A classic and recurring problem that most people encounter is a screw with a striped or damaged screw head attached to a laptop motherboard! We all have found ourselves here, awkwardly groping a screwdriver trying to remove the screw only to notice that it has been damaged, either by your rushed actions or by a previous handyman.
Since the screw head is totally stripped, your screwdriver is unable to get a good grip and extract the screw. An important thing to note is that some laptop manufacturers such as Apple use fairly specific screws (pentalobe, torx, tri-wing) that are difficult to find in the market. If you don’t have the right screwdriver, the best thing to do is to go and get one, otherwise, you risk making the situation worse or even ruining your motherboard completely!
Removing a screw with a stripped head takes a little ingenuity, but it is pretty straightforward in the end. We are going to go over a few different solutions. The method you choose will depend on your individual situation and what you have available
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Solution 1: Using an Elastic Band
Sometimes all we need to remove a stripped screw is a little extra care. The rubbery surface of an elastic band can help hold the screwdriver in place and snag any available grip inside the damaged cross. Any elastic or rubber band will do, including a piece of bicycle or a car tire tube as long as it allows maximum contact between the screw head and the screwdriver!
Place the elastic at the end of a screwdriver and press enough so that the pressure makes the rubber of the elastic stick to the screw. If the screw head is only partially damaged, the rubber band will help fill in the areas where the screw has been damaged and provide contact where it is needed.
Solution 2: Using the Damaged Screw as the Bit of a Screwdriver
If the screw is stuck real hard and the head is stripped all the way, you can also use an electronic screwdriver for extraction purposes. If you’re lucky, this can be a lot easier than the elastic band method because all the work will be done by your electrical device.
Attach your screwdriver to the damaged screw head and tighten strongly because the tightening will play a big role in loosening up the screw. Put the machine in the unscrewing position and start slowly! Don’t go too fast because the head of the screw could then turn in the chuck. Normally the screw should come out of the slot in which it was screwed. If there is a lack of grip, you can also use the elastic trick to increase the friction between the jaws of the mandrel and the head.
Solution 3: Using a Penetrating Oil Spray
Penetrating oil sprays such as the WD-40 are easy to find at your local hardware store. Among the magical and practical uses of the WD-40, one of the main ones is its ability to facilitate movement between rooms.
The way it works is that it contains a solvent that attacks anything blocking the screw and it also produces a thermal shock during application. Leave it on for at least 15 minutes, however best results are achieved if you let it sit overnight in a cold (approximately 40 F) or a warm (approximately 85 F) environment. You can achieve this by cooling with ice cubes for example and/or by heating the shaft of a screwdriver. Once the temperature propagates to the screw, the latter will contract (cold) or expand (heat) slightly and will help to have more “play” between the screw and the bracket to unscrew.
Only use the penetrating oil if you are sure that your screw is made of steel and the motherboard has no steel in it! The materials must be different for this to work. What could be simpler than to spray a little WD-40 on the screw making sure that it penetrates well between the support and the latter, wait a few minutes and try to unscrew the thing. This should do the trick in most cases. If not, then you have to take one of the more drastic approaches discussed further in this article.
Solution 4: Using a Dremel
A slightly more destructive solution is to create a slot on the head of the stripped screw and transform it into a slotted screw. While it is possible to use a hacksaw for the task, it is more convenient and efficient to use a tool like a cutting disc with a Dremel.
The idea is to recreate an indentation for a flat screwdriver. Choose a thin bur (max 0.5 mm) for this. Make the impression as sharp as possible (not too deep about 1mm) holding the cutter firmly. Then calmly but forcefullyunscrew using a flat screwdriver inserted in the impression.
Solution 5: Using a Drill
If, for one reason or another, the previous solutions did not produce the expected results, it is now necessary to completely drill the screw head in order to free the motherboard. First, take a piece of paper and create a shield to protect the motherboard from the shavings that will come out of the screw.
In case of a stainless steel screw, pay particular attention to the drilling speed, and don’t forget to regularly apply a drop of lubricant, otherwise the drill may get damaged. The motherboard can now be removed. The remaining threaded part should be easy to remove using fine pliers.
Solution 5: Using an Extractor
There is still a final solution: Little known to the general public, there are special “extractor” drills on the market. These are used in the same way as a conventional drill, with the difference being that the drilling is done at a reduced speed in the opposite (unscrewing) direction.
A screw extractor is an essential tool for removing the screw from its housing when it is broken. You can easily buy a screw extractor from your local hardware store or online. To ensure that any size screw can be removed, you can purchase a screw extraction set. You would then be able to extract any type of broken screws: wood screws, lag screws, plasterboard screws, metal screws, sheet metal screws, self-drilling screws, etc. However, in this case, you most probably have a stainless steel screw attached to your motherboard.
The principle of the extractor is simple but ingenious: As with the elastic method, the principle is to “hang” the head of the screw as if it were in perfect condition and unscrew the assembly afterwards. Well, the screw extractor has an inverted thread allowing it to “screw” into the head while it turns in the unscrewing direction of the assembly. Usually, the tool is found in different sizes to accommodate different sizes of screw heads. Once the correct size puller has been found, it can be used as a normal bit on an electric screwdriver
The easiest method is to test several screwdrivers to see which one is still turning the screw. While this trick won’t always guarantee successful results, you can test it to see if a screwdriver can get through a broken screw. To loosen a stripped screw you can also try pouring chemicals such as lubricants, Coca-Cola, or lemon juice to dissolve the screw or at least the parts that cling to its surroundings. Finally, you may also use a rotary cutter to create a new slot on the screw. Then remove it with a screwdriver or a knife.
Removing a stripped screw from a motherboard is not a difficult job to do. Even though the screwdriver is no not enough to remove a screw with a broken or damaged head, all you need are certain materials or tools such as a screw extractor and follow the steps mentioned above.