How to Unscrew a Screw without a Screwdriver

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A square peg won't fit in a round hole, and a Phillips screwdriver won't fit in a single-slot, or flat-head, screw. When you don't have the right tool for the job, a little resourcefulness goes a long way.

Extracting Single-Slot Screws

Look in your kitchen drawers, your pockets and the tool shed for substitutes for a flat-head screwdriver. Some likely candidates include:

  • A kitchen knife. Choose one with a rounded tip, such as a butter knife. Insert the tip of the blade into the screw slot and angle the handle down a bit to give yourself leverage. Remember "righty tighty, lefty loosey," which reminds you to turn the screw counterclockwise.
  • A coin -- preferably a dime, which is thin enough to fit in most screw slots. If you can't turn the coin with your fingers, grip it with pliers.
  • A credit card. If the screw isn't screwed in very tightly, you may be able to turn it with any plastic card -- even your driver's license. 
  • A rubber band. Put the rubber band over the screw and press down in it with your finger or a hard implement and apply a counterclockwise force. The traction of the rubber against the screw often is enough to make it turn.
  • A chisel, which does an even better job of turning single-slot screws than a flat-head screwdriver.

Warning

  • Resist the temptation to turn the screw with your fingernail. That's a fast way to crack or break the nail.

Extracting Phillips, Torx and Robertson Screws

You sometimes can work a small flat-head screwdriver into one of the crossed slots on a Phillips screw, and you may be able to work a corner of the blade into the slot of a torx or Robertson -- square-head -- screw. If you don't even have a flat-head screwdriver, you're not completely out of luck. Try:

  • A nail. Some nails have a burr on the point, which makes them able to grip the inside of the slot. Hold the nail with a pair of pliers to turn it. Tapping the nail into the screw with a hammer may improve the grip.
  • A drill and drill bit. Tap the bit into the screw head with a hammer, connect it to the drill while it's still attached to the screw, and operate the drill slowly in reverse. Push down on the drill to keep the bit in contact with the screw. 
  • A screw extractor. Drill a hole in the screw head about 1/4-inch deep using a drill bit, then replace the bit with a conical screw extractor. Insert the extractor in the hole and operate the drill in reverse.
  • Pliers or vise grips. Chisel away enough material from around the screw head to allow you to grip the screw with pliers or vise grips. You can't chisel metal or plastic, but you can use pliers or vise grips if the screw head is far enough above the surface to allow the tool to grip it.

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