Almost everyone under the sun has experienced the horror of a stuck screw or bolt, and each craftsman has assuredly fought off more than his fair share of frozen screw frustrations. Trying to remove a stuck screw can fast turn into one of the worst jobs around the house or in the shop – it can feel like a physical impossibility to remove bolts or screws if they become stuck, frozen, or their heads has been stripped or broken.
Many will go to excessive and extraordinary lengths, using back-breaking force to remove these stubborn parts, but when temperatures cool down and the dust settles, craftsmen find the screw extractor. Good things do come in small packages and though the screw extractor is a small, its a tremendous device that gets into the center of a stuck screw, and releases its gnarly grips from the inside out.
The screw extractor is a small tool with big results designed to dive into the interior of a stuck screw (through a pilot-hole), bite into the it and turn the screw out counter-clockwise. Screw extractors range to fit screw-heads from 3/32″ and 1/2″ in diameter. They are built with a square head and shaft on one end and reverse tapered (cutting screw) threads on the other. The square head is designed to be fastened to a T-handle providing leverage to turn the extractor into the frozen screw. The square head can also be turned with some type of pliers like vice grip pliers or an adjustable wrench.
Extractors are manufactured with superior grade steel so that the shaft can be gripped with vice grips or an adjustable wrench for additional force or turning power. The extractors tapered threads are the real muscle of the device biting into the insides of a screw. The treads are designed to turn counter-clockwise, or backwards, reverse drilling into the center of a screw to pull it out. As the extractor is turned, it bites down tighter and digs deeper into the frozen screw and eventually begins turning the damaged screw with it. Essentially the extractor reverses the screw out of its frozen position.
Drilling a pilot-hole into the damaged screw is the first step to getting it out: With a power drill, drill a hole into the center of the damaged screw’s head. Start by using the smallest drill bit available and work your way up to a larger sized bit for a larger pilot-hole. Because the size of the pilot-hole will vary depending upon the size of the extractor, the extractor should come with a bit size recommendation on its packaging; this should help eliminate most of the guess work on your part.
After drilling the pilot-hole, firmly grip the extraction bit with a T-Handle or pliers and insert the extractor into the pilot-hole. Tap the top of the extractor with a hammer to secure it firmly into the screw. While exerting downward pressure on the extractor, turn it counter-clockwise (to the left) to begin releasing the stuck screw. If turning the extractor is difficult or unstable, tap the extraction bit down a bit more firmly into the screw. This should give the threads a better hold, and better biting power into the screw.
You may also press down a bit more firmly on the top of the extractor, but be careful not the break the extraction bit off into the stuck screw. If a better bite, or increased pressure doesn’t make the process any easier, you may try enlarging the pilot-hole. Slightly enlarge the pilot-hole and attempt the process again. This should have that stubborn screw out in no time.
Before loosing your cool over that blasted stuck screw, look to the screw extractor to break it free with minimal time and effort. Rather than resorting to the most drastic measures, allow the screw extractor do the dirty work you and eliminate the stress and headache of tackling the seemingly impossible on your own.
The Last Resort
If all else fails, then you’re going to need to drill out the screw completely and re-tap whenever it is you’re working on. For this you’ll need a drill and a tap and die set. A standard tap and die set literally make a new screw hole for your new screw to thread into. It is always a last resort but is unavoidable when you have no choice but to drill out the entire screw. This often happens when it is too rusted, or seized in some other way. There are a few of the best tap and die set reviews here if you’re unsure which set to get. They aren’t the cheapest option, but some times you just don’t have any other choice.