4 Tips for Removing Wood Screws

two screws embedded in a plank of wood

Wood screws, like all screws, are usually put in place with the intention that they will stay there and be secure, sturdy supports for a larger build. However, there may come a time when you need to remove or replace wood screws, which can be difficult.

Unlike metal and other materials, the wood that the screws are embedded in can warp or change drastically over time, making removal a delicate job. Similarly, since many wood items end up being outdoor items, damage to the actual screws, including rust, bends, and shearing, are common.

Use these tips to help with any difficulties.

1. Use the Elements

Wood is a fickle product to work with. Wood is highly vulnerable to climate changes and the elements. Assuming that your wood hasn't been severely impacted by weather, this vulnerability can actually be exploited to help you remove screws. All you will need is the right screwdriver for the job and a hairdryer.

Turn the hairdryer to its highest setting and point it at the wood for several minutes. This will cause the pores of the wood to open up and the wood to swell slightly. Quickly use the screwdriver and remove the wood screw. Repeat with each of the screws you need to remove. The wood will eventually contract, so you have to work fairly quickly and methodically.

2. Screw Extractor

The first thing you will notice about a screw extractor is that it strongly resembles a drill bit. In a nutshell, it is just a specialized kind of drill. Extractors are typically sold in sets of varying sizes and multiple configurations, and they are made to remove wood screws that have damaged or sheared off heads.

Examine the head of the screw you wish to remove and match the screw extractor to it as closely as possible. Look at the screw extractor you are using and it will tell you a drill bit size. Use this drill bit to drill directly into the top of the damaged wood screws. The pilot hole only needs to be about 1/8 of an inch. Put the screw extractor into the pilot hole on the screw and gently tap it in place with a hammer until it is secure.

You can now use a pair of pliers to grip the screw extractor and turn it to the left. The teeth of the screw extractor dig into the pilot hole, which will allow you to continue unscrewing it.

Some screw extractors can be used with an electric screwdriver or drill to make the process even easier.

3. More Torque

It's frequent to hear grinding and skipping noises. This is an obvious indication the screw cannot go any deeper and you should stop what you are doing. Being too forceful and using grinding or shearing methods is a great way for your screws to become stripped. Trying to remove the screw at this point will prove difficult because not enough of the head remains to properly grip onto a drill or screwdriver bit.

In most circumstances you can avoid using a screw extractor by adding more torque. Use a bit that is slightly larger than the one you are using, and use a socket wrench to produce the torque needed to grip the screw and remove it.

Tip: Try tapping the handle end of the screwdriver with a hammer as you are working. Even if the screwdriver can't gain good traction, the impact may be enough to jostle stubborn screws loose.

4. Remove Paint

Depending on how desperate you are to get the screws out of a wood item, it may be necessary to be a little destructive. On painted surfaces for example, dried paint can act like a glue holding the screws in place. In these instances, the two areas to focus on for paint removal are around the perimeter of the screw on and the head of the screw itself.