Fixing Broken Wood Screws & Stripped Heads

Drywall and decking screws can often be driven without a pilot hole in softwood but when they break you’re left with a problem. Electric drills speed up the process of screwing in a wood screw, but tip the drill a little to side and you may be facing a stripped head. Let’s face it, we’ve all encountered these problems in the past and have had to deal with them.
Removing Broken Screws – If the screw breaks above the surface of the wood it can usually be extracted by gabbing the end firmly with a pair of vice grips or pliers and wound out of the hole. If the screw is being used for holding power and broke below the surface it may be worth leaving it in place, patching the hole, and fastening another screw near the broken one. If you must remove the screw there are a couple of options. Broken screw extractors are available from most woodworking supply stores an some hardware stores. The most popular design is simply a small metal tube with teeth cut into the end. The extractor is inserted into the drill and a “core sample” is taken from the wood around the screw. A wood dowel is glued into place and a new screw can then be fastened into the repair. Another option is to dig around the screw until you can grab the end with a pair of needle nosed vice grips or pliers. The remaining scar can be drilled out and a matching plug can be used to repair the defect. Use a plug cutter to cut a matching plug from a piece of scrapwood to match the grain of the wood. If you were trying to install a hinge and one of the screws broke you can probably epoxy the head into the hole. Most hinges will hold just fine with one screw missing. Don’t try saving more time by drilling in a second screw next to the first. Often the second screw will twist in the hole or worse, press against the first and split the wood.

Tips to Avoid Breaking a Screw

1. Always drill a pilot hole in hardwood

2. When attaching a hinge with brass screws attach the hinge with steel screws first, then replace with brass.

3. Lubricate stubborn screws with wax or soap to reduce friction (See Tip)

Removing Screws with Stripped Heads

Using a drill to drive in a screw is often a great time saver, but care must be taken to keep from tipping the drill and stripping the head. If you do end up stripping a screw’s head and can’t back it out, try using a pair of vice grips to grab the head and twist it back out. If the head is below the surface of the wood, use the correct size screwdriver and a hammer to firmly set the screwdriver into the screw’s head. Then, with significant downward pressure, back the screw out until you can grab it with a vice grip or pliers.

Tips to Avoid Stripping a Screw’s Head

1. Correctly match the screwdriver to the screw.
2. Take care to avoid tipping a drill when driving the screws.
3. Maintain firm downward pressure to keep the head seated in the screw. Pre-drill pilot holes for the screw.

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