver you use is the correct size for the head of the screw. Using a driver that is too small is very likely to cause stripping.
- 2. Use a manual screwdriver rather than power tools to increase the efficient transfer of torque and ensure that the driver bit does not slip inside the screw head.
- 3. Use high-density materials in screws and drivers, such as high tensile steel over their stainless steel and aluminium counterparts, as lower-density materials are much more prone to stripping.
- 4. Use a torque-limiting screwdriver, which will prevent stripping by only allowing a set amount of torque to be exerted during installation.
- 5. Change the driver type, such as using a socket or a Torx drive, which are specifically designed to maximise torque, while also being highly resistant to stripping and cam out. For more information, we have an article that explains in great detail what cam-out means.
- 6. Consider the application of the screw - if they are to be frequently used, avoid using thread-locking solutions as the chance of stripping and slipping is considerably higher.
We hope that this article has helped you to remove a stripped or rounded screw. While damaged screws may be nuisances, these easy-to-remember solutions will keep your project on track. If you still require help or want to get in contact with an engineer for more queries about our products, please speak to our team.