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I have a 20+ year old deck behind my home. It's in great shape, but I want to refinish it this summer. Problem is, a number of the Phillips screws have popped up over the years. I have a basic Hitachi cordless drill (1050 RPM) with which I have tried to drive the screws back down, but it tends to either strip the heads or strain uselessly.

I have tried removing a few of the screws completely and putting them back in, but they get stuck in the same place regardless. Now that I think of it, I suppose I could drill the holes out deeper before putting the screws back, but I honestly don't want to go through all that bother for all my screws.

What do I need to accomplish this smoothly and efficiently? A better drill bit? A corded, more powerful drill? A high-torque drill? I'd really prefer not to spend much money on this--hence why I'm doing all the refinishing myself--but these screws are really getting in my way.

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What kind of heads are on the screws? –  Warren P Jul 1 at 1:58
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More torque never hurts. I have a pretty high end cordless and sometimes it's difficult to set screws without backing them out a bit. Keep in mind that any drill will cam out if you don't give enough downward pressure. Lock your non-trigger arm, put it on the butt of the drill, and put as much of your weight on it as you need to. –  Comintern Jul 1 at 1:59
    
One thought: If screws (as opposed to nails) are popping up, I'd worry about whether they've stripped out the holes they were driven into... in which case you might need to go to longer screws, or new screw locations. –  keshlam Jul 1 at 2:38
    
@keshlam - My suspicion is that the screws didn't pop up - the wood has been shrinking/eroding/weathering under them. –  Comintern Jul 1 at 4:46
    
Could be. In that case, driving them deeper would indeed solve the problem. Or, if they're determined to strip, pulling them and replacing them with new screws is sometimes the better part of valor. –  keshlam Jul 1 at 12:55

4 Answers 4

From what you are describing you are using the wrong drill bit or not applying sufficient pressure.

Make sure you have the right # drill bit for the screws. The wrong bit will strip the heads making it difficult to extract or to drive the screws further in.

If you are using the right drill bit, stand directly over the screw and apply sufficient pressure when drilling.

I would find it hard to believe that all the heads are stripped, but if the majority are stripped, my advise would be to get a screw extractor and remove the troublesome screws.

Work with a friend or family member, 1 with a drill bit, the other with the extractor, systematically go down the deck and you'll be done in no time.

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This seems like a stupid question, but, what's the best way to determine I have the right drill bit? So many of my bits seem to kinda-sorta-mostly fit, and I'm never sure if I really have the Right One. –  Xuor Jul 1 at 22:28
    
The bit needs to fit snug without any movement. If you want to be sure, remove one and take it to your local hardware store and ask them which but you need. –  HandyMan Jul 2 at 10:02

Some tips

  • Use the correct sized bit for the screw head. This really makes a huge difference.
  • Some bits are much more accurately made than others. Buy a new one.
  • Lubricate the screw. I have a tin of automotive grease I use for this but I've read you should use petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline). This quick and easy to do, just dip the srew before inserting. Wipe any excess afterwards. There is a danger of staining.
  • I've had far far far less problems of this sort with Pozi-driv screws.
  • Yes pilot holes. Tedious but effective.
  • RPM is immaterial, it's torque (Nm) you want. But as a last resort. Sheared screws are the stuff of nightmares (In my experience, mostly a problem confined to brass screws).
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Try replacing your loose screws with Torx head screws, which are much more resistant to stripping:

By design, Torx head screws resist cam-out better than Phillips head or slot head screws. Where Phillips heads were designed to cause the driver to cam out, to prevent overtightening, Torx heads were designed to prevent cam-out.

These screws are also sometimes called "Star" head and you should be able find them in the hardware store labelled "deck screws". Some of them are even packaged with the appropriate torx drill bit:

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Lots of other good tips provided as answers so far, but the one thing no one has mentioned is that a drill is actually the wrong tool to use for driving screws. Sure, they work and lots of people use them, but the best tool to use would be an impact driver:

Impact Driver

An impact driver has much higher torque than a drill does, and rather than using a twisting motion to drive screws, they use an impact motion. The result is that they more easily drive screws and are far less likely to strip the screw head, regardless of bit type.

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I've recently heard of impact drivers, but hadn't understood them well. The impact force is just used to drive the screw, and is not transmitted into the building material, right? (i.e., would it damage drywall, etc?) –  Xuor Jul 1 at 22:24
    
Drywall might be the exception to not use an impact driver since there are specialized drivers for drywall screws and generally they go in easily. The impact is applied to the screw through the bit so it's not transmitted directly to the building material. However you have to be careful because it's really easy to over tighten screws (no clutch) which does damage the material –  Steven Jul 2 at 1:50

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