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How to Remove a Broken Drill Bit

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It is a scary moment when you are drilling a hole into a piece of wood or metal and the drill bit breaks in the middle of the drilling process. There are a few ways that the broken drill bit can be removed, but the important part is to make sure that the material you originally wanted to drill still has structural integrity.

The two main ways to remove a broken drill bit are to use a pair of locking pliers to grab onto the bit and twist it out, or to use a screw extractor to extract it.

Using Locking Pliers to Remove a Broken Drill Bit

To be able to use locking pliers in this situation, a decent amount of the drill bit must still be sticking out. If the broken end of the bit is flush, or if only a small amount of it is sticking out of the material, it will be very difficult to get a good enough grip on it to be able to pull it out with pliers

Locking pliers

Clean the exposed drill bit

Drill bits can often have some lubrication on them, either from the factory or from previous jobs it was used on. Oil, WD40, or any other substance that may reduce friction on the bit will keep the locking pliers from grabbing onto the bit effectively.

Using a clean cloth or rag, wipe down the exposed surfaces of the drill bit. Look for any built up gunk that you might need to use a little extra pressure to remove.

Exposing more of the bit

If not enough of the broken bit is exposed for the locking pliers to latch onto, and the drill bit is in a soft material like wood, you can try digging around the broken bit with a chisel, screwdriver, or other tool. This will create a rough looking surface, so we would not recommend trying this with any finishing material.

Attach the locking pliers

Locking pliers, also known as vise grips, are adjustable pliers that lock onto the item that you want to twist. Using a spring loaded handle and serrated teeth, the pliers are able to attach with a high amount of force.

To adjust locking pliers, first open them up completely. There will be a screw at the end of one of the legs. For larger pipes or bolts, you would unscrew the adjustment knob, but in this case the bit will probably be a fairly small diameter.

Screw in the adjustment knob until the opening of the pliers is slightly smaller than the broken drill bit when they are closed.

Clamp the tip of the pliers to the broken drill bit and listen for them to click. Check to see if they are secure by wiggling them a little bit – if the locking pliers are too tight they won’t be able to latch completely and can pop open, and if they are too loose they will wiggle around and will not provide the force necessary.

Unscrew the broken drill bit

Since the threads (or more correctly, “flutes”) of the drill bit are curved in a clockwise direction, unscrewing the bit by turning counterclockwise with the pliers should be able to get them out of the material they are stuck in.

Trying to remove a broken drill bit that got stuck in a piece of wood

For stubborn broken bits, you can try adding a small amount of tapping fluid or other lubricant down the flutes, but only after the pliers are already locked into place on the bit.

Note: Do not yank the end of the broken drill bit out of the material. This can cause cracks that will be hard to repair. Unscrew it the entire way and remove gently.

Using a Screw Extractor to Remove a Broken Drill Bit

Screw extractors are specialty tools that look like very aggressive drill bits, but with the threads rotating counterclockwise instead of clockwise. This type of bit is called a left-handed drill bit.

A screw extractor will be the option to choose if the broken drill bit is flush with the drilled material, or if you are not able to remove it by hand with pliers and need even more force.

No products found. are readily available, and it is a good idea to have one on hand. It is possible to purchase single screw extractors for a specific diameter, and it will be less expensive, but you will only be able to remove a small range of screw or drill bit sizes.

Tools for using a screw extractor to remove broken drill bits

This is a multi-step process where a few different tools will be needed. Gather the required tools before starting.

  • Safety goggles
  • Diamond file or angle grinder
  • Center punch with a tip smaller than the broken drill bit
  • Hammer
  • Drill
  • Diamond or carbide drill bit with a smaller diameter than the broken bit
  • Tapping fluid
  • Wrench

Prepare the bit to be drilled

First things first, put on your safety goggles.

Drill bits often break with jagged edges, and it is important to start with a flat surface when using an extractor. With a diamond rasp or angle grinder, smooth out a flat, perpendicular surface on the end of the bit.

Align a center punch with the center of the broken bit, and hit it with a hammer. This will create a divot to align the drill bit you will be using to drill into the broken bit.

Drill a pilot hole into the broken bit

Choose a drill bit that is harder and of a smaller diameter than the broken bit that is going to be removed. Attach it to a drill. Most home drills will have enough power at high speed to drill what you need to. Lubricate the new bit with some cutting or tapping fluid.

Various sizes of rusty and broken drill bits

Align the drilling bit with the divot made by the center punch earlier. Try to direct the tip straight down through the broken bit. If it is at a slight angle it should not be too much of a problem, but a straighter hole will make it easier to remove the broken drill bit.

Starting at low speed, drill into the broken bit. Speed the drill up when you begin to make progress. Only drill as far as the length of the extractor, usually between 1/8″ – 1/4”. If you drill too deep you may crack the already broken bit, making it even harder to remove.

Removing the broken drill bit with a screw extractor

Place the screw extractor into the hole you have drilled into the broken bit and turn counterclockwise, as far as you can with moderate finger pressure. Once you get to the point where the extractor is hard to turn, use a wrench that is the correct size for the extractor.

Some extractor sets are meant to use with a drill – if you are using one of these, keep the drill speed low.

Continue turning counterclockwise. You can attempt to remove the broken drill bit entirely with the screw extractor, or if you wish, you can switch to using a set of locking pliers to finish once enough of the bit has been unscrewed from the material.

Conclusion

Breaking a drill bit is an annoying enough occurrence in itself, but having to remove the broken bit from the wood or metal you have just tried to drill through can add frustration. In order to help prevent having to remove broken drill bits in the future, consider lubricating the drill bit before drilling with beeswax, cutting fluid, or WD40.

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.