4 Guaranteed Tricks To Remove Stubborn Screws

By Scott Sidler April 7, 2014

How to remove stubborn screws
Image Credit: Scott Sidler

Last week I talked about how to remove paint from hardware so in keeping with that theme I wanted to discuss some tips to remove stubborn screws. After all, you can’t restore old hardware unless you can first get it off the door or window it’s attached to.

Old flat head screws that have been attached for close to a century can be tortuously difficult to remove. Either they are painted in place, rusted in place, or simply screwed into wood that is so hard they refuse to budge.

Before you resort to brute force and strip the head so there is no chance it will turn, try some of these tips to get that screw to finally back out.

Tip: Stay away from power drivers for old screws because it is all to simple to strip the screw head. You really should use a good old-fashioned screwdriver for this.

Trick #1 Remove the Paint

Old paint is like glue holding those screws in place. Take a chisel and scrape the paint away from the nail head. There are two places you want to completely clear of old paint. First, the outer perimeter of the screw where the head meets the piece of hardware it’s holding, and second, the slot that will hold your screwdriver tip.

I’ve found that a razor knife or an old chisel works well for this. Once these areas are clean see if you can get the screw to turn, if not it’s time for Tip #2.

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Trick #2 Add Lubricant

WD-40, Liquid Wrench, whatever you want to use, give the screws a good dousing in a spray lubricant that is designed to break up rust and get things moving again. Let it sit for a few minutes and give it a try again.

Trick #3 Break Out the Hammer

If the screw is being especially stubborn try using a hammer. With one hand hold your screwdriver in place and slowly try to turn it while hitting the back of the screwdriver with a hammer. This is the same premise that an impact driver works on. The impacts knock the screw loose a bit while you are trying to turn it free. More often than not I can get almost any screw free using this trick.

Trick #4 Time to Drill

Sometimes not matter what you do that screw isn’t going to move. If that is the case you can still get that old hardware off with one last trick. Drill it out. Get a metal drill bit the size of the screw head, put your drill on the low speed/high torque setting and drill the screw out. Be careful not to drill through the hardware.

You’ll have to drill down into the wood enough to completely remove the length of the screw that is still embedded in the wood and then patch the wood with a dutchman or epoxy before being able to install a new screw.

There is one other trick that is available, but I have had almost zero success with it so I didn’t want to mention it, but I’m sure someone would ask, “Why didn’t you mention screw extractors, Scott?” For those wondering here it is:

In my experience they don’t work! I’ve tried at least half a dozen different screw extractors and none of them have worked. Maybe I haven’t tried the right one yet, but after 6 or 7 tries I have decided it’s a technology that is not worth my time and money anymore.

If you have a screw extractor that works great for you then I suggest you stick with it, but for me I’m sticking with these 4 tricks. Using one or all of these tricks I have yet to come across a piece of old hardware I couldn’t remove…yet.

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28 thoughts on “4 Guaranteed Tricks To Remove Stubborn Screws”

  1. The chain in the light switch of one of my ceiling fans broke off inside of the electrical housing. There are 3 screws to loosen to remove the housing, but I can’t get any of them to budge. Since it’s hanging from the ceiling, I doubt tapping the screw driver with a small hammer will work.-The whole fan moves even when I try to turn the screws. WD 40 will work if it can get past the screw head, but what if it won’t? I have tried 4 different size Phillips screwdrivers, including a large jewelers Phillips. Not one of the 3 screws will even budge. Any ideas?

  2. I’m refinishing a pair of old dressers and would like to replace the handles on the drawers. This is a 50+ year set so the crews have never been taken out’ I’ve got 2 stubborn screws- one on each set- that refuse to budge. I can barely get pliers on the knob to hold, so can’t get the crews out. Since they are set in the top shallow drawers, I have to work on an angle with tapping it with a hammer on a screwdriver and still holding onto the drawer somehow since both hands are dealing with the screw. I’ve thought of using WD40 but am afraid of the oil making a stain on the wood. I wish I could post a picture so you know what I mean, but I hope you get the drift anyhow. Any suggestions?

  3. The screw on my outdoor metal patio is rusted in. Cannot turn it to keep the umbrella fro turning. What do you suggest?

  4. How about ssteel screws that turn, does not move outward, but is stuck. Like something is on its tip (dried old marine silicone?) and can’t be pulled out
    by a 210lb. muscles person? In the top side of boat, original screws. All along the side, holds the ssteel rail.

    1. I have the same problem with two metal screws that turn but don’t back out. I even used some pressure on the other side but it just spins…

      1. Well I figured out what the problem was, I was turning the screw the wrong way. Since they are inside a dryer and at different angles it was difficult to figure out which way to turn, so I tried both and they finally came out. Yeah

  5. I have been following this thread and have 4 screws to remove to change the mounting bracket for an over the range microwave oven. The screws will not budge-maybe they are screwed into the wall stud. Only hope is that the new microwave oven can be mounted using the same bracket. Taking delivery this Wednesday. Thanks for any ideas.

  6. My experience with screw extractors is the same as yours: they usually don’t work. I thought they would, but after buying several different brands, I have to conclude that the successful attempts you see on YouTube are rigged. The only extractor I’ve seen that does the job requires a solid foundation. This is the type that you pound into the screw and twist, It’s called an impact driver, and it works WHEN THE FOUNDATION IS SOLID. If the foundation is not solid, the bit won’t bite into the screw, and it won’t work.

    I might add that I have just seen an other type of screw extractor, and it SHOULD work. It works entirely different from most of them. This bit on this one looks like a small cylinder with teeth, The cylinder surrounds the screw and you just saw out the cylinder of wood containing the screw. IT SHOULD WORK. I’ll have to read the reviews.

  7. How about a hand impact screwdriver you hit with a hammer? The kind they sell at an auto store. Also a small Dremel wheel to cut or clear a flat tip notch…

  8. I started this job this morning and when half the screws wouldn’t move, I left it with my bathroom door hanging.
    Came across your advice in the afternoon after giving up hope and 2&3 worked for me. Didn’t think it would so the biggest thank you

  9. I am currently replacing a tap unit in the caravan which has gone well apart from removing the screws from the wooden work surface. It’s really important to get the screws out in one piece because I’ll need the same screw holes for fixing the new taps into. As it’s been by the sink I would imagine water has got in around the old screws, if they’re original they will be 19 yes old. I will try method 3.

  10. Have sprayed W40 think that’s what its called plus a quick donk on the head of screws which is rusted into batten in garden which I want to erect new trellis on. Leaving it to soak for a while as my arms ache after struggling for ages.

  11. Three slot-headed wood timber screws out and one to go. They hold a toilet bowl down. No movement with a manual screwdriver, wd40, 20 stone mate and a swear word. Pro Grabit seems to fail as well. What should I try, an electric drill with hi torque perhaps? Kev

      1. Yes, that I will try as it is my intent to completely remove not fully destroy the offending screw. Trouble is how much torque is advisable, my drill offers 20 settings so it will be hit and miss. A plumber in the past offered to ‘accidentally’ drop a club hammer onto a toilet bowl and claim off the insurance company for a new one. Kevin

  12. I agree that screw extractors rarely ever work. In my work I have to deal with screw removal problems all the time, it’s one of the most frustrating and time consuming things for me. Trick #3 works awesome! Thanks for sharing!

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