DIY Basics

One of the downsides of using an electric screwdriver (which are getting ever more powerful) is that it’s incredibly easy to damage the head of the screw so that it’s no longer possible to insert the screwdriver into the screw head. More annoyingly, I get frustrated when it comes to decorating a room and see a seemingly easy screw to take out of the wall and then find that the head appears to have been butchered so the job becomes more complicated. It’s never as simple as it should be!

However, there are several techniques available to remove the screw and which one you choose will depend on the situation, access to the screw, and your personal preference.

1. Pliers

I prefer to use snub-nosed pliers rather than the long nose as I find that I get better control of the screw. When putting the pliers on the screw, line up the screw head with the indents or teeth on the pliers and grip firmly. Then, rotate counterclockwise to undo the screw. Take your time so that you keep a good purchase on the screw—if you don’t, then you may damage the screw head further, which will make the job a bit harder. Of course, you can only really use pliers if there is enough screw head available to you to get the pliers onto the head.

2. Hacksaw and Straight Screwdriver

This method applies not only to screws but Allen keys and hex wrenches, as well. In the past, I’ve come across situations where the Allen key is harder than the bolt that it’s tightening, and a small slip has rendered the Allen key shape in the bolt useless. As the screw was almost flush in the timber, getting the pliers around it was impossible. Therefore, I carefully cut a new slot across the whole bolt using a hacksaw. This method needs a bit of precision and care to ensure that the saw is kept absolutely parallel with the screw so that the teeth don’t scratch the timber or surrounding material. Once a groove has been made, simply treat it like a normal screw and use a flat-headed screwdriver to undo. I would suggest using a manual screwdriver rather than an electric so that you have better control and don’t further damage the new groove that you’ve just created.

3. Screw Extractor

This is probably the most professional approach and the one to use if you don’t have access to the screw head if, for example, the screw head is sunken into the timber. A screw extractor is a tool designed specifically for this purpose, just as the name suggests! There are two types of screw extractors: the spiral fluted structure and a straight flute structure.

The spirally fluted device looks like a bit screw. It has a thread on one end and a square end on the other so that a handle or tap wrench can be fitted. The process for using this device is as follows:

1. Choose a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the screw head.

2. Carefully drill into the screw head center.

3. Take an extractor that is the same size as the screw and wind into the new hole.

4. Keep turning until the device locks in place and then the screw unwinds out of the timber.

The downside of this device is that sometimes the action of drilling the hole and then inserting the screw extractor splits the original screw, rendering this process very tricky indeed.

The process for a straight fluted extractor is a little more involved and the device requires relevant drills, bushings, and nuts which may or may not be supplied with it.

1. Choose a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the screw head.

2. Carefully drill into the screw head center.

3. Hammer the extractor into the hole, taking great care not to break the extractor.

4. Install the supplied nut onto the extractor and then use pliers, a wrench, or a spanner to remove the device and therefore screw.

The straight fluted device is less likely to split the damaged screw, but the downside is that more precision is needed and therefore the tools need to be exactly the right dimensions. The drill bit needs to be the one supplied in the kit, for example.