9 Reasons Your Drill Keeps Stripping Screws (& what to do)


So you’ve stripped the screw head. Exasperating, isn’t it? Even more so when you don’t know why. Stripping screws is mostly down to user error. In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at nine different possibilities to identify where you’re going wrong.

Why does your drill keep stripping the screws?

  1. Wrong drill
  2. Wrong screwdriver bit
  3. Worn screwdriver bits
  4. Poor quality screwdriver bit
  5. Poor quality screws
  6. Over-tightening the screw
  7. No pilot hole
  8. Lack of pressure
  9. No screw lubricant

So, which one(s) is it? We have the nine possibilities, now let’s identify what you’re doing wrong and put a stop to it.

1. Wrong drill

You need the right drill for the job. For example, driving small screws is mostly a breeze, but you might come unstuck when you attempt a larger screw. The further you drive, the more resistance you encounter.

When you face resistance and the screw doesn’t want to go any further but you keep forcing it, the result is a stripped screw head as the screw is unable to turn.

You may need an impact driverOpens in a new tab. instead of a regular drill driver. Although they don’t have the versatility of a drill driver, they do what they do best more efficiently.

Impact drivers are dedicated to driving screws through their increased torque combined with its concussive driving action. They can deliver as much as three times more torque than a regular drill driver.

The additional force of an impact driver will prevent your wrist from twisting meaning you’ll drive the screw with less effort and with more precision.

Make sure that you don’t confuse an impact driver with an impact wrench or a hammer drill. All three use a concussive action, but they are for different uses.

Remember to adjust the torque on your drill. Drilling at too higher speed causes damage to the screw head, as well as damaging the bit.

Yes, with the right technique you can use a regular drill driver, but acquiring that technique may come at a cost of a lot of stripped screw heads and a lot of stress trying to remove them all. Save yourself the hassle and buy the right tool.

2. Wrong screwdriver bit

We’ve all been there using a knife to crudely tighten a loose screw to save the hassle of digging out a screwdriver. And, apart from the complaints you got when the wife next got out her cherished cutlery, it probably worked just fine.

However, your drill is a brute of a machine. It rotates 1000s times per minute, and if the screwdriver bit doesn’t fit snugly into the screw head recess, then you’re going to damage both the screw head and the bit. Make sure you use the correct screwdriver bit and never compromise.

Buy yourself a good-quality screwdriver bit set. Look for sets that include bits for Phillips, flat blade, Pozidriv, Torx, and hex (or Allen). You might also want your set to include triangular or square screwdriver bits.

Lastly, you might occasionally come across 6-point and 12-point nut setters in solid constructions. These aren’t actually bits but sockets; however, they’re becoming increasingly common.

3. Worn screwdriver bits

They don’t last forever. Make sure to regularly check the condition of all your screwdriver bits, especially the ones that get used the most.

Try to buy a screwdriver set with a toughened case. This will prevent damage to the bits. Make sure you replace them after use so that they’re not rolling around and getting damaged.

4. Poor quality screwdriver bits

Buy the best you can afford. Go for a set that has a wide range of bits so that you’re not forced to make-do.

Screwdriver bits come in a range of materials. From the softer steel type to the stronger titanium-coated, or diamond-tipped. Buy the best you can afford. Take a look at this inexpensive 18-piece magnetic screwdriver bit setOpens in a new tab. by DeWalt.

5. Poor quality screws

Again, just buy the best you can, and buy ones that are dedicated to the material you’re screwing into. Stronger screw materials include hardened steel or titanium. Look for screws that also have a coating of zinc, copper or ceramic for increased strength (as well as their anti-corrosive properties). Read on to find out about screws that don’t strip.

6. Over-tightening the screws

It’s always tempting to just give a screw one more turn, but this often leads to stripped screws. Once it’s in and it’s flush, stop driving it further. Ignore this and the added resistance will result in stripping.

7. No pilot hole

It’s always a good idea to drill a pilot hole before driving in your screw. You see, when you drive a screw without drilling a pilot hole, it has to displace the space it takes up. This means that the material inside gets pushed outwards creating a real lot of pressure and can lead to cracking.

By drilling a pilot hole first, you get rid of most of the material, lessening the chances of facing resistance and stripping the screw.

Ninja tip: a pilot hole will also stop you from driving the screw at an angle as the screw will follow the path of the hole.

8. Lack of pressure

Ensure that you’re holding the drill at a 90-degree angle to the screw. You need to maintain pressure at all times. The deeper you drive the screw, the more resistance you’ll feel. Keep that pressure applied throughout.

9. No screw lubricant

Say what? This is the carpenter’s secret weapon. If you’re drilling into wood, you definitely want this in your life—it’s a game-changer.

The problem is that it’s surprisingly difficult to get hold of. However, using Vaseline or a beeswax block will work just as well. Just apply a small amount to the bottom half of the screw and away you go.

6 ways to remove a stripped screw

  1. Place a wide elastic band into the screw head recess, place the drill in reverse, apply pressure on the elastic band (sinking bit into screw head) and remove.
  2. Use an impact driver and hammer. Using a good quality bit, place into the screw head ever so slightly leaning the impact driver to the right and give it a few blows with a hammer.
  3. Centre punch and hammer, or a spring-loaded centre punch. Place it on the edge of the screw head and give it a tap. A slow process but good for confined spaces.
  4. Buy a cheap damaged-screw extractor setOpens in a new tab. on Amazon.
  5. A little more expensive: consider buying a Grabit, Vampire ToolsOpens in a new tab., or KnifeEdge Bit dedicated recessed-screw extractor.
  6. Last resort: hammer and chisel. A similar method to the centre punch and hammer. Only use this if you’re not worried about damaging the material.

Related questions

Are there screws that don’t strip?

Consider Torx or Pozidriv (often incorrectly spelt Pozidrive) screws. People swear by these as the screw head recess shape almost eliminates screw stripping.

If you’ve ever wondered why Phillips screws strip so easily, it may be due to an intentional design factor of wanting to avoid being able to overtighten fasteners in aluminium aircraft.

Graham Walsh

I want to share everything I know about home improvement in order to help you. Whether you're a home enthusiast or an industry professional, I have the information that you need.

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