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4 Guaranteed Tricks To Remove Stubborn Screws

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.

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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57 thoughts on “4 Guaranteed Tricks To Remove Stubborn Screws

  1. 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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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