Stripped hardware can be a really frustrating issue when wrenching on your RC car. It’s never a good thing, and it usually happens when you least expect it. Luckily, there are several solutions available for removing those pesky stripped screws and rounded locknuts. It’s just a matter of deciding which ones work best for you. In this article we are going to review a few of those solutions to find out just how well they work, which we hope helps you decide what may work best for you in the future.
About the Tools
Before we get into individual methods, let’s talk a little about the tools for the job. For most screw extractions you will need some kind of micro screw extraction kit. The kit we decided on is branded by Werkzeug, a somewhat generic brand off the Amazon marketplace. This particular set comes with an assortment of drills and extractors meant for use with smaller-sized hardware, perfect for the hardware sizes commonly found in RC. There are other brands of the same kit available; just be sure to check the sizing of the drills and extractors to make sure they’ll work for the smaller hardware we work with on a regular basis, usually between 1.5mm and 4mm.
Next, we decided to take a look at a pair of screw extraction pliers. For most stuck and stripped hardware we need something a little more purpose-built than a regular old pair of needle-nosed pliers. For this we reached for a set of Vampire Tools VamPliers, a tool specially designed for screw and hardware removal. These pliers feature a unique jaw design that helps grip onto screw heads and other hardware.
Lastly, we were curious about a more unorthodox approach to hardware removal using a specialty removal fluid. The product that kept coming up in our search was from a company called Screw Grab. This removal fluid is meant to be applied inside the stripped area of the screw head as well as the tip of the driver to promote extra grip, claiming upwards of 800% increased torque on the screw. That sounded like a lofty claim, so we decided why not give it a try?
Screw extraction bits are fairly common and can usually be found at local hardware stores. Unfortunately, these extractors are meant for larger hardware than we usually see in the RC world. Luckily, micro-sized extractors can be found easily online and are designed to remove the common M2.5, M3, and M4 hardware found on most RC vehicles.
These extractor sets come with drill bits designed to create a large enough hole for the matching extractor. The bits fit into a smaller adapter that slides into a standard 1/4” hex chuck, which easily attaches to a cordless drill. The drill bits and extractors are meant to be used in reverse, counterclockwise rotation, so when they grab onto the screw they will back it out of the threads.
For the sake of the test, I intentionally rounded out the insides of a few countersunk screws on the bottom side of a chassis. The M3 sized hardware is stainless steel and usually doesn’t strip too easily, but with enough dirt and grime buildup tools can slip and anything can happen. After rounding out the hex screws I tried out the drill bit first. In the case of hex head screws, the extractor drill ended up working really well as a removal tool. All I needed to do was give it a quick zap with the drill and the screw came loose. The cutting portion of the tool ended up digging nicely into the stainless material and was able to pull it away from the chassis.
In the case of screws that don’t remove as easily, the drill bit will help clear the way for the actual extractor. Similar to the drill, the extractor is used in reverse. You will need to apply a little bit of pressure—but not too much—and use the slowest setting on your cordless drill. This will allow the extractor to sink itself into the hole in the screw head and eventually catch enough material to grab onto and loosen the screw. I included example pictures of both bits in action so you can see how well they work.
I’d say for most general screw extraction jobs, the extractor bit set is the way to go. It works extremely well with hex hardware, which has become so prevalent in the RC hobby these days, and is a small enough tool kit that it will easily fit into your pit box or tool bag.
So we’ve touched on how to extract countersunk screws, but what about other stuff? There are plenty of other hardware types in RC, and the few that specifically come to mind as most common are cap head screws, button head screws, and hex locknuts. These types of hardware can be just as easily stripped in the right circumstances, so it’s nice to have a removal tool when that happens. That’s where Vampire Tools VamPliers come in handy.
VamPliers are made with special jaws that are designed to hold onto screw heads, stripped nuts, and other hardware. Again, for the sake of testing I decided to purposely ruin some hardware by taking a rotary cutoff wheel to the outside of a steel locknut. I made sure to round out the hex points on the nut, leaving behind an almost perfectly rounded exterior. I used the VamPliers to hold the nut in place to both tighten and loosen the related screw side into place. This was so easy it’s almost hard to come up with words to describe it. These pliers just work, and almost perfectly so.
After the locknut test, I decided to use the pliers to grip onto a cap head screw. The VamPliers do just as good a job with a cap head screw as they do with a rounded locknut. The jaws grip the screw head firmly in place, allowing absolutely no rotation or slipping of the screw. I can see these being amazing for removing stripped shock tower screws and rounded locknuts on suspension components. Rather than having to drill out the hardware with an extractor set, you can simply grip onto it with a set of VamPliers.
Lastly, I figured it’d be worth trying the nose of the VamPliers on a button head screw. The nose of these pliers features its own set of smaller jaws that are meant to grip onto shallow screw heads. I used these nose jaws to remove the top screw from a buggy steering knuckle. The nose of the pliers gripped perfectly onto the M3 screw head, and with minimal force easily loosened the screw. It’s worth noting that this screw was tightened in place with blue thread locker, so these special jaws on the nose of the VamPliers really do grip amazingly well. It truly felt as if only minimal effort was needed for removing the screw. Yet again a good example that these pliers are a great alternative, or addition, to an extractor set.
Sometimes screws get so wallowed out that extractors won’t work. In these cases, we need to reach for something a little different. With this in mind we decided to try a removal aid called Screw Grab, a special fluid mixture specifically designed to help extract stripped screws.
For this test I rounded out the inside of a Phillips head screw that was already threaded into a part. I used the end of a rotary tool bit to make sure there was almost nothing left of the original cross pattern that could give any real grip on the screw. The driver just slipped around, so if the Screw Grab didn’t work I’d most likely have to resort to drilling the screw out—something I really wasn’t looking forward to.
Following the instructions, I applied a healthy dab of Screw Grab to the screw head. The fluid contains a lot of small metallic flakes and has an overall tacky appearance. The fluid is actually pretty thin so I wasn’t sure it would be very effective at first. After applying it to the screw and inserting the driver I noticed a tiny bit of slippage, but after applying some light pressure the driver gripped extremely well and easily backed the stripped screw out. The test screw was securely fastened into some very tight threads, so it was impressive just how well the Screw Grab worked. Cleanup was simple and only required a quick once-over with a paper towel, leaving no trace of removal fluid behind. Truly impressive results, I must say.
The above methods provided some excellent results for handling and removing stripped and ruined hardware. Though it might not happen all that often, it’s nice to have the proper tools in your toolbox when you need them. Hopefully you won’t be needing to deal with stripped hardware anytime soon, but if you do, these methods will serve you well. I hope this guide gives you some ideas on how to manage your own issues with stripped hardware. As always, thanks for reading, and until next time remember that with enough patience and a level head you can overcome even the most difficult obstacles.
Text and Images by Lauren Short