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How to Unscrew a Screw Without a Screwdriver: 9 Quick & Easy Ways


Need to tackle a bit of DIY, but can’t find your trusty screwdriver?

Trust us; if you’re anything like us, you’ll find two or three screwdrivers when you don’t need them.

When it comes to the exact moment that you really need a screwdriver, though? Nope, nowhere to be found.

Don’t worry. You don’t need to go to the hassle of traipsing to the local hardware store, or waiting for Amazon to send you one through the post.

We’ve got you covered.

In this article, we’ll help you figure out how to how to unscrew a screw without a screwdriver by showing you nine substitutes that you can use to either tighten or loosen screws in the absence of a proper tool.

From lighter to heavy-duty screws, and from flat-headed to Philips screws, there’s bound to be something to meet your needs.

Let’s get stuck in…


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How to Unscrew a Screw Without a Screwdriver

Here are nine of our favorite screwdriver substitute items.

These ‘everyday’ items are relatively common and should be easy enough to find around your home.

They may not be perfect from a DIY perspective, but they should get you out of a pickle and save you the hassle of spending hours looking for a screwdriver, waiting for one to be delivered, or having to ask the neighbors to borrow one.

1
Use a Butter Knife
Probably the most popular option, and the one we’ve used time and time again over the years, is to use a butter knife as a screwdriver substitute.

We mention a butter knife specifically, but really, any knife with a curved end (as opposed to a sharp end) will do, as it’ll fit nicely into both flathead screws and larger Philips screws.

Go ahead and place the end of the knife in the screw’s head as per the photograph above, and turn it clockwise or anti-clockwise depending on whether you want to tighten or loosen the screw.

Depending on how tight the screw is, you might end up damaging the knife, so we’d recommend using an old one that you don’t mind twisting or bending out of shape.

Also, it goes without saying, but be careful when using a knife so as not to injure yourself or anyone else. Safety first!

2
Use the Ring Pull From a Drinks Can
You can also craft a handy homemade screwdriver from the ring pull from a drinks can.

Once you’ve finished the drink, bend the ring pull forwards and backwards a couple of times, and it should eventually fall off. Be careful, though, as the part of the ring pull that remains, along with the drink’s opening itself, are usually sharp.

Ring pulls are surprisingly strong (they are made from aluminum, after all), meaning they should be more than up to the task.

A slight drawback is that they’re so small, so it can be hard to get the grip and leverage needed to insert or remove tighter screws. Also, owing to how blunt the end of a ring pull is, they’re probably suited to use on flathead screws or Philips screws with oversized heads only.

3
Use Pliers / Locking Pliers
Pliers come in both a locking and non-locking form, with the set shown above being the locking variant.

It doesn’t matter which type you use (both can remove screws relatively easily), although you’ll usually get more leverage from lockable pliers meaning they require less effort.

You can use them where the screw head is sticking out a bit as per the screw in the image, as this gives enough surface area for the pliers to grip.

Unfortunately, pliers won’t work on countersunk screws with a fully encased head. You should probably avoid them too even if the head is even ever-so-slightly exposed; the plier’s teeth inevitably end up causing more damage to the wall or furniture where the screw has been used in these situations.

4
Use a Coin
Considering how much change most us have lying around, it shouldn’t be hard to find the odd penny, or a similarly-sized coin, down the back of the sofa or in your jeans.

The downside is that coins are usually pretty thick, even in smaller denominations, so they won’t be a good screwdriver substitute if you need to tackle smaller screws.

For larger flathead screws though, you should be able to get enough bite and leverage from placing the edge of the coin in the head’s slot and twisting.

It wouldn’t be our go-to choice, but it’s a good backup if you don’t have access to any of the other items on this list.

5
Use Tweezers
Tweezers are one of the best alternatives to a tiny screwdriver, as long as they have pointed ends like the set shown here.

Provided the screw is big enough, you can place both of the tips in the head as we’ve done in the image above, or you can use a single tip if the slots in the screw are smaller.

Even better?

The tips are usually shaped in such a way to give a sharp angle on the edges, making them a good option for tiny screws and making tweezers a possible substitute to a dedicated ‘watch screwdriver’ or a jewelers screwdriver set.

6
Use an Old Credit Card / Membership Card
Like the butter knife, old credit cards or membership cards are an age-old screwdriver substitute.

They won’t be much use for smaller screws, and because they’re so flexible, you’ll struggle to remove particularly tight screws with them.

For looser screws with small heads, though, they’re worth a try if you’re desperate and don’t have access to a proper screwdriver.

We’d recommend choosing an old card that you no longer have any use for, as the chances are, you’ll end up splitting the card before you’re finished!

7
Use an Old CD
Got an old CD lying around that you no longer use?

Well, provided the screw in question is relatively loose, and assuming the screw head’s slot is big enough, you could try using the edge of a CD to remove it.

A word of warning, though, don’t use a new CD or DVD as you could end up chipping the edge to the point where it no longer plays. Also, broken discs are notoriously sharp, so watch out that it doesn’t bend too much and break; otherwise, you could risk a nasty injury.

The disc bending a lot is a sign that the screw is too tight. If this happens, move on and try another item on this list, or wait and use a proper screwdriver.

8
Use Your Thumbnail
Perhaps best used as a last resort, and if you can’t find any of the other items on this list, another option is to use your thumbnail.

It’ll only really work on looser screws, and will probably end up damaging your nail or leading to injury on tighter screws, so it’s worth avoiding these.

The downside is that you’ll need longer nails for this to work. We’d be lying if we said it hasn’t worked for us over the years, though, and in terms of a back to basics approach to DIY, you’ll struggle to find anything simpler.

9
Use a Nail File
Last but not least, you could try using a nail file to loosen screws.

There are a few different types of nail file, with this technique working best with the kind that has a pointed end.

Provided the end forms a sharp enough point, you can use it in smaller flathead and Philips screws. The file can be placed sideways into the slot of larger screws, too, making it very versatile from a DIY-perspective.

Just make sure you ask permission from your partner, girlfriend, or wife before borrowing it, though! Also, watch out not to injure yourself from the pointed tip should the file slip during use.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can you help me figure out how to unscrew a small screw without a screwdriver?
Tiny screws, like those found on watches or glasses, are usually best dealt with by a dedicated ‘watch screwdriver’, or a specific jeweler screwdriver set (often referred to as a precision screwdriver set) because of their much smaller sizes.

Of all the items listed above, the best options would probably be the end of a pair of tweezers or the end of a pointed nail file. Failing that, you could carefully try the end of one of the arms of a pair of nail scissors.

  1. Any tips or advice on how to remove Torx screws or a Robertson screw without a screwdriver?
Robertson screws have an internal square pattern, while Torx screws have a 6-point star-shaped pattern.

In both these cases, bigger items like a butter knife, a coin, an old credit card, or your thumbnail probably won’t be much good.

In the absence of a dedicated screwdriver for Robertson screws or Torx screws, your best bet is probably the end of a pair of tweezers, a pointed nail file, or a pair of nail scissors.

Provided the screw isn’t inserted fully, you could also try using a pair of regular or lockable pliers.

  1. Can you suggest some alternatives to a tiny screwdriver?
Check out our answer to question one.

Final Remarks

So, there you have it.

We hope that this article helped get you out a jam and that you’ve now removed (or inserted!) that pesky screw.

Our advice? Use the hassle you’ve just experienced as motivation to go and buy a good screwdriver set.

You see, even though you may have just managed without a screwdriver, nothing beats the convenience of having a selection of different sized screwdrivers to hand.

Not only that, but you’ll get the added peace of mind that you’ve saved on any of the injuries that could potentially arise from using household items in ways other than those intended. You’ll also be less likely to damage your furniture, walls, or whatever else you’re working on.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, here are some popular screwdriver sets that will more than meet the needs of anyone tackling the odd bit of DIY.

Feel free to drop us a comment below if you have any other questions or queries.

Good luck!


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