Difficult Screw Removal

While performing home, do it yourself projects, or simple maintenance projects around the home, the removal of that difficult screw becomes a major obstacle in the flow of your project.

I just finished struggling with some screws, that had been used to secure a heavy curtain rod ,directly into the wood header over my sliding door.  These screws were heavy, stainless steel screws that had been professionally installed directly into the header over the door. My initial attempts at simply reversing my electric screw gun, was met by total and complete non-rotation of the screw.  In fact, I quickly stopped this attempt, due to the fact that I realized my continued attempt to remove this screw, was only succeeding in spinning the screw head and creating a smooth hole in the head of the screw, where the philips head female receptor had been originally cut into the screw head.  This was not a good thing, and I knew that any future attempt to remove this screw would be compromised by my total stupidity.

At that time, I realized that a brief article regarding various techniques that can be used to remove difficult, tightly installed screws, would be useful, I probably should have written the article prior to the attempt to remove these screws!!

Listed below are some simple tips.

  1. Make sure the screwdriver you are using is the correct size.  The head of the screwdriver must fit snugly into the head of the screw.  Do not use too small, or too large a screwdriver, this will only strip the head of the screw and make it impossible to grab with the screwdriver.
  2. Do not simply place your electric screwdriver into the head of the screw and press the trigger.  If the screw is firmly embedded, the head of the driver will simply spin and strip the head of the screw, again, making it impossible to back the screw out.
  3. I recommend the use of the largest screwdriver you have, that properly fits into the head of the screw.  I do NOT recommend the use of a power screwdriver, unless you are extremely gentle and know what you are doing.  It is much more difficult to strip the head of the screw, with a hand held screwdriver, than the power driver.
  4. If the screw is embedded into metal, or another hard composite, the use of special oils to loosen the bond of the screw to the threads of the receiving material may work.  This will not help at all, if the screw is embedded into wood or plastic.
  5. When initially attempting to remove the screw, make sure the screwdriver is properly placed into the head of the screw.  Push firmly on the handle of the screwdriver to ensure that the head of the driver is firmly pushed into the screw, and remains that way as you twist the screwdriver.  If the screwdriver starts to slip, or turn, without turning the screw, STOP.  This is important.  Try to determine, if you are not pushing hard enough, or the screwdriver is simply not the correct size.  Do NOT continue your attempt to spin the driver in the screw head. This will only strip the screw head.
  6. If you are not able to remove the screw with a common screwdriver, and it becomes  apparent that even though the head is properly fitting, and the screwdriver is properly seated in the head of the screw, you are either not strong enough, or the screw is too firmly embedded, or even rusted into the material it is screwed into.
  7. At this point, use a needle nose pliers to attempt to grab onto the head of the screw and turn the screw with the pliers.  Sometimes the use of a heavier channel lock pliers, or even a heavy electricians pliers, will provide enough leverage and twisting torque to loosen the screw, all allow removal.  Sometime, this occurs, normally if a good screwdriver will not remove the screw, the use of pliers, channel locks will not succeed.
  8. Another alternative method is to attempt to back out the screw with a vice grip.  A vice grip is a device that appears similar to a pliers, but is capable of clamping down on the item being grabbed ,and locking in place. If the jaws of the vice grip are strong enough and you are strong enough to close the pliers and lock them, this method will work.  A sharp blow with a hammer on the vise grip handle will sometime be enough to start the rotation of the screw and its eventual removal.
  9. Failure at this point with all of the suggestions noted, means that the screw will probably need to be drilled out.  What this refers to, is the use of a metal drill bit, in a power driver that will spin the drill into the head of the screw.  The first attempt should be in reverse. In some instances the reverse spinning of the drill, in the screw head, will result in the backing out of the screw.  It all depends on the ability of the drill to grab the interior of the screw head with enough force, that the screw will actually back out. If this does not occur, then it will be necessary to place the drill in a cutting rotation, and drill the screw out of the material it is embedded in.  Although for the homeowner this appears to be over and above the skill level of the average homeowner, it is not. All you are doing is drilling the screw out of the embedment.
  10. There are other methods of trying to remove a stubborn screw, such as cutting a slot in the head of the screw, for a regular slotted screwdriver to fit into, and attempting to back out the screw with this slot and driver.  The slot is normally cut into the head of the screw with a hacksaw with an iron cutting blade. This method, although extremely tedious, will work, but takes patience and ability
  11. Another method of removal of a stubborn screw, is to grab it with a heavy pliers and continually bend the screw, back and forth, until the breaking point is reached of the metal within the screw.  The screwhead will eventually snap off, and you will have the shaft of the screw still embedded within the material, but the screwhead will be off. The further embedment of the screw shaft with several hammer blows, will push the remaining portion of the screw, deep enough into the material that patching with sheetrock compound will cover over the fastener.

Patience is the key to this entire procedure.  Once you become frustrated or upset regarding the stubborn reluctance of the screw to be removed, the screw has won, and you have lost.  I have been in several situations, where the removal of a stubborn fastener is the most time consuming element of the entire operation.

Sometimes, the material that the screw is embedded in, is incredibly strong and durable,. The screw has become rusted or corroded into the embedment material, or it simply is not ready to be removed.  Patience and focus is necessary to properly gain dominance of this screw and remove it!

I have to laugh when I write this article because, I have been there.  Remember it is only a screw, that does not want to be removed, nothing else.  

Enjoy, think and take it as a challenge, you can do it, remove that screw!!