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.
Check out the video below that I recently added to this post to show these 4 tricks in action. Of course I had to work in at least 1 new trick after a few years so you can see how the 5th trick compares to the others.
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.
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. That should get things moving, but if not it’s on to Trick #3.
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. For the video above I decided to give a screw extractor one more try to see if it worked. You can see how it turned out.
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.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
64 thoughts on “4 Guaranteed Tricks To Remove Stubborn Screws”
Similar to metal threads I find that it helps to work the screw by first trying to tighten followed by loosening and doing this several times while unscrewing the screw/bolt.
I screwed in a larger screw into a plug in my front wall and it will not come out. I’ve used screwdrivers (threading the head), pliers (that strip the coating of the screw) but the darn thing will not move.
I have to disagree about the screw extractor. It is counter intuitive, though. The end that looks like the grabber is really the reamer and the end that looks like the reamer is the grabber. And both are drilled in reverse. I recently removed several screws with an extractor in seconds that I had spent a good hour trying all the other methods to extract.
I have a shower seat that I’m trying to remove, nothing has worked and now I think the drill bit is just going round and not doing anything – any ideas?
I have lived in my 200+ year old farm house for 41 years. I was attempting to remove hardware that has been in place since I’ve lived here. The screws were painted over and would not budge. Thanks to your tips I was able to remove them ..
You are a life saver!! I was already struggling with a difficult door knob and get to the last screw and it won’t budge. Had just tried a little WD40 since that’s what I was working with anyway but still wouldn’t turn. Sprayed a little more then got out the hammer as an “impact driver.” Was about to give up when it just turned right out!! Thank you so much for your invaluable advice. This is definitely going in my DIY manual!!
One more possible fix is to try tightening the screw just a little, and then back it out ( WD-40 won’t hurt that either ) Good Luck!!!!!
I’ve been using your instructions on how to refurbish sash spring balances – brilliant! Thank you! But the WD40 tip here is the best of the lot, a total life saver. I only swore once in two days, and that was when I trapped my finger between the two sashes…
I agree about the screw extractors. BUT, I recently was successful removing a difficult screw on my jointer using a screw extractor . What finally worked was drilling deep enough in the old screw so that the extractor goes deep enough to use many of its threads for a good bite. Of course, after I had drilled into the old screw so deep I probably could have stuck a screw driver in the old screw and removed it.
I’m now trying to remove another stubborn screw and found your advice. I’ll try them and see if I can be successful.
Omg! Thank you. Your advise just saved me. Doing a 10 minute job that turned into a half hour job bc of 1 awful screw. Had to use WD40 and pliers.
if you have a screw that the head is stripped out or a carriage bolt head that you can’t hold steady to tighten or loosen try to cut or create a slot in it to use a flat head screwdriver, try to make the slot as deep as you can to get the most holding grip for the screwdriver. Also try to lubricate and try tightning a little first to break free.