How to remove a stripped set-screw from a bathroom faucet handle
April 22, 2014 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I did a stupid thing and I am so ashamed. One of our bathroom faucets has a minor leak. When a previous faucet had the same problem, I fixed it by replacing the stem, which worked like a charm, so I was planning on doing the same to this one. Unfortunately, I think I stripped the set-screw when trying to remove the handle, and now I am unable to remove the handle to make the repair. I am looking for suggestions on how to remove this set-screw.

We have a bathroom faucet sort of, but not exactly, like this Delta faucet. You can see the set screw in the picture. It is a hex screw, and I have the right driver, but I think I've stripped the screw. I've seen some recommendations for ways to get better grip in the opening, including shoving a bit of rubber into the opening (which I've tried) or shoving some steel wool into the opening (which I have not yet tried). Most of the on-line recommendations involve drilling out the screw, which will ruin the faucet handle. I would prefer not to do this, as I suspect we would have to replace all the handles at that point in order to get matching ones. Have any of you plumbing gurus had any luck with these little buggers? Is there anything else I can do to get the damned screw out?

Thanks so much for any assistance!
posted by blurker to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Removing a stripped screw or stripped bolt or other stripped or broken fastener can be done by either using a screw extractor (which is a dedicated tool) or by drilling the screw out by using the smallest diameter metal-drilling screw to drill out the stripped screw's shaft or somehow getting a grip on the head (unlikely with your current predicament since set screws usually reside underneath the surface of or so near the surface of your working materials that it doesn't matter, but with protruding screw heads folks can sometimes get a grip with a set of locking pliers) or finally by finding another way to restore whatever the slot originally was in the screw (like cutting a new slot in it with a dremel or some other high speed, low torque tool).

So the good news is that there are probably multiple ways you can get the screw out. The bad news is that they'll probably require ordering a special tool or being very finicky with tools you already have.

Also it's important to note that usually if you drill out the screw, it doesn't usually ruin anything but the stripped screw. You match the diameter of the main shaft of the screw then use brushes or tweezers or vigorous shaking or other techniques to loosen and remove the threads and metal shavings left behind after drilling out the screw.
posted by kalessin at 10:44 AM on April 22, 2014

Here is an FAQ on how to get Delta replacement parts, including that screw doo-hickey. So if drilling it out is your only option, or if, you want to replace it with a nice new screw doo-hickey, you can take care of it.

I'd spring $19.95 for SpeedOut.

There are a couple of similar things on Amazon.

Here's a 12-ways to do this list.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:46 AM on April 22, 2014

If you've got an allen key to spare, you could try using epoxy to fix it to the stripped screw. Be careful not to get epoxy on anything else besides the head of the screw.

If you opt on drilling out the screw, take the set screw out of the other faucet so you can measure how far to go. (You can put a tape flag on your drill bit.) You don't want to drill into whatever the set screw is setting against.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:06 AM on April 22, 2014

JB Weld would be the best thing to use for epoxy for my suggestion above.

Sometimes a flat-bladed screwdriver will be the right size to force into a hex-head (as per Puthless Bunny's list).

And I've stripped so many screws that I count it as a personal victory when I don't.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:11 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Superglue may also work, viz the epoxy suggestion, but the same precautions are required. Whatever you're gluing to the head of the screw has the potential to get glued to the rest of the faucet, or you could glue the screw in place. After that, it's cutting, and trips to Home Depot, and eating crow.

You can put masking/painters tape over the screw/hole and punch a small hole through the tape, for inserting your adhesive-tipped item (anything immune to the acetone you'd use to remove the superglue).
posted by Sunburnt at 11:28 AM on April 22, 2014

That SpeedOut set are all way too big.

I recommend easy-out screw extractors like these. Sears may have them, too. You may not even have to drill the screw; just put the smallest extractor in a tap handle (or use a small adjustable wrench), insert the end into the screw, and turn it left. Because the extractor has six flutes, it will use whatever is left of the hex in the screw to get a grip. If it bottoms out in the hex opening before it grips, you'll have to drill a small hole in the screw.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:21 PM on April 22, 2014

before you attempt anything, the reason the set screw stripped out is probably because of rust. Put some Kroil or pb blaster on it (penetrating oil) and take a small punch or screwdriver, place that on the screw and lightly tap with a hammer to knock stuff loose.

The first thing I try is to grind/file a slot in the set screw to fit a blade screwdriver in. If that isn't possible try using a slightly bigger Allen wrench (with a ball on the end if possible) and hammer that into the screw and then ease it out. If you can get ANY of the set screw above the edge of the surrounding handle you can use needle nose vise grip pliers to grab it and twist slowly.

DON'T try and reuse the same set screw. Buy a stainless one at the hardware store or from Delta. And use some anti-seize compound on the threads before putting it back together.

I can't get all the links for the products here, but if you search amazon they should all show up if you are unfamiliar with them or don't have them.
posted by bartonlong at 1:27 PM on April 22, 2014

WD-40 is good as a penetrating oil, too.

Then, EZ Outs.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:24 PM on April 22, 2014

The screw is like a #10 fine thread. It is going to very difficult to drill a hole in the screw to use any sort of extractor. And because you are replacing the stem I wouldn't even bother. I would instead just grind the head off the screw with a dremel thereby freeing the handle and allowing you to take out the stem. Then when you insert the new stem you can get a new screw to go with it. The stem is probably going to be brass so avoid stainless screws as they can gall. Use a brass screw. They'll be in the same section of the hardware store as the new stem.
posted by Mitheral at 7:15 PM on April 22, 2014

It's a set screw; there is probably no head to grind off. From the picture, it's definitely set into the handle, so any grinding on the screw would ruin the handle. It's also a hex-socket screw, like an Allen screw, so there's already a symmetrical hole in ts center. Drilling would not be difficult. The set screw probably does not thread into the stem; it most likely engages a flat or recess on the stem. Stainless is the best material, in fact I bet the original one is stainless. Even the cheap fixtures that the builder of my house used all have stainless set screws. Stainless usually only galls when it goes into another stainless part with a lot of torque. Stainless-to-brass would be no problem.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:45 AM on April 23, 2014

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