How To Unscrew A Screw Without A Screwdriver (Do This!)
We’ve all been there at least once before – where you need to remove a screw but you lack the necessary tools. Although using a screwdriver will always be the safest, easiest, and most efficient way to remove a screw, there are other methods that can be attempted. Such methods are especially useful in a pinch when you can’t find a screwdriver, or don’t have the right type or size screwdriver on hand.
As the saying goes: you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. The same applies to your Phillips screwdriver, as it simply will not fit a flat-head or single-slot screw. When you don’t have the proper tool for the job, a little knowledge and ingenuity can go a long way.
How to Unscrew a Phillips Head Screw Without a Screwdriver
The ideal tool to remove a Phillips head screw is a Phillips screwdriver, whose pointed edges in the shape of a cross, fit perfectly into the cross slots of a Phillips screw. These types of screws are the most widely used screws around. The grooves of a Phillips screw form a cross and in some cases, one of these grooves will be longer than the other.
If this is the case, you should always work with the longer groove when attempting removal, as it is much easier to manipulate with improvised tools.
Phillips head screws are notoriously prone to being stripped, meaning the edges of the grooves become worn down. Stripping can make it incredibly difficult to remove the screw, as there are no longer solid grooves for your tool to catch on.
If you don’t have access to a Phillips screwdriver, there are a number of other tools that can be used to attempt to remove the screw, many of which can be found around the house. However, make sure that you use special care with the procedures outlined below so as not to strip the screw in the process.
- Coin: Try using a small coin to unscrew your Phillips screw. Both dimes and pennies can be especially useful for this method. Insert the coin into the longer groove of the screw and attempt to turn it counterclockwise to remove. This procedure will typically only work for larger sized Phillips screws, rather than tiny ones.
- Kitchen butter knife: A kitchen butter knife can be used in a very comparable way to coins. Simply insert the end of your butter knife into the Phillips screw’s longest groove and turn counterclockwise to unscrew. Be aware that you may cause damage to either your screw or knife with this method. An exceptionally tight screw or a low-quality butter knife may cause the knife to bend rather than unscrewing the screw.
- Pliers or vice grips: Pliers or vice grips will only work if the head of the Phillips screw is slightly elevated above the surrounding surface. In some cases, needle nose pliers may be more effective than standard pliers. Use the tool to grip the sides of the screw head and turn counterclockwise to twist out the screw.
- Your thumbnail: Using your thumbnail to unscrew a Phillips screw will only be effective if the screw is already loosened. Simply insert your nail into the long groove of the screw and turn counterclockwise. If it’s too tight, opt for an alternate method.
- An old CD: Remember CDs? Although streaming services have taken over, you may still have an old CD lying around somewhere. If so, you can insert the edge of the CD into the long groove of the screw and turn counterclockwise. This motion may damage or break the CD, so make sure that you use one you won’t mind damaging.
- Plastic toothbrush: Carefully melt the end of a plastic toothbrush using a lighter or another source of heat. When the plastic is soft, insert the end into the head of the screwdriver and wait for the plastic to harden again. One the plastic is hard, attempt to turn the screw counterclockwise to remove. This will typically only work on screws that are slightly loose. As always, be very careful when working with a lighter and hot plastic.
- Flathead screwdriver: If you don’t have, or cannot find, a Phillips head screwdriver you can substitute for a flat head screwdriver. However, make sure that the flathead is the same length as the longer groove in the Phillips head screw. Simply insert the flat head screwdriver into the longer groove and turn counterclockwise to remove. This method will not work for smaller screws.
If the Phillips head screw that you need to remove does not have one groove that is longer than the other, you can create one using a hacksaw. With a screw head that is slightly raised above the surface, simply hold the hacksaw vertically and slowly cut the end of the screw to make a longer groove. Then, unscrew it as you would a flat head screw or with one of the methods outlined above.
How to Unscrew a Flat Head Screw Without a Screwdriver
As opposed to two grooves, flat head screws have one long groove that extends across the head of the screw only. These types of screws are often used for decorative purposes, can be found on older furniture, and are the oldest type of screws in use today. If you don’t have access to a flat head screwdriver, the following Phillips head screw removal techniques can be applied for use on flat head screws:
- Kitchen butter knife
- Pliers (or vice grips)
- Your thumbnail
- Coins (dimes and pennies work best)
Other options for the removal of flat head screws include:
- Card: Any sort of plastic card, such as a credit card, can be used to turn a flat head screw. Insert the edge of the card into the flat head screw’s groove and turn counterclockwise to remove. Make sure that you use a strong card, as it could become damaged in the process.
- Soda can tab: Similar to how you would use a coin, you can use the tab off of a soda can. Remove the tab from the can and insert it into the groove of the flat head screw. Then, turn counterclockwise to unscrew the screw.
How to Unscrew a Torx Screw Without a Screwdriver
Typically found in use on vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles, and consumer electronics, Torx screws are characterized by their star-shaped head. They are much more secure than traditional Phillips or flat head screws, as they allow for higher torque transmission. Security Torx screws are outfitted with a nub in the middle of the screw head that must be accounted for.
If you don’t have the proper Torx screwdriver to remove a Torx screw, you can use one of the following alternative methods:
- Use a plastic toothbrush. Similar to its use on both Phillips and flat head screws, a plastic toothbrush can also be used to remove a Torx screw. Lightly melt the end of a plastic toothbrush using your preferred source of heat. When the plastic is soft enough, insert it in the screw head and wait for the plastic to harden again. Once hard enough, turn the screw counterclockwise to remove.
- Use a small flat head screwdriver. If you don’t have a Torx screwdriver, you can attempt to unscrew the screw with a flat head screwdriver. Simply insert the flat head screwdriver into two opposite edges of the Torx screw head. Then, turn counterclockwise slowly to remove. For security Torx screws, you’ll need to place the flat head against the center nub and one of the outer grooves. Security Torx screws typically turn in the opposite direction, so turn clockwise to unscrew them properly.
- Break out the pin for security Torx screws. If you only have a conventional Torx screwdriver and not a security version, you can remove the center pin from the screw head. Use a hammer and a chisel-like tool, line up the chisel at the bottom of the pin and gently tap on the top of the chisel to detach the pin.
Alternatively, you can easily convert a non-security Torx driver or drill bit into a security Torx driver. To do this, drill a small hole into the center of the drill bit to accommodate the center pin that exists on security Torx screws and remove as normal.
Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.
More by Jessica Stone