How to remove a stuck or stripped screw

Unscrewing a stuck or stripped screw is always a big problem, but with persistence it can often be solved.

Rusted and stripped screw
Rusted and stripped screw

First of all, you should always take a good look at the screw and the support in which it is screwed to get an idea of how difficult it might be to remove.

Using the right screwdriver

As you can see from the picture below, the types of screws are countless and differ both in shape (rounded, recessed, etc.) and in the type of tool required to tighten/unscrew them.

We should have a screwdriver suitable for the particular type of screw we need to tighten or loosen, with a tip that gives us a good grip and allows us to transmit the force we exert on the screw with our wrist.

The better the tip of the screwdriver fits the head of the screw, the less risk there is of damaging the screw.

Poor quality screwdrivers are the main cause of stripped screws.

different kind of screws

Even more attention should be paid when using electric screwdrivers which, although they are very useful and save us a lot of effort, can represent a risk due to the fact that we have no direct perception of the effort exerted on the screw and it is therefore easier to damage it if it is not unscrewed immediately.

The best screwdrivers are those with an ergonomic rubber handle, which allows a firm grip. Avoid screwdrivers with thin plastic handles.

different kinds of screwdrivers

Here we can see the substantial difference between three screwdrivers. The first screwdriver on the left (black and yellow) has a non-ergonomic plastic handle which makes it difficult to grip, especially when exerting force.

The black screwdriver in the centre still has a plastic handle, but we can see how the "fat" shape of the handle allows the palm of the hand to grip it easily.

Finally, the green screwdriver has an ergonomic handle and a rubber coating for an even better grip. The magnetic tip is a very useful feature, especially when you need to tighten a screw in hard-to-reach places.

To summarise: a bad spanner is often the main cause of a screw coming loose, so investing a few Euros in good quality tools is a wise choice that will save us a lot of trouble.

If we have the right spanners, all that's left to do is to practice.

Use a penetrating unlocker

unlockers for screws

It is perfectly useless to start tinkering with the screwdriver immediately if the screw is rusty/crusted/chipped, as we would only risk damaging it even more or breaking it inside the support, generally at the height where the thread begins, making any further attempts with the screwdriver useless.

Is the screw rusty? Start by removing the rust around the screw with a wire brush.

This will give us a better view of the situation and allow the tip of the screwdriver to get a better grip.

Once this is done, we spray it well with an unblocker such as Svitol or WD40, which should never be missing in the house, and wait a few moments so that it can penetrate as deeply as possible around the screw thread.

If the screw is embedded in wood, be careful with these products as they can damage the wood.

After the use of these lubricants, the cut of the screw must be cleaned and degreased, otherwise the tip of the screwdriver will have a poor grip and will tend to slip.

Screw Grab

screw grab

One of the most interesting products on the market for facilitating the release of a screw is called Screw Grab.

This product is able to increase the friction between the metal surface of the screw and the tip of the screwdriver up to 400 times, preventing the tool from slipping.

Before resorting to even more extreme methods, and after having tried various unblocking sprays, it is worth trying this product which will probably allow us to unblock the screw, if its condition is not too compromised.

Just one or two drops of this product on the head of the screw and the rotational force we can exert will magically "multiply".

As we can read directly on the manufacturer's website, Screw Grab is odourless, non-corrosive and non-toxic.

It is easy to remove from surfaces after use, acts instantly and has no expiry date.

Testimonials for the product include the US and UK air forces who have approved its use on their jets.

A vial of Screw Grab costs around 10 euros on Amazon. Considering that it has no expiry date, it seems like an interesting investment that can save a lot of time in useless attempts to unblock stripped, rusted or deformed screws.

For those who want to buy it online we suggest the direct link:

KS Tools ScrewGrab - Increases grip between tool and screw by more than 400%.
With regard to this product we also insert a video that illustrates, better than a thousand words, the potentialities.

The blowtorch

The blowtorch is a method of trying to unlock the screw by acting on the expansion of the metal.

This system must be evaluated according to the type of screw and the type of support in which it is inserted; sometimes it works and in other cases it is quite useless.

In order for it to work, it would be necessary to ensure that the screw and the support expand in different ways, i.e. the support expands in such a way as to unblock the blocked screw while the screw does not undergo the same expansion.

This is the same system that is used to release jammed glasses, only in this case a blowtorch is used to heat the metal instead of the glass.

If the screw and the support expand in equal measure, it is unlikely to be of any real benefit, although it does not hurt to try.

Removing the stripped screw

Now take the screwdriver and see if the screw can be unscrewed with a little effort.

If you cannot exert sufficient force with your hand and the screw is in good condition, try to help with pliers: with your left hand hold the screwdriver in position and press it against the screw head, and with your right hand turn the pliers as shown in the figure.

If the screw is stubbornly stuck, all that remains is 'shock therapy'. Take a hammer and a metal screwdriver or a small chisel, and after inserting the cut of the screwdriver or chisel into the head of the screw, give a firm blow with the hammer, taking care not to damage the cut of the screw. Now let's try the screwdriver; sometimes all it takes is a single blow to remove the encrustations that were holding the screw in place.

The screw still won't budge? Equipped with a punch and a hammer and after positioning the punch to the right of the cut in the head of the screw, give a few blows with the hammer in the direction of unscrewing, as you can see in the figure below.

manual hacks to unlock a screw

So far we have talked about a screw that offered a head still intact on which to act effectively with some tool.

If the screw is stripped, however, it is very difficult to get a grip with the screwdriver and even to act with a punch.

mini disc to restore screw cut

If the screw is stripped, the best thing to do is to try to restore the screw cut as best you can with a hacksaw, cutting the head of the screw where it had the original cut.

If the head of the screw is recessed with respect to the surface of the support, the hacksaw is useless.

tool for dremel

Then try an iron cutter mounted on a Dremel 4000JD (4000-4/65) Rotary Multitool to restore the groove on the screw head.

These mini-drills are pretty expensive, but they are very useful in a variety of situations, so it is worth investing a few Euros for them.

You can buy cutting discs for the Dremel here:

Dremel SC690 Cutting Set with SpeedClic System

If after all that has been said, the screw still stubbornly remains in place, then the situation is serious and there is no choice but to use a taper extractor.

Conical extractors

We have already presented, in the previous pages, a whole series of tools that can be useful in case of blocked screws, but if things are really bad, with completely stripped screws or broken bolts, then it is the case of conical extractors.

It is not easy to describe what a conical puller looks like and, more importantly, how to use it.

There are two types, right-handed and left-handed, which are used for left-handed and right-handed screws respectively.

conical extractors

In other words, if the screw is tightened clockwise, the extractor will be tightened anti-clockwise and vice versa.

The function of the extractor is to act as an "extension" of the damaged screw or bolt by engaging the screw and bolt, allowing them to be unscrewed.

Above we see a series of Beta extractors for right-handed damaged screws and studs. Below the link to the product:

SCREW EXTRACTORS SET 6 PCS. BETA 1430/S6

From the site of Beta tools we get this image that shows graphically the operation of a conical extractor.

how to use conical extractors

  1. The first step is to cut through the centre of the head of the damaged screw or bolt using a steel awl and a hammer, this will allow the drill bit to be directed correctly, it is very important that the drill hole is made as perpendicular as possible to the head of the screw.
  2. The second step is to drill as much as necessary into the damaged screw with a drill bit whose diameter should not exceed 50-60% of the diameter of the screw itself.
  3. The third step is to screw the extractor into the hole until it locks into the hole and the rotation of the extractor unscrews the screw.

The rotation of an extractor is best ensured by means of a tap wrench, but it can also be done with a pair of parrot pliers or a spanner.

Here is a video summarising the use of a manual conical puller.

In the latter case, the tool is a drill bit with a perforating end and a conical-extracting end. Once the hole has been drilled, the bit is unscrewed and reassembled, upside down, by attaching it to the chuck, and then the screw is removed.

Special extractors

drill out by Alden

Finally, there are special conical extractors for drills which incorporate both a drill bit and an extractor in the same tool.

Although they are more expensive, they are relatively more practical, since they are installed on the drill like a normal bit, and once the hole has been drilled (by setting the direction of rotation anti-clockwise), all that remains is to screw the actual extractor part onto the bit so that it engages with the screw or bolt to be removed, unscrewing it in a practical and painless way.

Compared to the conical drill bits described above, these don't even need to be removed, turned upside down, and refitted to the chuck. Of course, these tools do require a minimum of skill in the use of the drill and a correct choice of drill bits to avoid damaging the threads of the holder.

In any case, it is difficult to describe in words how such a tool works, and even if you can, it is difficult to know how to use it correctly if you have never seen it before; for these reasons we have selected a video that explains how to use these tools.

The pictures of the special extractors that appear in this article have been taken from the Alden website, which produces this particular component.

If you are interested in buying this product you can find it on Amazon at the links below. The 4-piece set for the small screws is this one:

Alden 4507P microGrabit for damaged screws and bolts

While this is the 4-piece set for larger screws:

Alden 1007P 10 Piece Master Extractor Kit

DIY Editor
Do-it-yourself enthusiast. I started with the renovation of my flat and then I changhed this passion into my job.