How to Remove Stubborn Laptop Screws
July 22, 2011 5:04 PM   Subscribe

How do I remove tight screws from laptop hard drive caddies? I'm trying to swap the hard drives from one laptop to another. Yet I can't get them out of their respective caddies. Is there some trick that makes it possible to loosen the screws without risking the hard drives?
posted by Yakuman to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Good (that is, not blunt) screwdrivers + force. Get a new screwdriver from the hardware store and you should be able to undo the screws.
posted by zippy at 5:13 PM on July 22, 2011

and by force I mean the twisty kind. With a sharp screwdriver you won't need to press as hard as with a blunt one to keep it in the screw while turning.
posted by zippy at 5:14 PM on July 22, 2011

I run into this problem all of the time with the drive screws on my desktop. For some reason they do not easily budge. I have to take a jeweler screwdriver, apply downward pressure with my palm, and with my other hand, rotate the screwdriver with a pair of pliers. That may sound confusing, but it worked for me.
posted by Bachsir at 5:19 PM on July 22, 2011

Just now got done replacing the HDD in my DM1z with an SSD. I think the most important thing is finding the right sized screwdriver. A lot of different size Philips drivers will fit in a certain screw but there's always one that fits best.

Can you not turn it, or you can turn it but it spins out of the screw? If it's the former, definitely try the pliers solution (or a driver with a fatter handle), but if it's the latter, stop and get the right driver to avoid stripping and frustration.
posted by ftm at 5:31 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

My technique is similar to Bachsir's, but without the pliers. Jeweler's screwdriver with downward pressure with one hand, twist with the other. These screwdrivers are designed with handle caps that turn so that the palm that's pressing down doesn't interfere with the rotation.
posted by zippy at 5:36 PM on July 22, 2011

That blue residue you're seeing is medium-strength loctite, a screw-locking fluid. Get a good screwdriver, lean on it a bit and use a bit more force, you'll be OK. The reason that fine screwdrivers have that rotating heel on them is so that you can lean on it a bit with your palm.
posted by mhoye at 6:15 PM on July 22, 2011

Using the right screwdriver, meaning the right size and the right type, is key. Just as an example, I've had luck with the small plastic-handled multi-bit "Husky" brand screwdriver from Home Depot (SKU # 163149) on all of my Apple products' small phillips-type screws. It's pretty cheap, too.

Don't use hex keys or bits on a torx headed screw and vice versa. Make sure you're using exactly the right size. On a pristine screw head, the right size torx or hex bit will *juuuuust* fit. If it's banged up, the right size might hit a burr and not appear to fit at first glance.

To get more torque, you can wrap a cloth around the handle to get a larger diameter. I wouldn't use jeweler's screwdrivers unless you have a really good set. For the cross-type screw heads (phillips, posidrive, etc) The most important thing is to use the right driver with the right angle and clean edges. The wrong angle will end up camming out the screw head if you're trying to use some force.
posted by graftole at 7:37 PM on July 22, 2011

Yeah, you can head to the dollar store and for a buck buy a cheap little glasses repair kit that has 6 or 8 bitty screwdrivers, blade and philips, low quality but high enough qual to do what you're doing -- find the closest fit, lean on it a little bit as suggested by a few upthread, it'll come out.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:39 PM on July 22, 2011

It's generally worth paying for screwdrivers with hardened, forged tips, not only because they are more accurately made to pattern specification dimensions, but also because they will transmit far more torque to high strength screws, or screws with Loctite or other anti-vibration locking, without damage to the screwdrivers themselves. Once a Phillips screwdriver is even minutely damaged, its ability to safely transmit torque to the screw is greatly reduced. The few dollars you might save on a cheaper screwdriver are almost never, in my experience, worth the aggravation the cheaper tool creates.
posted by paulsc at 9:53 PM on July 22, 2011

If you find it slipping when trying to turn a jeweler's screwdriver, tightly wrap a medium thick rubber band around it to improve grip.
posted by dirm at 6:14 AM on July 23, 2011

These screws may have Loctite, but just as likely they were just installed with a power driver that was torqued a bit too much. When I worked tech support, we pretty much had a manual screwdriver policy on laptops because of the risk of screw stripping (especially on plastic cases).

The traditional solution for a jammed screw is to place a screwdriver in the head and give it a tap with a hammer, straight in, as if you were using the screwdriver as a nailset. If the HDD is powered down and the heads are parked this should not be an issue. Bang, turn as necessary until you get movement.

But yes, using the exact correct size screwdriver and a good, undamaged one is important.
posted by dhartung at 9:26 AM on July 23, 2011

In addition to getting a good/correctly sized screwdriver, proper technique is important. Make sure the tip is well seated and lined up perfectly with the screw (I often find a longer screwdriver makes lining it up easier). Then press down hard and apply a slow steady torque, gradually increasing it until the screw breaks loose.
posted by TedW at 12:56 PM on July 23, 2011

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