Screw holes in wood can become stripped from a variety of causes. If screws are overtightened, the screws are twisted with more force than the wood can handle, causing the screw threads to tear out the wood fibers. Screwed joints can simply be pulled apart, ripping out the screws from wood. Movement of the mating parts also can strip screw holes over time, a common problem with door hinges. There are a few different solutions for fixing stripped screw holes in wood.
As with most repairs, it's best to start with the easiest one first and move to the more involved repairs as needed.
Use a Larger Screw
The first fix is to use a slightly longer or larger-diameter screw than the original, stripped-out, screw. Or better yet, use a screw that is both larger (with a higher gauge number) and longer. The new screw should have the same type of threads or slightly more aggressive threads, to get a little more bite into the wood. More aggressive, or coarser, screws have fewer threads per inch (TPI) or a steeper thread pitch. Just be careful that the new screw isn't so large that it splits the wood when you drive it in. It doesn't take much to split wood in vulnerable areas.
Fill the Screw Hole and Redrive the Screw
If driving a larger screw is not practical, the next-best fix is to fill the screw hole with small strips of the same type of wood, then re-drive the screw:
- Cut some thin strips or shavings from a piece of scrap wood that's the same (or similar) species of wood.
- Dip the tips of strips into wood glue and tap them lightly into the hole with a hammer until the hole is filled. Let the glue dry for a few hours.
- Trim off the strips with a sharp knife or chisel, if they're sticking out of the hole, and sand the area, if necessary.
- Drill a very small pilot hole, using a drill or an awl, into the filled wood, then drive the screw into the pilot hole.
It's best to cut the strips from the same type of wood as the wood with the stripped holes because it will look and behave the same as the original. If you use hardwood filler in softwoods, the hardwood might split the softwood when the screw is driven in. Or, if you use softwood filler in hardwood, the filler may not be durable enough to hold the screw.
For a quick fix—particularly in softwoods—tap a few wooden matchsticks (with the heads cut off) into the hole. You can use a few drops of wood glue in the hole before filling it with matchsticks, but gluing isn't absolutely necessary. The matchsticks are consistent widths and are thick enough that they shouldn't snap off when driving them into the hole. Hardwood dowels or toothpicks also can work, depending on the size of the hole you need to fill. Snap off the matchsticks flush with the wood surface, and sand the surface smooth before driving in the screws.
Trick for Particleboard
Particleboard and MDF (medium-density fiberboard) are made with small wood particles and glue and can break or badly blow out when screwed joints are stressed, making the standard stick-fill fix ineffective.
The solution is to drill out the hole with a 1/2-inch bit, then fill the enlarged hole with a glued 1/2-inch hardwood plug. Let the glue cure fully (about 24 hours), then drill a pilot hole and drive in the screw through the plug. If the damaged area is badly broken, try gluing it back together before using the plug trick. You can buy hardwood plugs from woodworking dealers, hobby shops, and home centers.