How to Drill Out a Screw

If you buy something through a link in our posts, we may get a small share of the sale.

Screws are one of the most common fasteners, and since we use them so constantly, it is easy to not pay attention just one time and either strip or round off the head. When this happens, getting the fastener extracted can be difficult and you may have to know how to drill out a screw. We can show you how, as well as sharing other ways to remove stripped screws.

How to Drill Out a Screw

You should only have to resort to drilling out screws as a last resort. There are different methods to extract screws where you cannot fit a normal screwdriver or screw bit into the head that you should try first. If all else fails, then here are the instructions to drill out a screw.

Materials Needed

  • Drill
  • Drill bits made of cobalt or similar, intended to drill through steel, not wood
  • Center punch
  • Hammer
  • Needle or pin. You’ll want something that is easy to hold onto.
  • Pliers
Person showing how to drill out a screw

Once you assemble the materials you will need, ask yourself if you really need to drill out the screw. Can you drill in another screw close to it? Is there another way to get it out of the material that it is stuck in?

  1. Attach a drill bit to the drill that is approximately the size of the screw threads.
  2. Drill into the head, concentrating on staying in the middle.
  3. Drill only as far as the top of the head so that the head can be removed.
  4. Remove the screw head. You should be able to view the shaft of the screw now.
  5. Align the center punch as close to the center of the shaft as possible.
  6. Hit the center punch with the hammer, or follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to add a divot to the shaft.
  7. Attach a small drill bit to the drill, one that is much smaller than the screw shaft.
  8. Drill through the screw shaft to the length of the screw.
  9. Replace the drill bit with the next size up and drill through the screw.
  10. At a certain point, you may be able to use a screw extractor after creating a hole that is large enough. We highly recommend switching to this tool if possible.
  11. If you do not have a screw extractor, increase drill bit size until you reach the threads.
  12. Scrape out the top of the threads from drilled material with a pin or needle.
  13. Grab the threads with pliers and peel them out.
  14. Remove all screw remnants from the hole.

Because of the additional damage you may cause by drilling out the screw, plan for a larger screw to take the spot of the previous one.

Other Ways to Extract a Screw

When screw heads get stripped, we often think of the worst-case scenario, but most of the time a simple solution may be the best one. Work the problem and start with basic questions – why is this different than normal? If my regular tools will not fix it, what will? Thinking along these lines will help solve your issue.

Cordless drill on the ground

Different Sized Screwdriver

You can try to use a smaller screwdriver, which will reach deeper into the screw head, possibly reaching areas that still can catch. Alternatively, a larger screwdriver is an option. It may catch wider areas that were not stripped.

With either size, we recommend trying to add a little better holding power. If your screwdriver can handle it, position it into the screw head, and then rap the back of it with a hammer. The pressure may help create new marks in the head that the screwdriver can use to unscrew it.

Rubber Bands

The problem with stripped screws is that your screwdriver or bit cannot grab onto the head any more. If we can increase friction between the tool and the screw we may be able to remove, or at least loosen, the screw. You can use a rubber band to do this.

The best type of rubber band for this extraction method is a wide flat band. Place this over the head of the screw and, using the bit or screwdriver you normally would, unscrew it with strong pressure toward the screw. This will work in many cases unless the screw is rusty.

Pliers or Vice Grips

If any part of the screw head is above the material you have screwed it into, you may be able to remove it with a simple pair of pliers. Vice grips work well because they grab onto just about anything. Be careful not to set the tension on your vice grips too high, you could possibly snap off the head.

If you have a Dremel or other similar tool, flatten out two opposite sides of the screw head to make them flat. At this point, it will be easier to grab onto the head with pliers. You could even try an adjustable wrench for more torque.

Box of screws and a cordless drill

Create a New Slot

If there is still enough metal in the screw head, you can try to create an entirely new slot that a flat head screwdriver could fit into. Grab a Dremel, or another similar rotary tool with a cutoff head. Align it straight across the screw head.

This works best when the screw head is above the surface of the material but if you are accurate enough it can also work when it is flush. Do your best not to cut into the material that you are trying to preserve.

Screw Extractor Drill Bits

There are specific bits that are made to help you extract screws. They go by many different names, but the key is that they are smaller than the diameter of your screw, grab the shaft, and twist in reverse from normal drill bits.

In order to use these extractor bits, you first need to drill out a little bit of the screw to give it a place to grab onto. Follow the instructions above to get to this point, then attach the extractor bit to your drill.

When drilling out with extractors, you will need to reverse your drilling direction. After you do that, be sure to keep the speed very slow. You are trying to unscrew something, not drill it. If the speed is too high you may likely bore out the screw, ending up having to drill it out anyway.

Conclusion

Getting a screw stuck and not being able to remove it is something we all have to deal with at some point. You can drill out a screw, but there are other ways to extract it that may cause less damage to the material you are trying to fasten. If you do need to drill it out, take care to remove all the broken down material from the screw.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.