Your Guide To Screw Extractors

Screwdriver and screw
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I regularly strip screw heads. I just don't know my own brute strength, I guess. Or maybe it's that I over-torque those soft brass screw heads.

When you can't extract a nail, often the easiest thing to do is pound that sucker deeper into the wood, thus forgetting about it forever. But a screw is stuck in limbo: too far out to be covered over with wood filler, too far in to extract with a wrench, such as a Vise-Grip (Read:  The Perils of Using an Off-Brand Vise Grip).  And by the way, the wrench method is more difficult than it seems because the wrench slips on the screw head.

You can still get it out, but you need something called a screw extractor or an easy out. They are not expensive, though anything is more expensive than you'd like to spend for this simple task.  They don't seem like they should work, but they do.  Let's look at a few options.

  • 01 of 03

    Alden's Grabit Single or Multi-Piece

    Alden Grabit Screw Extractor
    Alden's Grabit Screw Extractor. © Alden Corporation

    Alden's Grab it #2 is a single extractor that works on screws from No. 8 to No. 10 and, they claim, "up to 4 in. in length," though I find this wishful thinking.  It's difficult to remove 4-inch screws the conventional way, much less using a screw extractor.  This runs about $7 and might just work.

    If you think you've got a lot of stripped screws in your future, you can buy Grab it multi-piece packs:  2, 3, and 4 extractors.  The four-piece version is called Grabit-Pro 4 Piece Kit, which I am asking you to remember for a minute because it will rear its head when I discuss our next item.  

    On a Moment's Notice...

    The real value of Grabit is its immediacy.  You can find it at Lowe's or Home Depot, at Ace Hardware, and at countless other brick-and-mortar locations.  Kudos, too, to whoever came up with the name:  Grab it, grab a bit.  Got it?  The other nice thing is that you can buy them one at a time, rather than being forced to buy incredibly small or large extractors that you may never use.

  • 02 of 03

    Speedout

    Speedout Screw Extractor
    Speedout Screw Extractor. © Speedout

    SpeedOut is one of those "As Seen on TV" tchotchkes that unfortunately you can't get at a moment's notice--you'll need to order it from the website and wait from 4 to 6 weeks for delivery.  So, maybe--let's just say?--that it's something you'll want to have ahead of time.

    Its set of four extractors handles screws from No. 4 up to No. 24.  Speed out is a bit more honest about screw length capability, saying that screws over 2 inches long "may compromise" the tool.

    At $19.95, this is an expensive item, though using the promo code DISC5 brings the price down to a more reasonable $14.95.  Whatever you do, don't opt for the "free" light bulb extractor.  Nominally free, it will add a $6.95 "processing fee" to your order.  Speed out has ever-so-helpfully pre-checked the box selecting the "free" bulb extractor, so be sure to uncheck it.

    Speed out Is GrabIt

    Guess what?  Speed out is just a re-branded version of Grabit. The box, website, and all promotional materials may say "Speed out," but the Grabit name is still on the extractors.  So, Speed out is not just identical to Grabit-Pro 4 Piece Kit (Product #8440P), but it is the Grabit Pro 4.

    If you avoid the rip-offs thing about the $6.95 "processing fee," I find that the Speed out is cheaper.  Grab it 8440 is about $25, whereas Speed out (for now) is $14.95 and $19.95 after the promo expires.

  • 03 of 03

    Harbor Freight (Pittsburgh Forge) 12 Pc. Screw Extractors

    Harbor Freight Screw Extractors
    Harbor Freight Screw Extractors. © Harbor Freight

    Ah, good old Harbor Freight, home of rock-bottom prices and China-made everything.  That's the amusing thing about their house brand, Pittsburgh Forge.  If someone can point me to the exact location in Pittsburgh, PA where Pittsburgh Forge tools are made, I'll eat my hat.  To sell tools this cheap, all of Harbor Freight's tools come across the Pacific Ocean, west to east, on giant container ships.

    Separate Burnishers and Bits

    Of Harbor Freight's 12 piece screw extractor kit, half of the items are burnishers--the other half devoted to reverse drill bits ranging from 5/64" to 3/8".  The idea is to burnish with the first set, then switch to the drill bits to pull the screw.

    This set runs about $8.50.  Harbor Freight hardly blinks an eye for returns.  If the extractors don't satisfy you within 90 days, you can return or replace them.