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Extracting stubborn or stripped screws

Filed Under: fix-it, Tools

Every now and then a sticky little problem presents itself to DIY'ers: stubborn screws that won't come out. Argh! You've tried being gentle. You've tried force. You swore. A lot. But that little sucker is still in there. Well, here are some handy extraction tips to guide you.

First step: diagnosis. Is the screw stuck for some reason? Corrosion is one possibility. (Or perhaps it has been glued into its hole.) Try loosening it with a substance like hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, or a commercially-produced penetrating oil.

Wood screws can also get impossibly stuck if they were overtightened by the installer. (This is a pet peeve of mine, by the way.) The trick here is to use force, turning anticlockwise with a screwdriver whilst pressing as hard as you can against the screw. In this way, you may be able to loosen it without committing the cardinal sin of stripping the screw.

Even more irritating is the stripped screw, in which the slots on the screw head have been damaged. You'll know that's the case if your screwdriver spins around and won't take hold of the screw. The site WikiHow has some good suggestions, including the use of a little gadget called the screw extractor. I have never tried this, but it sounds great. On doing a little investigating, I was interested to find that it's inexpensive too -- in the $5 range. If you don't have one, however, you may have to try drilling out the screw.

Last resort is the vise-grip, which you can clamp onto the screw head and, hopefully, get some traction. But beware: it's very easy to accidentally snap the head off the screw doing this, in which case you're really screwed -- er, I mean, in trouble!


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