Shop Talk

The "How To" of June 2010

  • How to Remove a Stuck Screw


    One of the most insurmountable stresses in the tool business comes in the form of a stuck screw. Caused by an accumulation of rust and corrosion that sticks and binds to the screw’s body, these stuck screws can fast become the ruin a perfectly great project or work day. Despite the general smallness of a screw though, releasing a stuck one from the grips of corrosion can be a time consuming and totally infuriating process. So here, my friends, are five professionally sworn-by extraction methods to help you remove stuck screws from the corrosion that binds them.


    Chemical removal methods are the first, most gentle techniques to try. To dissolve the corrosion on your screws you can apply a number of easily accessible products: lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, and even Coke or Pepsi can loosen a stuck screw (keep in mind here to not use a solution that could stain or damage the material housing your frozen screw). Any anti-corrosive solution works better when left to soak into the screw-hole, because of this, even if the chemical doesn’t release the screw, it softens it up for the next removal step(s). If you tap the screw while applying these substances, it may help the chemical to penetrate further into the screw-hole releasing more of the screw. Once you’ve let your solution set into the screw, attempt to loosen it once more.

    FORCE or IMPACT:  

    Before beginning this process be certain you have the correct sized screwdriver. A wrong sized screwdriver can strip the head off your frozen screw and amplify the already supreme annoyance of stuck-screw extraction. If you can move the screw at all try to tighten it – this may seem counter-intuitive, but in doing so you may break the screw free. If you can’t move the screw but its head is slightly elevated, you may be able to grip, and turn the screw with vice grips or pliers. If, however, the screw’s head is not elevated, you may try inserting the screwdriver into the the screw’s head slots. Lock your pliers or vice grips to the top of the screwdriver shaft, and while keeping direct pressure on the screwdriver, and using the vice grips as leverage, try turning the screw. This additional leverage/force may break it free. While the screwdriver is inserted into the screw’s head, you may also try hitting the top of screwdriver with a hammer. Remember to do this lightly so as to not destroy the tip of your screwdriver. If you can, also try hitting the screwdriver while turning it – this combination of impact and rotation should break the screw free from adhesion.


    Before using temperature extraction methods, be certain the material housing the screw can withstand temperature changes. That said, you can use a propane or butane torch to heat and consequently expand the screw. You can also use a soldering iron or even a hot glue gun (without glue) to heat up a frozen screw. The expansion should break the corrosion and allow you joggle and reverse the screw free. If the material around the screw can not tolerate heat, cold temperatures, although less effective, may also work. Keep ice on the screw’s head – if accessible, dry ice is most effective. When the screw is sufficiently cold try turning again and repeat process. Note: If you choose to heat up your screw – don’t apply lubricating oils (as they are flammable) to the screw until it has entirely cooled. You may need to repeat heat and cold cycles several times to break the screw loose. Always be cautious while using temperature extraction methods, both can cause severe burns if you’re not careful.


    If you absolutely have to get that screw out, and it still has not budged, you can attempt to destroy the screw. These methods are generally reserved for last resorts and craftsmen must be mindful to keep the screw hole intact. If the screw hole becomes damaged it is much more difficult to replace the stuck screw. Well, to begin, place a steel punch or small chisel slightly off-center in the screw’s head-slots. Repeatedly hit (with a hammer) the top of the punch or chisel with a counter-clockwise pressure (remember, righty tighty – lefty loosy). Several impacts should effectively loosen the screw or crack the screw enough for you to remove it. You may also try drilling out the screw. When drilling out a screw, keep your drill-bit dead-center. If you have access to left handed drill bits these put more turning pressure on the stuck screw as it turns. Eventually the screw should begin to turn and release.


    These are definitely last resorts, however, screws with a totally stripped or broken head may be impossible to remove without a screw extractor. A screw extractor is a brilliant little device (only about $5 – $10) that has a square head and reverse tapered cutting screw threads on the other end. The square head is built to be fastened to a T Handle but also works with an adjustable wrench or vice grips. After a pilot hole has been pre-drilled into the stuck screw, the counter-clockwise threads are designed to screw backwards into the screw’s body. The extractor digs into the damaged screw, begins to turn it, and, at last, releases it from the grasps of corrosion. Be extremely cautious not to break-off the screw extractor inside your stuck screw. If this happens, you’re basically, well… stuck, and doubly stuck.

    Well, however stuck your screw is, one of these methods is bound to break it free. Remember to always be cautious, have faith and patience, and eventually that screw will be out of your life for good. Good luck and happy crafting.