By Bob Beacham | Updated Feb 8, 2023 10:26 AM
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When a screw head becomes damaged, it can be very difficult to remove from the material in which it is situated. Sometimes cutting a fastener’s head off is the only practical solution to the problem, and the best way to prevent major damage to the piece or structure overall.
There may also be occasions when screws, bolts, or nails turn out to be too long for a job. In these cases, it’s good to know how to cut a screw so it’s shorter without damaging the thread.
Whether you need to know how to cut a screw shorter or how to cut a screw to remove it entirely, there are multiple ways to get the job done, each with a different tool. However limited or extensive your tool collection might be, there’s sure to be a solution here that works for you.
Bolt cutters are designed to cut through screws, bolts, and other metal fasteners. These fixings can often be substantial in diameter, so bolt cutters come in a variety of sizes with long handles and lever mechanisms. This provides heavy-duty cutting ability with minimal user effort, and bolt cutter blades are usually hardened to improve their durability.
Although simple, this versatile tool will cut through steel chains, many padlocks, and even rebar. Bolt cutters can also be a very useful alternative when the electricity goes out. The only challenge bolt cutters face when cutting screws is that they’re a bulky tool, so it can be difficult to get the blades onto small screws or in tight spaces.
Our Recommendation: H.K. Porter PowerPivot Bolt Cutters at The Home Depot for $56.97. These high-quality bolt cutters come in a range of sizes and have a compound action that multiplies power delivery.
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A hacksaw is a general-purpose metal-cutting saw usually defined by its blade length. They can vary from 6-inch mini hacksaws up to heavy-duty, 24-inch tools. On small hacksaws, the sprung steel of the frame provides all of the tension necessary to hold the blade, whereas a lever or tensioning knob is used in larger models.
When cutting screws, nails, or bolts, the slender blade makes it easy to reach into narrow gaps. Smaller hacksaws can cost just a few dollars and are a valuable addition to any DIYer’s toolbox. The main disadvantage to using this tool to cut screws is that it can require a fair amount of physical effort depending on the size of a screw being cut. A good hacksaw blade always helps, and bi-metal blades can improve cutting performance.
Our Recommendation: Craftsman 12-Inch Hacksaw at Amazon for $14.98. This Craftsman hacksaw is a well-made mid-range tool with a comfortable handle of a manageable size, and it offers reliable cutting ability at a competitive price.
A reciprocating saw mimics the action of a handsaw, but its powerful motor makes cutting screws and other metal fasteners almost effortless. This is another versatile tool, and with the right blade, it is capable of cutting wood, plastic, and composites.
To effectively cut through a metal screw using a reciprocating saw, you will you’ll need a blade made of bi-metal or carbide (like one of the black blades in this blade set from Horusdy, a top pick in our researched guide to the best reciprocating saw blades). Reciprocating saws are fairly easy-to-use tools, but their size and heavy-duty capabilities can make it difficult to reach screws in confined spaces, or to work on small fixings.
Our Recommendation: Milwaukee M18 18 V Cordless Sawzall Reciprocating Saw at Ace Hardware for $199. Milwaukee invented the reciprocating saw, and its latest cordless model uses brushless technology for better battery management while delivering excellent performance.
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Oscillating tools are easy to handle and provide a rapid cutting or sanding motion with variable speeds that reach more than 20,000 oscillations per minute. They usually come with a range of quick-change attachments that suit a wide variety of DIY tasks. Their versatility makes them popular with DIYers and with trade users such as plumbers and electricians.
Multipurpose oscillating tool blades will cut wood, plastic, and metal, and they are angled to allow protruding screws and other fixings to be cut off flush with the surface. Although the blade attachment system varies from one manufacturer to the next, spare and specialty blades like this 20-piece oscillating tool blade set from Vtopmart are designed to suit all popular brands.
Our Recommendation: Porter-Cable Oscillating Tool Kit on Amazon for $143.01. Porter-Cable’s oscillating tool comes with a collection of attachments for cutting, scraping, grout removal, and sanding, and all of these fit in its handy case.
Angle grinders are heavy-duty tools, capable of chopping through concrete, thick bolts, and rebar. However, angle grinders can also be used with finesse for polishing, sharpening, and cutting or shortening screws, nails, and other metal fasteners.
Angle grinders come in a variety of sizes, but 4½-inch models (the outer diameter of the disc) are far and away the most popular. The type of disc used for a given task is a critical but straightforward choice. Cutting wheels are clearly labeled as either stone-cutting or metal-cutting; to cut screws, you would use metal cutting wheel, like this one from DeWalt. (Although it is DeWalt-branded, it will fit any angle grinder with a standard ⅞-inch arbor.)
Our Recommendation: Metabo HPT Angle Grinder on Amazon for $39. Metabo’s lightweight, 4½-inch angle grinder is a great value and comes with a powerful 6.2-amp motor, a side handle for improved control, and five spare grinding discs.
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All of the above tools provide a proven way to remove damaged screws in various situations. Most of these methods also solve the problem of how to cut screws shorter. Though these tools don’t require a lot of strength to use, it’s still important to be very careful when cutting screws or other metal objects. Always wear safety glasses. Also remember that the cut piece can be very hot right after it’s cut, so don’t try to pick it up straight away.
The prices listed here are accurate as of February 8, 2023.
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