Almost everyone who has worked on a DIY or renovation project has applied too much torque and stripped a screw head clean. It can feel like a frustrating dead end, especially if you don't have a specialized extractor kit on hand. But you might be able to remove a stripped screw using a very common household item probably already sitting in your desk or kitchen drawer...
What You Need
1. The first thing to do is to immediately stop using the tool/technique which stripped the screw. Most of the time, this means switching over from a power tool over to a hand tool solution, as you can better control the amount of torque/pressure applied to the stripped screw.
2. Switch over to a short length screw driver with a bigger head; switching screw head types (Phillips or a cross-head attachment) may also help. If you've got a screwdriver kit which includes a Torx (6 points) or an Allen (hexagonal), these shapes may give enough grip to remove the stripped screw. Just remember to go slowly, apply as much pressure downward, and abide by the mantra, "righty tighty, lefty lousy" so you don't make matters worse.
3. Sometimes a screw is just stripped enough that none of alternative sizes or head types work. You've still got hope! A rubber band may aid in providing enough grip to remove, or at least loosen, the screw. Place a wide band rubber band flat in between the screw driver (we recommend bumping one size up from the screw head which caused the strip) and the screw, then apply hard, but slow force while turning the screw. If you're fortunate, the rubber band will fill in the gaps caused by the strip and allow extraction.
4. Perhaps the rubber band trick worked…but only to a certain point, and you're still not able to completely remove the screw. That's when a locking clamp-style long nose plier can come to the rescue, stepping in to extract stripped screws, turn by turn. We don't know how many times this affordable tool has helped us remove old or poorly constructed screws, but it's been enough times that we highly recommend stocking even the smallest of tool boxes or drawers with one.
5. Finally, if none of these work, you can play the part of Rodin and chisel the screw head and add some depth to the stripped areas to provide more tension lost from the strip. But only with the most careful of force, as you'll risk losing your screw completely into the surface if hammered to hard. You don't want to hammer the screw into the wall/surface, so err on the side of caution. We recommend this as a last resort.
Originally posted February 1, 2010
(Images: Gregory Han)