How to Drill Out a Stripped Screw 

If you do any type of work, you probably know that moment when you have stripped the head of a screw. It is one of the most frustrating things ever, especially if you just want to get something finished. It can happen for a whole lot of reasons:

  • The screw was probably old and has just become brittle
  • It was probably put in by a machine and over tightened
  • The screwdriver you were using was maybe not the exact fit for the screw
  • Some of the power screwdrivers can just be set with too much torque or at too fast a speed
  • Someone else had already tried to remove it and stripped or damaged the head

The reality is though that it doesn't really matter why, the problem is it has and now you are left with a BIG problem. How the heck do you get the screw out without doing any further damage?

It is fair to say that it is not always an easy fix, and sometimes you may have to end up just simply drilling it out.

That can be quite difficult, and it will no doubt test your patience. Here are a few tips that may help you out.

There are a few different methods, but the first thing to understand is where exactly the screw head is. That is of course assuming you have any head to work with.

We cover those options off just below.

Removing Screws Above the Work Surface

If you are lucky enough, the head of the screw may be sitting above the work surface. If this is the case, then you can normally attach a pair of locking pliers. If you can then always turn slowly to avoid snapping or breaking off the head. Always do that in an anti-clockwise direction.

These pliers can slip off though so just be careful you don't cause yourself an injury, or damage whatever the screw is attached to. I have managed to remove a few screws like this in my time, but it really does depend just how tight the screw is buried in. It also depends on the quality and strength of the grip on the pliers.

This complete screw removal kit is the biggest seller on Amazon. It's really no wonder at this price but actually it's as good as anything you are likely to get, unless you are doing this type of work every day and you are happy to spend a lot more money.

It will do exactly what it says on the tin and as a rule of thumb it will get 4 out of 5 screws out for you.

Removing Screws At Surface or Below Surface Level

It is a lot more likely, that the screw head that has been stripped is either flush or just below the work surface area. Locking pliers are useless as they simply have nothing to grip.

Most screws are stripped these days because people are using drill/drivers. If the bit is not the right one, then it can all too easily strip the head very quickly. If this happens to you, it is always worthwhile trying to remove the screw, with a good old fashioned screwdriver.

Sometimes there is enough grip left on the head of the screw to allow you to get enough on it, to remove it. However is that fails, then the only real solution here is to drill it out.
This is achieved by drilling a small hole into the screw, and then using a screw extractor.
Usually, though it depends on the size of the screw, you would use a metal twist bit to drill a deep hole, and then insert the screw extractor into the hole. At that stage get your locking pliers and turn the screw extractor anti-clockwise, by clamping the pliers to the screw extractor.
Here is a video of a stripped screw/bolt being removed.

There are a few other options, and in the video below, you get a more comprehensive view of those options.

How To Remove a Screw With a Broken Head

Now this is a whole new world of pain. If you watched the video above, you will have noticed how that guy removed a screw from a piece of wood
Ideally if the screw is in there with the head broken, it is probably better just to leave it there. That is of course along as it doesn't make your work look unsightly. This happens quite a bit when building fences or building a deck.
Almost always it is better just to leave it, and then put a screw in a little away from the original one. Don't worry the only person who knows it is there will be you.
However if you actually need to have a screw in that exact place, then you will need to extract the broken screw, and repair whatever damage that you do. That can be a pain. The type of situation where this happens is when you are drilling a lock for a door, or something like a door hinge.

The same rules apply as shown above. Try to get it out with locking pliers first, or even drill around the hole a little, to see if you can get a pair of pliers on to the screw.
The worst case scenario, is that you will have to drill out the screw and wood with a hole saw. You can then replace the wood with a dowel if it is a small hole, or a wood plug if it is a larger hole.
This is just a real pain to do, but it is sometimes the only real solution.

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