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Fix Stripped Screw Holes in D-i-Y Furniture

Toothpicks to the rescue
Do-it-yourself furniture offers style, economy and take-home convenience. But if you damage a screw hole during assembly, disaster looms. Here’s an easy way to repair stripped holes.

Repair those stripped holes

If only we could repair relationships as easily! Engineered wood furniture provides durable service, often at bargain prices. Assembly is so straightforward that simple pictorial instructions guide the task. But, an excited consumer can overtighten an important screw in its factory-drilled hole (often in particle board). The result is a stripped hole that weakens the product. The large wardrobe cabinet on the right, for example, is held together with eight long screws. Four of them fasten the bottom to the tall sides; another four connect the top to the sides. Although eight wood pegs are also used, their function is location. They add little strength.
At six feet tall, even a single stripped screw hole jeopardizes the cabinet because the design uses neither glue nor carpentry techniques like grooves and dovetail jointsto add strength and durability.This Knol provides simple steps to repair most stripped holes using toothpicks. Yes, toothpicks that you buy in a box at the supermarket or pick up free at the cash register of most any coffee shop. It  takes only a few minutes per hole, and the tools are essentially free since you probably already own the necessary screwdriver or Allen hex key wrench.

Step-by-step

 1 Test

Test each screw one at a time. Back one out then turn slowly in. If the screw spins but does not back out or fails to cinch up, the hole needs repair. When I purchased this cabinet used, the seller helped take it apart for transport. On reassembly, five of the eight screws were stripped.

 2  Insert 

Note the 2″ long engineered screw, designed specifically
to work in particle board.Overtighten and you’ll need my toothpick cure

 

Both round and flat toothpicks work, but I’ve had better results with flat. Three toothpicks have been inserted into an empty 2″ deep hole, big end first, as shown. I space them around the hole. When round picks are used, one or two usually does the trick. Don’t jam the hole full because when you drive the screw in, the particle board will split. And, putty-like wood fillers are not a solution for stripped holes in particle board, in my amateur opinion. A toothpick today keeps the repairman away.

 3  Tighten 

Avoid glue in the hole unless you never plan to take the cabinet apart. Insert the screw and begin to tighten. This may force the toothpicks together. That’s OK. The real test is whether or not the screw is able to bite or grab, to cinch up relatively tight, providing structural integrity. As you turn the screw in, you should begin to feel it grab as it passes the halfway point. Turn slowly. If you don’t feel resistance after the halfway point, check to see if the wood has split. If not, remove the screw and add one or two extra toothpicks and try again.

 4 Seat and Snug 

When the screw grabs as you slowly drive it into the hole, the tails of the toothpicks will begin to flatten. Continue to slowly turn the screw until it’s seated and snug. Be careful. You can overtighten, re-stripping the hole. Worse, you can crack the particle board. Then, you’ll need to drill a new nearby hole that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw, plus a countersink hole for the screwhead. Or, you’ll need a skilled repair person with the right tools.

 5 Remove Tails 

Here’s a close up of a fully seated screw. Note the three tails. You’ll want to remove these. Rub your thumb over the tails to break them off, or use a utility knife to cut them off, as shown below. If the screw heads will be visible, remove the tails with care. Or, cut the toothpicks to length beforehand so that you don’t have tails.

 6 How it Works 

How it works: After snugging up the screw shown in Step 5, I removed it, then pulled the toothpicks to see how this repair actually works. I expected the toothpicks to come out in pieces. But they were intact and slightly shredded as shown. I think the fix relies on compression, demonstrated by the distorted shapes. I used fresh toothpicks to repair this hole again, first cutting the toothpicks to avoid tails, and the screw cinched up and seated nicely, adding strength to the assembly. In particle board, care must be used to not overtighten. In solid hardwood, a little more tightening torque may be used.

 7 Results 

The fully seated screw and the cut-off tails. After shooting this photo, I used the sharp tip of the utility knife to clean things up a bit more.

For other holes…

I’ve used the toothpick method on other stripped holes. Here’s an example: After years of use, the glass door hinges on a stereo cabinet began working loose. The short screws securing two of three hinges to the cabinet wall were coming out. When I tested them, the holes were stripped. I used two flat toothpicks. It took some manual dexterity to re-install the screws (remove the door first, of course). I used a tiny bit of wood glue to hold pre-cut toothpicks in the shallow holes of the vertical cabinet side. Had I been able to lay the cabinet down, the glue would have been unnecessary.A final note: If you really don’t plan to take apart one of these cabinets after initial assembly, I recommend the judicious use of wood glue and clamps to augment the engineered screws into machined holes that seem to be the manufacturer’s answer to the consumer assembly challenge. Those pegs I mentioned in the first paragraph are an ideal glue target. I like my furniture to last beyond Monday and wouldn’t mind a bit more assembly difficulty to achieve improved strength and durability. In the meantime, my $1.29 investment in a box of toothpicks seems to be working out.


Attributions

All photographs in this article are either (1) owned by the author; (2) used by permission or (3) used as Fair Use non-commercial examples.
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About the Author

Murry Shohat
Something of a lug nut, deeply experienced, widely published, sometimes learns from mistakes, can be trained. Reporter, editor, web content creator, outbound and inbound marketing, articles, research, positioning, press releases, white papers, case studies, SEO, newsletters, desktop publishing design templates. My work spans conceptual, analytical, interpretive, journalistic, and persuasive projects. Experience in high technology, real estate, dentistry and health care, aerospace, law, general business, B-B and B-C. Located in California’s vino-licious wine country, my education includes a degree in Journalism (minor in Green) and post-grad work in Business.

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