How to Drill Into a Stripped Screw Head

A stripped screw

 Steven Depolo/flickr.com/CC BY 2.0

There's nothing worse than working on your car or putting something together and realizing that you have irreversibly mangled the head of a screw. In most cases, you'll have no choice but to drill into the screw head in order to remove it. It's not always necessary, but if nothing else works, here's how to go about it:

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Drill Out the Stripped Screw Head

You can use any kind of drill for this process. Find a drill bit that is just large enough in diameter to drill out the center of the screw head. If it's a Phillips head screw, find a bit that just covers the star shape in the center.

Slowly begin drilling the center out of the screw head. It should go pretty easily and quickly. If the screw was soft enough to strip it will be pliable enough for a drill bit. You don't need to drill too deep, just far enough to disconnect the screw head from the shaft. Usually, it will start to spin as it separates.

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Remove the Rest of the Screw

Now that you have the head drilled out, you should be able to remove the part you were working on. With the part off, you should be able to see the stump of the old screw. Now you need to get that out. Grab a pair of vice grip and attach them firmly to the stump. Slowly unscrew it until the whole thing comes out. That's all there is to it.

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Before You Drill

Before you break out the drill, however, try to remove the screw manually. If the screw head and part of the shaft are visible, use a pair of pliers to slowly twist it out. Special screw-extracting pliers are made for just this thing, but if you don't have a pair, a regular set might work. If you can't see enough of the screw to twist it out with pliers, try using a slightly bigger or smaller screwdriver to loosen the screw. If the head of the screwdriver doesn't "catch" any part of the stripped screw, though, stop. Otherwise, you might make matters worse. Instead, grab a large, flat rubber band and put it over the head of the screw. Now try to unscrew it with the proper sized screwdriver. Another trick is to put a bit of superglue over the screw head, insert a proper sized screwdriver, let the glue dry, and then try to screw it out. If none of these manual tricks work, then break out the drill and follow the steps outlined above.