Stripped screws are life’s way of kicking you while you are already down. Having an impending repair held hostage by a stuck fastener is enough to drive anyone up the wall. But that’s your cue to collect your wits and attack the problem with our handy tips and tricks to extract the most hopelessly stripped screws.
While it’s easy to remove stubborn screws in furniture and heavy machinery with brute force, consumer electronics devices such as laptops, smartphones, and computers warrant a gentler approach. Here’s how to remove stuck screws gently without damaging your precious gadgets.
Don’t Let Threadlockers Ruin Your Day
Electronic devices sporting aluminum or metal cases are often secured by screws reinforced with thread-locking compound. Manufacturers use low-strength thread-locking adhesives designed to prevent screws from shaking loose, while also allowing easy removal by common hand tools. However, such threadlockers may harden over time and cause small screws to strip or otherwise prove difficult to unscrew.
Using a hair dryer on the low heat setting to heat the general area of the stubborn screw can weaken the adhesive bond enough for convenient removal. Just be sure to keep the heat below 200°F for screws in metal chassis. Screws fastened in brass inserts embedded in plastic molding shouldn’t be subjected to temperatures beyond 140°F.
How to Remove a Stripped Screw: Low Effort Approach
You have a genuinely stripped screw at hand, if none of the aforementioned solutions have worked out. Although desperate times call for desperate measures, it pays to try common-sense solutions first.
1. Switch to Hand Tools
Consider switching to hand tools if you have been using electric screwdrivers. Manual screwdrivers not only allow you to apply torque in a controlled manner, but the superior feedback provided is also critical to prevent the screw head from being damaged further. It’s deceptively easy to mangle stuck screws with electric screwdrivers. However, there are rare exceptions to this rule such as DeWalt’s gyroscopic screwdriver.
2. Upsize the Tip
Depending on how badly the screw head has been mangled, you can try a screwdriver tip that’s one size larger. This works on Phillips head, hex, Torx, and pentalobe security screws found in common electronic gadgets. The larger profile of the tips just might be enough to grip the stripped screw head.
3.Try a Different Tip
The advice to use the right tip doesn’t apply when you already have a stripped screw at hand. In such cases, an appropriately sized slotted screwdriver might help you unscrew a mangled Phillips head fastener. The sharper profiles of a Torx screwdriver tip might also provide just enough grip to release a rounded hex head screw. However, this will also cause premature wear on the screwdriver tip. Try using a tool you don’t mind potentially ruining.
4. Every Screw’s Slotted if You Are Brave Enough
You’re stuck with a stripped screw most likely because it was crafted from an overly soft material. That also makes it easy to hammer a brand-new slot into the screw head with a slotted screwdriver. This way, you can transform any stripped screw into the slotted variety. Be sure to avoid this route when dealing with devices sporting plastic chassis, for obvious reasons.
How to Unscrew Stripped Screws With Pliers
Although there’s a maddening variety of screws in the hardware world, we will divide them into two broad categories depending on whether their heads stick out of the screw holes. Fasteners whose heads sit flush with their surroundings are called countersunk or flat-head cap screws (FHCS). There’s no straightforward way to manipulate such screws with pliers and other screw extraction tools.
The other broad screw category involves socket-head (SHCS) and button-head cap screw (BHCS) varieties that have the head protruding beyond the screw hole. That leaves enough exposed screw head area that can be used as leverage to extract stuck screws. Such fasteners are commonly found on desktop computers and similarly larger electronic equipment.
1. Regular Pliers
This method works best with socket-head screws. A pair of pliers can easily grip the cylindrical screw head at an optimal angle for extraction. The domed geometry of button-head fasteners is tricky unless your pliers are equipped with sharp serrations for enhanced grip. A good pair of pliers are also manufactured from hardened metal alloys, which allows them to dig securely into the screw heads.
Grip the screw head securely with the pliers, and twist the screw counterclockwise. The pliers’ longer lever arm exerts a significantly higher amount of torque, which makes it easier to loosen stubborn screws.
2. Locking Pliers
Screws that are seized especially badly might need greater gripping force. This is a problem with regular pliers, especially if the operator is lacking in the grip strength department. This is where locking pliers shine. These pliers don’t require the operator to apply constant gripping force. Just adjust the required jaw distance and gripping force prior to use, and the clever mechanical design gets the job done without requiring the user to move a muscle.
3. Engineer PZ-58 Pliers
While pliers are good and locking pliers are better, nothing beats the Engineer PZ-58 pliers. These are specialized tools engineered with the sole purpose of removing stripped screws. The jaws are uniquely profiled to grip screw heads from the top, with sharp serrations running along both axes of contact.
The peculiar design of the tips, bearing a hollowed recess and flat grind, allows the Engineer PZ-58 to securely grip even domed and low-profile screw heads from the top. Being able to grip screws from the top is indispensable in cramped equipment with no room for a horizontal grip. These pliers aren’t cheap, but they can remove any screw that doesn’t sit absolutely flush with the surface. A worthy addition to your toolkit.
Stripped Screws? Not a Big Deal Anymore
Stripped screws come in all sizes and severity, and we have covered solutions ranging from low-effort tricks to heavy-duty fixes for the worst-case scenarios. However, it’s wiser to avoid stripping screws in the first place by investing in a set of quality screwdrivers. Avoiding worn or improperly sized screwdrivers is the best way to prevent this from ever happening.
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