The Junk Parlor

DIY Fix It Tip – What to do when screws won’t tighten

When you work with a bunch of junk, you are bound to learn some tips on how to fix things.  Like what to do when screws won’t tighten. Today’s tip is how to fix that by filling in a screw hole that is too big.  Meaning, you are using a screwdriver to tighten a screw, but it just keeps turning and won’t stop!

But you need it to tighten!  You need it to tighten so the door hinge isn’t always moving or the drawer pull stays put so you can actually open a drawer or you just need something to securely attach!

I’m guessing this happens when a door gets pulled on a little too much or too hard and eventually, the screws pull out leaving a larger hole.  The wind whips open your screen door and pulls the screw out of the wood or…kids. Kids can damage about anything, am I right?

Even though I work with a bunch of junk, I rarely make repairs by myself.  Now, I have a lot of knowledge and could probably do a bunch of repairs successfully by myself, BUT I don’t have the tools!

The Right Tools for the Job

And I’m telling you having the right tool for the job is super important.

As a former Family and Consumer Sciences teacher (home ec.) I think about it like a kitchen tool.  You can cut things with a spoon, but it’s a lot easier with a knife.  You can mix by hand, but it goes a lot quicker with a mixer. You can shape cookie balls by hand, but it goes a lot quicker if you have a scoop!

Which reminds me of an analogy I told a student one time.  I can’t remember exactly what we were discussing, maybe using 1 Tablespoon instead of 3 teaspoons, or using a liquid measuring cup for milk instead of a dry measuring cup.  He was basically telling me it doesn’t matter what you use.

My response was, yes, you are right, they will both get the job done, but..I knew he was in shop classes and I said what if you saw me using a flat head screwdriver when I should have been using a Phillips?  I could probably get it done with a flat head screwdriver, but you having knowledge on the right way to do it would probably think I was a bit silly.

He didn’t have a response for that.

Having the right tool for the job is key and I have NO tools LOL! So, what do I do, I hire someone!

I’m kind of getting off on a tangent here, but this is a problem that you can fix with very few tools.

So what do you need to do to get this screw to tighten?


You’ll need

One option is to use a larger screw, but sometimes this isn’t possible.  A lot of times the screws that were originally used on a project fit what is being attached perfectly.  For example, if you are going through a hinge, then you can only go the diameter of that hinge hole, so that limits your screw thickness.  If you try to use a longer screw to get down to “good wood,” this isn’t always possible because you are limited by the thickness of what you are screwing into.

But, that is an option, especially if you are a junker like me and have a tote of random screws you’ve saved off of other pieces!  #Iammyfathersdaughter

So, your next option is to fill in the hole.

Before you fill in the hole you might need to get the old screws out.  This seems like it would be easier because the screws won’t tighten and securely hold the two things together like it’s supposed to, but sometimes while it won’t tighten, it won’t come out either!

Use a flat head screwdriver or a pry bar wedged under the head of the screw to pry up as you simultaneously try to unscrew.  (Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey – yes I still say this to myself, every time I do something like this!)

If that doesn’t help the screw back out then you might need to use a little more force and literally pry the screw out.  Go slow! Try using different angles and techniques, but be gentle!  You do not want to make a bigger repair to fix because you are too impatient!

Sometimes it’s okay to break the screw off, but this is not one of those times…if you need a new screw to go back in the same exact spot.  So be patient!

Steps to Take When Screws Won’t Tighten

I have seen repaired pieces where paper has been used to fill the hole.  Now, I don’t recommend that, but it goes to show you that you can literally use anything.  I prefer toothpicks because it tends to be something that I have on hand and seems to be something that will last longer than paper.

It is also convenient because then I don’t have to cut a board.

Another easy solution for what to put in the hole is to use wood shims.  I have a ton of wood shims from when I used to set up at outside antique shows.  The ground is always uneven, so I would use shims to help even things out. Shims are thin enough that you can easily cut them with a box cutter. So this is another great option.

Tip: A great idea I got from some followers was to use a golf tee on larger holes!

Here I took my new favorite glue, E6000, and added some to a couple of toothpicks.  Some of the holes only needed one toothpick while others needed 2.   I like the E6000 glue because it is fast-acting, dries clear, and doesn’t expand like other glues I’ve used.

Once the glue was on the toothpicks I inserted them into the hole of the cabinet and pushed them in as far as I could.  I wanted some excess glue to glue the toothpicks into the hole, not just to each other.  

Next, I simply pushed on the tops of the toothpicks to break them off.  They did not always break flush with the surface, but I knew that simply tapping them with the hammer would break off the little splinters.  And, the little splinters got covered up and “used” once I secured the hinge back on with the original screws.

Tip: A utility knife could be used as well to help make an even break by scoring the toothpick first.  Then push with your fingers or tap with a hammer to break off the toothpicks. 

Next, I screwed the hinges onto the cabinet without waiting for the glue to dry.  The glue will dry with the screws in as well.  Just be sure to leave the door alone.  You do not want to open and shut the door or mess with whatever you have just glued until the glue is dry.

Also, make note that the hole does not need to be entirely filled. The screw will take up some room inside that hole as well.  You just need enough filler that the screw has something to grip.

So, let’s recap.

You have a screw that keeps moving no matter how much you turn it. But you need the two things that are screwed together to be secure. So, use toothpicks, a golf tee, or a shim with glue to fill the hole.  Voila!

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This post may contain affiliate links for the products I use and recommend. I am not paid to promote these products. If you purchase using my affiliate links, I could make a small commission at no charge to you.

3 thoughts on “DIY Fix It Tip – What to do when screws won’t tighten”

  1. I’m fixing a simple towel hook to a new bathroom door. The wood is sound. However, once it pulls the hook plate against the door it won’t tighten up. This means the hook never feels completely solid. I don’t understand why the screws (2) won’t tighten firmly.

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