How to Fix a Stripped Screw Hole

Dealing with a stripped screw hole can be incredibly frustrating. Over time, screw holes can become damaged or enlarged, causing screws to spin freely without gripping the walls of the hole. When this happens, your projects come to a grinding halt. Fortunately, there are several effective methods to repair stripped screw holes and get your project back on track.

What Causes Stripped Screw Holes?

Before learning how to fix a stripped screw hole, it helps to understand what causes them in the first place. Here are some of the most common culprits:

  • Using the wrong size screw – Inserting a screw that is too small for the hole can easily strip out the threading. Always make sure you are using the correctly sized screw.
  • Poor quality fasteners – Low quality screws made of soft metal are more likely to shear off or strip inside the hole. Invest in good quality fasteners.
  • Over-tightening – Putting too much torque on a screw can damage the threads inside the hole. Tighten screws gradually and stop when snug.
  • Cross-threading – Forcing in screws at an angle damages threads right from the start. Keep screws perfectly perpendicular.
  • Age and wear – Repeated use of screw holes weakens their grip over time, especially in materials like particle board or plastic.
  • Too many pilot holes – Drilling too many pilot holes near each other can cause excessive wear. Limit pilot holes in the same area.

No matter the cause, stripped screw holes can be a nuisance. Thankfully, we have several solid techniques to rescue damaged holes.

Match the Screw Size to the Hole

One of the best ways to avoid stripped screw holes in the first place is to make sure you are using the correct fastener size. The screw should slide easily in and out of the hole without wiggle room.

Here are some tips for sizing screws correctly:

  • Consult manufacturer specs – Many products provide screw sizing info. Check manuals or packaging.
  • Gauge the hole size – Test different sized screws in the existing hole to find the ideal fit.
  • Measure screw diameter – Use a caliper to determine the screw width if the size is unclear.
  • Consider thread count – Finer threads require a narrower shaft for the same hold strength.
  • Factor in pilot holes – Pilot holes should be slightly narrower than the screw’s shank.
  • Allow for clearance – Leave a small gap (about the thickness of a piece of paper) between the threads and hole.

Taking the time to match your screws to the holes will prevent stripping and keep your projects securely fastened.

Clean Out Damaged Screw Holes

Before attempting to repair a stripped hole, take the time to properly clean it out first. Here’s how:

Step 1: Remove the Screw

  • If a screw is still stuck in the damaged hole, remove it first.
  • Use pliers or vice grips to twist it out. Lubricating with WD-40 can help release the screw.

Step 2: Clear Out Debris

  • Use a vacuum hose to suck out any dust or shards of material from drilling.
  • Run a toothpick around the inside to dislodge any stuck particles.

Step 3: Clean With Solvent

  • Apply a cleaning solvent like rubbing alcohol into the hole using a cotton swab.
  • Rotate the swab to scrub out grime for better glue or epoxy adhesion later.

Thoroughly prepping the hole will give your repair efforts the best chance of success.

How to Use Toothpicks to Fix Stripped Screw Holes

One quick and handy way to repair a small stripped screw hole is by wedging in toothpicks:

Step 1: Break Toothpicks to Fit Hole

  • Use flat wooden toothpicks that match the width of the screw hole’s opening.
  • Break the toothpicks into pieces approximately 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch long.

Step 2: Jam Pieces Partially Into Hole

  • Dip the toothpick tips in wood glue first for better adhesion.
  • Use tweezers or pliers to insert the pieces halfway into the stripped hole.
  • Pack about 4-5 pieces into the hole tightly.

Step 3: Break Off Excess Ends

  • Once dry, trim off any excess toothpick length protruding from the hole using flush cutters.
  • Wipe away any debris and dry glue spots from the area.

The wedged-in toothpicks restore grip by creating new threads inside the hole. Easy!

Filling Stripped Holes with Glue and Toothpicks

For more heavy-duty repairs, you can fill an entire stripped hole using glue and toothpicks:

Step 1: Roll Toothpicks In Glue

  • Select appropriately sized wooden toothpicks for the hole width.
  • Apply a layer of quick-setting epoxy, wood glue, or super glue to the toothpicks.

Step 2: Pack Into Hole

  • Use a screwdriver or pliers to tightly pack the glue-coated pieces into the hole.
  • Fill about 2/3 of the hole to leave space for the screw later.

Step 3: Wait for Glue to Dry

  • Give the glue at least 30 minutes to fully cure and harden. Drying time depends on glue type.
  • For extra strength, apply a second layer of glue over the filled hole and insert more toothpicks.

The glued-in toothpicks will grip screws like new threading. Be sure to repilot holes after filling.

Using Wood Glue and Wood Dowels

Larger stripped screw holes may require something heftier than toothpicks. Wood glue and wood dowels can fill these holes solidly:

Step 1: Cut Dowel to Fit Hole

  • Select a wood dowel made of oak or maple that matches the hole diameter.
  • Use a miter saw or hack saw to cut pieces that are 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch long.

Step 2: Coat Dowel Piece With Glue

  • Apply a layer of wood glue or carpenter’s glue to coat the sides of the dowel pieces.
  • Insert 2-3 glue-covered pieces into the stripped hole using pliers or a clamp.

Step 3: Allow Time to Dry

  • Leave the glue to cure for at least 1 hour. The drying time may be longer for some wood glues.
  • Add more pieces if the hole is not completely filled and let dry again.

The repaired hole will be ready for drilling and screwing once the glue has hardened fully.

Filling Larger Holes with Wood Putty

For stripped holes wider than 1⁄4 inch, wood filler putty offers an easy repair solution:

Step 1: Press Putty Into Hole

  • Knead plumber’s putty or wood filler putty until soft and moldable.
  • Force the putty into the damaged hole, pressing firmly to fill completely.

Step 2: Smooth Excess Putty

  • Once the hole is full, scrape away any excess putty using a putty knife.
  • Ensure the area is smooth and even with the surface.

Step 3: Let Putty Dry

  • Give the putty at least 8 hours to fully harden before drilling. Drying times vary.
  • Sand lightly and paint once dry for an invisible fix.

With this method, you can easily repair stripped holes in drywall, wood, and other materials.

Using Autobody Filler to Repair Larger Holes

For excessively large stripped holes wider than 1⁄2 inch, automotive body filler offers heavy-duty repairs:

Step 1: Apply Release Agent

  • Brush a light coat of wax, Vaseline, or release agent onto the area surrounding the hole.
  • This prevents the filler from sticking to other surfaces.

Step 2: Mix and Fill Hole with Putty

  • Knead auto body filler putty until smooth and soft.
  • Force the putty into the hole, pressing firmly to fill completely.

Step 3: Sand and Paint Repaired Area

  • Allow filler to fully cure overnight before sanding smooth.
  • Prime and paint the area to match the rest of the surface.

Auto body filler dries extremely hard, creating a durable patch in damaged wood or drywall.

Using Matchsticks and Glue

Much like toothpicks, wooden matchsticks can also repair stripped screw holes easily. Here’s how:

Step 1: Cut Matchsticks to Fit

  • Use standard wooden matchsticks or chopsticks.
  • Cut them to length so they fit the depth of the screw hole snugly.

Step 2: Coat Matchsticks with Glue

  • Apply white or wood glue to the pieces, coating all sides.
  • Quick-drying superglue also works well.

Step 3: Press Into Hole

  • Use small pliers to insert the matchsticks into the hole.
  • Pack tightly until the hole is filled about 2/3 full.

Step 4: Allow to Dry completely

  • Let the glue cure fully until hardened, at least 30 minutes.
  • Trim any protruding ends flush with the surface.

The glued-in matchsticks will provide fresh gripping power for screws.

Filling Hole with Glued Golf Tees

Here is an incredibly strong yet simple solution: using golf tees and wood glue to repair stripped screw holes:

Step 1: Cut Golf Tees to Fit Hole Depth

  • Buy inexpensive wooden golf tees to suit the hole diameter.
  • Use wire cutters to trim their length to fit the depth of the hole.

Step 2: Apply Wood Glue to Tees

  • Spread wood glue, super glue, or epoxy along the sides of the cut golf tees.
  • Make sure glue fully coats each piece.

Step 3: Press Tees Into Hole

  • Use needlenose pliers to insert glue-covered tees into the damaged hole.
  • Pack tightly until the hole is about 2/3 filled.

Step 4: Allow Repair to Dry

  • Leave the glue to cure completely, at least 30 minutes or until hardened.
  • Cut off any tee ends that protrude from the hole.

The golf tees will repair the hole very reliably at a low cost.

Drilling Out Stripped Holes to Next Size Up

For stripped holes that are salvageable, you can drill them out to the next screw size up:

Step 1: Determine Next Screw Size Needed

  • Identify the screw size initially used in the damaged hole.
  • Choose the next size up that is approximately 20-50% larger.

Step 2: Drill Out Old Hole

  • Clamp a piece of scrap under the hole to prevent tear-out on the backside.
  • Use a bit slightly larger than the replacement screw’s shank.
  • Drill through the old hole to remove damaged threads.

Step 3: Clean and Repilot Hole

  • Use compressed air and a vacuum to clear out debris.
  • Repilot the enlarged hole with the appropriate sized bit.

With the hole drilled out cleanly to the larger size, it will grip screws more reliably.

Redrilling Stripped Holes Off-Center

If the previous hole is too damaged, simply drilling a new hole nearby can work:

Step 1: Select New Hole Location

  • Pick a spot as close to the original hole as possible.
  • Allow at least 1⁄4 inch of fresh material between holes.

Step 2: Drill New Pilot Hole

  • Use the correct size bit for the screws you are using.
  • Keep the new hole perfectly perpendicular to avoid stripping again.

Step 3: countersink if Needed

  • For flush heads, use a countersink bit to create a wide, angled opening.
  • Take care not to make the countersink too wide.

With a pristine new pilot hole drilled, screws can find purchase again.

Filling Stripped Holes with a Wood Plug

For more permanent repairs, you can fill the damaged hole with a wood plug:

Step 1: Drill out Old Screw Hole

  • Use a bit at least 1/8 inch wider than the original hole diameter.
  • Drill through the stripped hole to remove all old threads.

Step 2: Glue In Sized Wood Dowel Chunk

  • Cut a wood dowel to fit the width and depth of hole tightly.
  • Spread wood glue inside hole and insert dowel piece using a mallet.

Step 3: Trim Dowel Flush With Surface

  • Once glue is dry, use a flush-cut saw or file to trim the dowel perfectly even with the material face.

Step 4: Sand and Finish Repair Smooth

  • Sand until smooth and match surrounding finish.
  • Paint or restain as needed to conceal repair.

The wood plug leaves a repaired hole that looks great and works perfectly.

Patching Large Stripped Holes

For very severely damaged screw holes, patching and refinishing the area may be required:

Step 1: Chisel or Router Out Damaged Section

  • Use a sharp wood chisel or router to cut out a square section around the bad hole.
  • Remove 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch of material on all sides of the hole.

Step 2: Cut Patch Piece

  • Cut a square patch from new material to fill the hole exactly.
  • The grain pattern and type of wood should match existing.

Step 3: Glue Patch Piece In Place

  • Spread carpenter’s glue or epoxy on patch and place into routed out hole.
  • Allow adhesive to cure fully per manufacturer instructions.

Step 4: Sand and Finish Repair

  • File and sand until the patch is perfectly flush with the surface.
  • Stain, paint, or finish over repair to blend with surrounding area.

With proper patching, you can make damaged holes completely disappear.

Preventing Stripped Screw Holes

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some tips to avoid stripped screw holes in the first place:

  • Drill proper pilot holes – Prevent tearing by pre-drilling holes for screws.
  • Watch your torque – Don’t over-tighten screws. Tighten just until snug.
  • Lubricate threads – Apply wax or soap to screw threads to reduce friction.
  • Use screw hole repair kits – Reinforce existing holes with threaded inserts.
  • Choose quality hardware – Invest in screws and drill bits made of hard metals.
  • Use washers – Add a washer under screw heads for better load distribution.
  • Retighten carefully – Unscrew and re-drive screws just until resistance increases.

A bit of care when driving screws can go a long way towards preventing headaches later.

Questions and Answers About Fixing Stripped Screw Holes

Can you fix a stripped screw hole in metal?

Yes, there are several good options for repairing stripped holes in metal surfaces. A helicoil screw thread insert provides durable new threading. You can also fill stripped metal holes using JB Weld or another metal epoxy. Alternatively, drilling and tapping the hole to a larger screw size will work.

What’s the best glue to use when fixing stripped screw holes?

For most materials, a good multi-surface adhesive option is polyurethane glue (Gorilla glue). Epoxy also works very well for metal, plastic, wood, masonry and more. Standard wood glue or carpenter’s glue is best for repairing stripped screw holes in wood.

How do you fix stripped screw holes in kitchen cabinets?

Fill deeper holes with glued toothpicks, matchsticks or wood plugs. For superficial damage, apply a thin layer of wood glue and sprinkle on sawdust to fill scratches. Once dry, redrill pilot holes. Wood putty also works to fill small holes in cabinets. Refinish repairs to match.

How can you fix a stripped screw hole in a plastic fixture?

Applying cyanoacrylate glue (super glue) and baking soda quickly fills stripped plastic holes. Another option is to use an epoxy or auto body filler. For small holes, thin CA glue and toothpicks can work. Be sure all repair materials are cured before redrilling pilot holes.

What is the best way to fix a stripped hole in sheet metal?

Helicoil thread inserts are the strongest and longest lasting option for stripped sheet metal holes. JB Weld is another good choice. Cleaning out the hole and using a larger screw can also work for mild damage. Apply lubricant on screws to prevent future stripping.

How do you repair a stripped hole in fiberglass?

Mix 2-part epoxy and fill the fiberglass hole completely. Let the epoxy fully cure before drilling a new pilot hole for screws. Another method is using waterproof wood plugs secured with waterproof polyurethane construction adhesive. Avoid acidic substances that react with fiberglass resin.


Dealing with a stripped screw hole may seem like a nuisance, but armed with these handy repair techniques, the fix is easy. Start by cleaning out loose debris and matching your screw size properly. For quick repairs, fill the hole with toothpicks, matchsticks, or golf tees and wood glue. Larger holes can be patched using wood plugs, epoxy, wood filler, or auto body filler. And with care when driving screws, you can avoid stripped holes in the future. Repairing stripped screw holes takes just a few steps and materials on hand. Before you know it, your project will be back on track.