Eugene has a keen interest in DIY and gardening. Over a 40 year period he has also become self taught in garden power tool maintenance.
Stuck Screws and How to Remove Them
You need to remove a door to replace it or lay flooring. You try to undo the screws from the hinges, but nope, they won't budge!
Over time, the slots in screw heads get filled with old paint as multiple coats build up. Screws can also rust up in damp environments. The result? It becomes almost impossible to remove screws. Read on to find out how you can sort out the problem.
- Light hammer
- Drill bits
- Countersink bit
- Centre punch
- Dremel rotary tool
- Vice grips (locking pliers)
- Impact screwdriver
Step 1: Clear the Paint From the Top of the Screw
Use the tip of a flat blade screwdriver to clear all the paint off the top of the screw heads, exposing the slots. Tip: If you're right handed, hold the handle of the screwdriver with your right hand hand and the blade with your left hand. Your left hand acts as a restraint, so the screwdriver is less likely to slip and damage paintwork.
Step 2: Clean the Slots in the Screw Heads
It's often older type wood screws that get seized in timber. Generally these have a slotted head, unlike a Phillips or posidriv head screw.
- You can use a hammer and flat blade screwdriver as a chisel to clear paint.
- The blade should ideally be as wide as the slot to clear all the paint. This allows you to use a proper sized screwdriver blade to attempt screw removal.
- Hammer the screwdriver at a 45 degree angle to push paint sideways out of the slots.
Step 3: Try Tightening the Screws First
The blade width should be approximately the same diameter as the head of the screw and the blade thickness should be roughly the same width as the slot. If you use a blade that doesn't fit, it's easy to damage the tip of the blade or round the edge of the slot, making removal even more difficult.
Try tightening the screws first. Sometimes this helps to break a screw's grip on the timber.
Step 4: Put Lots of Pressure on the Screwdriver While Unscrewing
The slot in a screw head is rectangular. If you don't use enough pressure behind the screwdriver, pushing into the head, the tip of the blade will likely rise out of the slot and slip, rounding off the edge. This is more likely if the slots were damaged when the screws were removed a couple of times before.
If you're removing the screws from a door hinge, it's a little easier to produce a lot of force on the screwdriver by getting your back against the opposite door jamb. Get down on your hunkers and use your two hands to push as tight as you can on the screwdriver while turning it.
Step 5: If the Screws Still Won't Undo, Try Hammering the Edges
Often the reason screws are difficult to remove is because they've rusted up, roughening the threads and increasing their hold on the timber. If you still have difficulty removing them, sometimes it helps to hit the edge of the slot, near the perimeter, with a screwdriver or punch and hammer. The impact can release their grip on the timber.
Other Things You Can Try to Remove Screws
Cut a New Slot in the Head
If the screw has a round head, you can deepen the slot or square it up with a hacksaw blade or Dremel tool with a cutting disk. If it's a Phillips screw and the head is damaged, try cutting a new slot by extending one of the existing arms of the crosses out to the edge of the screw. A handle is also available for holding a hacksaw blade so that it can be used in confined locations and flush to a surface.
Use a Dremel Tool
You can use a Dremel rotary tool and cutting disk to cut slots in screws or square the sides of an existing slot. This tool is also useful for grinding, sanding, carving, cutting, slotting, routering, hollowing, engraving, polishing, sharpening and deburring (removing ragged edges from material) lots of materials such as metal, plastic, wood, ceramic and glass. It's suitable for craftwork, DIY, and repair and can be used where a larger power tool such as an angle grinder or power saw would be unsuitable due to its sheer size.
This is a mid level 120 volt corded Dremel (model 3000) with a power rating of 120 watts (1.2 amp motor). It comes in a case with 28 accessories including sanding disks, wire brushes, grinding burrs and cutting wheels. Additional cutting disks are available from Dremel and other sellers on Amazon.
Use Vice Grips to Grip the Screw Head
As an alternative to using a screwdriver, you can use a vice grips (locking pliers) to undo screws. The advantage of this tool is that it gives a lot of leverage (also called torque or turning force), which is much greater than a screwdriver can achieve. To use a vice grips, you first need to undo the screw so that it's a little proud of the timber surface. Use a steel file to make parallel flats on opposite edges of the screw head. This makes it less likely for the grips to turn on the head.
Use an Impact Screwdriver
This Ares 70606 Impact Screwdriver from Amazon solves the problem of a screwdriver blade slipping out of a slot when trying to undo a tight screw. An impact screwdriver is fitted with replaceable bits. As you hit the back of the screwdriver with a hammer, the impact pushes the bit hard into the slot with sufficient force that it doesn't climb out over worn lot edges. The bit is also simultaneously twisted. The twisting force is much greater than what you could produce by hand.
If You Can't Remove the Screws, It's Time to Remove the Head
Sometimes it's just plain impossible to remove a screw, so what are the alternatives?
- Drill out the head. Use a bit about 1/2 the diameter of the head. If you have a centre punch or even a hard nail, try to make a dent first, which helps to centre the bit. Drill down through the head and eventually you'll reach the shaft of the screw, detaching the head.
- Use a countersink bit. Sometimes it's difficult to keep a drill bit centred on a head, especially if it's damaged. You can use a countersink bit as a sort of milling tool to grind away the head. Apply pressure and you may be able to get the point of the bit to penetrate the head, helping to stop it sliding.
How to Remove Phillips Screws
- Don't try using a worn screwdriver. The four edges on the screwdriver tip should be square. Over time, these edges become rounded, so when twisted, the tip will just slip in a screw head.
- Newer chipboard type screws may be made from very hard steel, so it can be difficult to cut a slot in the head with a hacksaw. This is where a Dremel tool with a small abrasive cutting disk comes in useful for making new slots.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Eugene Brennan
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