November 14, 2008 4:34 PM   Subscribe

PC repair people, how do you deal with difficult screws?

Despite its siblings undoing without a fuss, there's always one -- invariably, the tiniest screw in the most awkward of places -- that will refuse to budge. No amount of effort will prevent the screwdriver from slipping. Too much effort and the head will wear away so that there's no place for the screwdriver to grip.

How do you undo difficult screws? Is my miniature screwdriver set no good? How can I avoid stripping the heads? Is there a wonder tool that will solve this problem at once and for good?
posted by popcassady to Technology (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Often they're hard to unscrew because they were seated improperly to start with. Try varying the angle of force; this can sometimes help.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:43 PM on November 14, 2008

Sometimes if the screw is just completely impossible you need to drill it out. Of course, you can't really use the screw again after that, but the computer didn't really need that many screws, did it?
posted by phoenixy at 4:54 PM on November 14, 2008

If whatever you're unscrewing flexes, like a big logic board or a bracket, try just barely loosening all the screws before fully removing them. Say if a bracket was bent when it was installed, that last final screw might be receiving a lot of pressure from the bending of the part and it's being held in place by that pressure.
posted by Science! at 4:57 PM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'll usually just keep using larger screwdrivers until I'm able to get the screw out. Sometimes a star bit works well to get a stripped screw out. I've never had to drill out a screw, but I can see how that would happen.

And this post is just begging, BEGGING for a snarky response.
posted by cnc at 5:10 PM on November 14, 2008

Seconding Science! above.
Crack all the screws before removing any. (crack= turn less than 45 degrees or so)
If a screw won't crack, be sure to remove it first (with all the others in place).
posted by hexatron at 5:18 PM on November 14, 2008

I cannot recommend this Screw Out product highly enough. It has saved my ass on NUMEROUS occasions. They're advertised as bits to remove damaged screws but they do a wonderful job of removing those screws that just don't want to be removed in the first place (you may have to fiddle a bit to find the right bit.) I just used one of these pieces yesterday to remove the one screw (out of four) that held a notebook hard drive to it's internal case thingy. Worked it's magic once again.
posted by Rewind at 5:26 PM on November 14, 2008

All of the above are good advise. Most important is to start out with the proper sized, not worn screwdriver. Then "crack" all the screws before removal.
posted by patnok at 5:37 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are only like two different screw sizes you should have to worry about in a computer case, but I do find that jeweler's screwdrivers are a must (and come in many lengths and sizes) for smaller screws and one of those push-button pickup parts retrievers for the inevitable drop.
posted by rhizome at 6:02 PM on November 14, 2008

I have had superb luck using ScrewGrab. It's a suspension of super-fine grit in a gel. It's certainly a good thing to try before you get into the more potentially damaging adventure of drilling. You put a teensy drop in the slot on your screw head, or on the tip of your screwdriver, and it increases grip tremendously. This helps in cases where the slot is just very shallow and so there's little you can do to apply force without slipping, and in cases where the head is already a bit damaged. It wipes away cleanly. I love ScrewGrab!
posted by redfoxtail at 6:07 PM on November 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Once you've got it out, and you're ready to put it all back together, do the exact reverse of cracking all the screws on disassembly: install all the screws holding any given item in place before doing the final tighten on any of them. This goes a long way toward avoiding further thread damage.
posted by flabdablet at 6:40 PM on November 14, 2008

It helps to have several screwdrivers of slight different size. I've often found that one screw driver that's just slightly worn down will slip, while another will gain a very tight grip.
posted by !Jim at 7:48 PM on November 14, 2008

hexatron's crack all screws is really good advice. If all else fails and you are sure the screw isn't needed, there is no circuit, component... super close, and you have a real steady hand, you could use a small router tool to cut the circuit board itself.
posted by RobGF at 7:56 PM on November 14, 2008

Is my miniature screwdriver set no good?

It´s all in the technique, the right angle and pressure can work wonders.
posted by yohko at 8:29 PM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

You don't actually need a screwdriver at all, for the computer screws that have hexagonal heads (the one on the right in this ancient picture of mine). Get a screwdriver that takes standard quarter-inch driver bits, remove the bit, and drive the screw directly with the socket.

Wherever you can, replace round-head screws with the hex-head ones. Note that the hex-head screws all have the coarser thread pitch that's used for everything in a normal computer case except mounting floppy and 5.25-inch optical drives. You'll have to stick with round-head screws for those two tasks, but everything else can be done with hex-heads.
posted by dansdata at 9:35 PM on November 14, 2008

This Black and Decker cordless compact screwdriver has never let me down.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:52 AM on November 15, 2008

Is my miniature screwdriver set no good?

Could be technique, but also note that if you have two-tone mini screwdrivers like these, they're also likely no good -- the heads are made out of, I'm pretty sure, dried silly putty, and press-fit (badly) into the handles so they can (and do) break free and spin independent of the handle.
posted by range at 7:01 AM on November 15, 2008

Yes, my screwdrivers are exactly like those.
posted by popcassady at 10:04 AM on November 15, 2008

Five dollar "precision" screwdriver sets need to be treated like the consumables they are. Turf them as soon as they show the slightest sign of wear, because otherwise they will eat your screws.
posted by flabdablet at 4:49 PM on November 15, 2008

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