Have you ever drilled a pilot hole that’s just a smidge too big? Or had a screw hole that expanded over time? We’ve all been there.
You’re trying to do the right thing by predrilling the hole before you attempt to sink the screw. It’s your best effort to avoid stripping the screw, but then the screw has nothing to latch onto, and your hole was for naught.
Or the wood fibers around the screw simply tore away over time. We call this a “stripped out” screw hole.
First, give yourself a break. It happens.
And the good news is that you CAN recover.
You’ll be happy to know that there are a few things you can do if your screw hole is too big. In fact, you have three options:
- Fill the hole with various types of filler (we’ll cover that below)
- Abandon the all-too-spacious hole and start anew
- Search for a larger screw that actually does fit
In this post, I’m going to cover each of your options in detail, including which filler to use, how to cover an abandoned hole, and how to choose an appropriately-sized screw for your pilot hole.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be a pro at recovering from this common DIYer snafu.
Use Filler to Fill the Screw Hole
If your pilot hole is too big, there’s one trick that seems to be every carpenter’s (or DIYer’s) favorite. It’s fast. It’s easy. It’s cheap…. It’s the toothpick trick, and here’s how it’s done:
- Fill the hole with liquid glue — For this, you can use wood glue or Elmer’s glue (Amazon affiliate link). Just be careful with wood glue because it’s extremely powerful stuff. It can be tough to recover if you use too much.
- Fill stripped out the hole with toothpicks — Yes, toothpicks! Jam those things in until they fill the entire hole.
- Start anew with your screw — Now that the hole is filled, you can completely start fresh and redrill the hole.
For those of you who don’t like the idea of sticking toothpicks in your wall (even though I promise you won’t see them when all is said and done), there’s another option.
Similar to the toothpick trick, you can use liquid glue and insert a plastic anchor. You can buy the pieces separately or together in a “screw repair kit.” This is a great solution for hanging small frames, but it’s not quite as good as the toothpick trick for hanging heavier things.
Relocate the Screw Hole
You could always abandon the stretched-out hole and start fresh with a new one. That’s going to be the easiest option from the perspective of getting a snug fit for the screw, but there’s some extra work involved in filling the old hole.
Start by performing a hole repair with some spackle. While the spackle is drying you can re-drill pilot holes in a new area. Keep it slightly above or below to keep the appearance that the object is in the same space. But you can also move the hole to the left or right.
No matter which direction you choose, drill your new hole at least an inch away from the old one.
And now that your spackle has dried, it’s time to sand, smooth, and repaint. You can continue with the spackling until you get a flat, untextured surface.
Use Larger Screws
If you want to keep the hole where it is and avoid re-filing it or using anchors, you can use a larger screw. But understand that although this sounds like an easy option, there’s a lot more to it than the other fixes on this list.
The advantage of using a larger screw instead of filling the hole is that it’s going to be more secure. So, your larger replacement screw will be more suitable for heavier objects or objects that must bear weight.
How to measure the hole for a missing screw
It’s okay to measure the screw hole with a tape measure, but you must be extremely accurate. You’re going to want to start at the widest part and measure down to the closest millimeter. From here, add a millimeter to ensure the new screw has enough grip.
Related: How To Read A Tape Measure
If you have the old screw, you can measure it for length. If not, you can get a toothpick or a bamboo skewer to fit into the screw hole. Make a mark on your stick and measure it.
Now, it’s time to head to your local home improvement center in search of the perfect screw.
How to find the right-sized screw
Use this handy step-by-step guide to help you find the right screw for your oversized pilot hole.
Know how to read screw sizes. If you don’t work in this industry or have a lot of experience with construction projects, this can seem tricky. But don’t worry. It’s not as bad as it seems.
Wood screws use two numbers to designate their length and diameter. For example, a 6 x 1 inch has a gauge (diameter) of 6 and measures 1-inch long.
Sheet metal screws are a little more tricky because their size includes a threads-per-inch measurement. A sheet metal screw that’s sized as ½ inch-16 x 1 inch has a diameter of ½-inch and contains 16 threads per inch.
Estimate the length that’s appropriate for your project. You already know how long the old screw or existing pilot hole is. But since you’re going through all this trouble, it’s a good time to ensure you’ve got the right length screw for your project.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: A screw should be three times as long as the thickness of the object you’re fastening. If you’re fastening something that’s about 1-inch thick, you’ll need a 3-inch screw (or longer).
Look for a screw that has the appropriate diameter or gauge. For wood screws, you should know that gauge is a measure of the diameter that’s measured at the smooth portion of the shank (above the threads). Use the table below to help you figure out what gauge you’ll need for a given diameter.
If you’re unsure whether the screws you’re using are long enough to secure a thick object, use break-away screws. These screws feature tips that break away in ¼-inch increments, so they can adjust to fit various needs.
|Screw Size||Major Diameter|
|Decimal||Nearest Fractional Measurement|
Use a Hardwood Plug
If you’re trying to fill a hole in MDF or particleboard, there’s another fill option that may be more effective. This material is also more prone to cracking and chipping, so you may find yourself needing to fill stripped holes more often in MDF or particleboard.
For these situations, a hardwood plug is most effective. You can buy hardwood plugs from most home improvement centers, hobby shops, or your local woodworking dealer.
Buy on Amazon: >> Flat Head Plugs (ideal for filling screw holes) <<
All you have to do is fill the hole with a little glue and the appropriately-sized plug or dowel. Let the glue cure for about 24 hours, and then drill a pilot hole into the center of the plug to make room for your new screw.
If you want to learn more about this topic I recommend reading this nice post by Robert @ A Concord Carpenter on how to install wood plugs.
No one wants to spend a Sunday afternoon fixing oversized pilot holes or stripped screw holes, but a little effort now will keep your projects intact and like-new for a few years to come.
And sometimes, it’s better to have peace of mind than to find a quick fix.
Cheers, tools owners!