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.

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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.

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

  1. I tried a screw adapter, which did not work. I ended up with a bored out philps head screw. I tried putting some steel wool in the screw head and pushed as hard as I could. With many small twists and many frequent adjustments of the steel wool the head of the screw came out far enough that a small wrench could be used to remove the screw.. Did 2 philips heads this way.

  2. Couple more tips. Before trying to undo the screw, screw it in further, just a touch then undo. Also, to get extra leverage attach locking pliers (some screwdrivers come with a spanner nut below the handle for this purpose). This requires one person to put pressure on the screwdriver down to the screw while another person turns the screwdiver using the pliers or spanner. Bear in mind, with old screws, not to use too much pressure as this can result in the head shearing from the body of the screw.

  3. For most screws, I have found that with or without lubricating them, I first try tightening them with a clockwise twist to break the bond, then counter clockwise to remove. This also often works on jar lids too.

  4. Have two toilet pan (avocado (green) why all white now) brass screws that will not budge. Tried penetrating oil – no luck, so kicked it – now broken pan. It was concreted to the concrete floor. A bugger to break up.
    Also very hard lifting vinyl flooring. Had to use chisel and hammer and re sharpen chisel regularly. Took many hours. Just glue vinyl flooring around edges.

  5. I have a rusted screw on a car license plate that will not budge. I used the hammer, WD40 and both special spray from Home Depot specifically for the removal of rust. Still nothing. Any ideas. I sold the car to my son who lives in PA. I live in NJ. I still have the NJ plate on the back of the car and now cannot drive it. Or I would take it somewhere to get help.

    1. I came across your post googling this exact same issue! Dang car rusted screws! Hope you had luck since I’m still struggling.

    2. And yep.. Same thing here, trying to replace the old with disabled plates. Front plates came off easily – back ones, not at all. Saw a video about liquid wrench being the best over WD-40 or even Kroil. So I’m gonna try that next, along with the hammer bit. I’m also going to try looking up silicone, and see if that can help in any way here.

      If all that fails, I’m just gonna take it into the damn shop. They probably do hundreds of these things.

  6. Here’s one for you. I have a deadbolt lock that MUST be replaced because of a city ordinance. Whoever put this deadbolt in was stupid enough to put in one way screws – and then screwed them so tightly they stripped. They are a little recessed from being flush with the lock itself, so a dremel won’t work. Any suggestions?…other than replacing the whole dang door?

  7. I did step one and two and it worked like a charm! I got screws out of shutters and windows that have been painted multiple times and are 64 years old. Thank you so much for your great tips!

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