Even the most expertly installed decks will eventually succumb to the elements. Deck boards will crack, rot, and begin to pull up, requiring you to remove and replace boards. While this is not a difficult project to complete, damaged fasteners can slow a repair project down.
Stripped, rusted, bent, and fused screws can all be a real headache to remove.
In this article, we’ll review how to remove deck boards with screws. We’ll provide you with a wide range of methods for removing stubborn screws and suggest a few handy products that might aid you in this effort.
How to Remove Deck Boards With Screws
There are a variety of reasons why you may need to remove those old deck boards. Rotting, splintered, or cracked boards are not only unsightly, but they also present a safety hazard. The solution is to remove the damaged board and replace it with a new one.
The problem is, removing old decking can be a real chore. The screws holding these boards in place have been slowly broken down by sunlight, rain, snow, and ice.
And while you may be able to back out most screws with a cordless power drive, often, that’s not the case. You won’t be able to back out a stripped screw. The screw head might also be covered in paint or destroyed by rust and corrosion.
Given the broad range of problems you might face when attempting to remove deck boards with screws, you’ll need to use a varied approach. Let’s review your options.
Method 1: Backing Out the Screw
Of the methods on this list, this is by far the most preferable. The more screws you can back out using a power driver, the faster this job will be done, and the quicker you can move on to installing the new boards. The steps below will help you successfully back out the old screws in your damaged decking:
Step 1: Prepare the Screw
Begin by assessing what you’ve got. While some screws may be in good enough condition to remove by simply applying the appropriate bit and backing the screw out, others may need some prep.
If you have a painted deck, you’ll need to clean the screw heads. Paint can block the bit from properly engaging the screw’s drive (the molded shape that your bit fits into), preventing you from backing out the screw. Use a metal pick or a handheld screwdriver to scrape the paint out of the way.
In addition to paint, the decking itself can block access to the screw head. When it’s green, wood decking tends to close around the head of a screw as it dries. So, wood may be blocking access to some of the screw heads in the deck.
If this is the case, use a Dremel tool or metal pick to grind the wood away from the screw head so you can access it with your driver.Once the screw head is visible, take a moment to assess its condition. If the screw appears stripped or rusted, consider adding a friction gel such as Screwgrab to the head of the screw. The gel prevents stripping by creating friction between the bit and the screw’s head. The gel helps the bit to “grab” the screw, allowing you to back it out more easily.
If the screw is rusty, add a lubricant such as WD-40 around the screw’s shaft to loosen the wood’s grip on the metal. Just avoid spraying the screw head with lubricant, as this will cause the bit to spin in the screw’s head.
Finally, before backing out the screw, insert a handheld screwdriver into the screw head and give it a few firm taps with a hammer. The impact will loosen the metal threads in the wood, making it easier to extract.
Step 2: Back out the Screw
Make sure you are using the best tools available to you. Torque is typically the critical force when it comes to removing the screw. The more rotational force you can create, the easier it is to back out a stubborn screw.
You’ll get the best results with an impact driver, which has significantly more torque than standard cordless drivers.
Often, removing an old screw is as simple as engaging your power driver, setting it to reverse, and pulling the trigger. If you’re lucky, this method will work for most screws in your deck repair project.
But, chances are, you’ll have to contend with a few problematic screws. The most common obstacle you’ll face is a stripped screw.
If the screw head is protruding from the face of the deck board, you have a couple of options. Use a pair of locking pliers to remove the offending screws. Grip the head with the pliers, lock them, then turn the pliers counter-clockwise to remove the screw from the wood.
Another option is to use the drill chuck technique. Remove the bit from your power driver. Place the chuck over the screw head, then tighten the chuck as tightly as you can. Set the driver to reverse and back the screw out.If you’re trying to remove a countersunk screw, you’ll need to try a different strategy. One option is to use a screw extractor set, such as SpeedOut. A screw extractor kit typically includes a double-sided bit. One side drills into the bit and the other side removes the screw.
To remove a screw with a screw extractor set, begin using the specialty bit to burrow a threaded hole into the screw head. Then flip the bit and use the other side to remove it.
Another option is to carve a groove into the head of the stripped screw. Using a hack saw cut a notch that bisects the top of the screw head. Then use a flathead screwdriver to back out the screw.
For a sheared-off screw head, use lock pliers to clamp onto the screw’s shaft and rotate counter-clockwise to remove it. If the shaft of the screw isn’t accessible, use a drill or utility knife to grind away the wood around the screw to gain access.
If you have a large job or expect to remove a significant number of stripped screws, consider investing in specialty pliers such as Vampliers. Vampliers screw extraction pliers have serrated teeth that grip onto screws for easy extraction.
After you’ve removed the screws, remember to dispose of them properly. Keep an old can or jar handy to collect the old screws.
Method 2: Prying off the Boards
Despite your best efforts, sometimes a screw simply cannot be backed out of decking. The screw may be too stripped, fused, or corroded to back out. When that happens, you’ll need to employ a more extreme method to remove those old deck board screws: prying off the boards.
Begin by gathering the tools you’ll need. While a pry bar will do the job, I strongly encourage you to invest in a deck wrecker, especially if you will be prying apart a large amount of decking.
A deck wrecker has two large tines that slide under the decking around the joists. A large pole attached to the tines provides leverage for pulling the boards free.
This process is undoubtedly easier for rotted decking; however, it’s still doable even with wood that’s still in good shape.
Step 1: Identify the best pry point
The best point to pry a board loose is near the fasteners. While you won’t be able to pry directly under the screw because of the joist’s positioning, you can get close. Position the pry bar right next to the joist to get the best results.
If you’re using a deck wrecker, position the tines, so they are under the decking with the joist in between them.
Step 2: Pry boardBefore you begin, don a thick pair of gloves to protect your hands from rusty screws and splintered wood.
If using a pry bar, pull down on the bar once it is in position to begin loosening the board. You may need to alternate sides of the joist to loosen the board if using a standard pry bar.
Once you’re able to get a gap between the board and the joist, reposition the pry bar directly between the board and the beam and apply force to free the board.
If you’re using a deck wrecker, simply pull the handle back to pull the board free. You can create more leverage by pulling higher on the handle.
Step 3: Remove/Cut Screw Shaft
Depending on whether the entire screw went with the board or not when you removed it, you may still have a screw (or part of one) to remove.
There are a couple of methods you can use to extract the screw. Use vice-grip pliers to grip the screw body, then turn counter-clockwise to remove the screw. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to cut.
Use a Dremel tool or a reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade to cut the screw flush to the joist. Pound the screw flush to the joist with a hammer if needed
Method 3: Cutting the Boards
You can’t back out the screws because they’re too damaged, but the decking boards are too tightly screwed to the joists to pry them loose. Now what? It’s time to cut them loose.
You’ll still need your pry bars, so keep them handy. What you’ll be doing here is cutting the boards into smaller pieces that can be more easily worked loose.
Step 1: Plan Sections to Cut
To get the board out, you need to minimize the number of fasteners holding it. To this, you’ll need to cut the boards down to size. Plan cuts, so the board you’re trying to remove only crosses two joists instead of four or more. By shortening the boards, you decrease the number of screws you’re wrestling with, making the boards easier to pry loose.
The critical thing to remember is that you are repairing, not destroying, the deck. With that in mind, first, do no harm. Avoid cutting across joists, which will damage the deck’s framework, resulting in additional repairs to your deck.
If you’re concerned about accidentally cutting in the wrong place, use a chalk line or marker to plan your cuts, making sure not to cross any joists. You can also set the depth on your circular saw, so it is only deep enough to cut through the decking. You still may cut a shallow groove through a joist if you cross one, but the damage will be negligible.
Step 2: Cut Decking
Once you’ve planned and marked the cut lines, begin cutting. If you’re removing a lot of decking, you’ll want to complete one section at a time, removing boards.
Step 3: Remove Boards
Make sure to wear gloves to protect your hands. As in the previous method, use a pry bar or deck wrecker to pull the boards free. The smaller cut-up pieces will be easier to remove than full-length deck boards.
Once you’ve freed one side of a board, attempt to pull up the loose end manually. Depending on how long the board is, it may provide enough leverage on its own to pull the remaining screws free.
Step 4: Remove/Cut Screw Shaft
Once you’ve removed the old board, make sure to dispose of it safely, especially if screws are jutting out of it. If the screws (or part of them) remained in the joist, use locking pliers to remove the screws. If that’s not possible, use a reciprocating saw or oscillating multi-tool to cut the screws flush to the wood.
Alternate Methods for Removing Decking BoardsFrom time to time, you’ll run into stubborn screws that just refuse to budge. In which case, you may need to employ some alternate methods. One of those methods involves using a plug cutter. This cylindrical shaped drill bit allows you to drill a circular plug around the screw. Plug cutters come in a wide variety of sizes ranging from 1/4” up to 5/8”. Choose the smallest size that will fit around the screw heads. This will make removing the screw heads later easier.
Drilling to the proper depth takes a little bit of skill and good judgment as you’ll need to drill through the deck board but not into the joist.
Once you’ve drilled all the screws, you should be able to lift the board off of the joist. You can now remove the offending screws more easily. Simply chip away the remaining wood around each screw, then work each screw loose with locking pliers or cut it flush to the joist.
As with decking nails, it’s possible to drill out the heads of screws to remove the boards. All you need is a drill and a bit that’s large enough in diameter to drill out the center of the screw. For a Phillips head screw, find a bit that’s large enough to cover the center.
Begin drilling the center out of the screw head. The metal for most screws is soft enough that the drill should easily grind through it. Drill just deep enough to remove the screw head.
Since most wood deck screws have threading on the lower on only the half of the screw. As this is the half that ends up in the joist, you should be able to simply pull the board off of the screw once you’ve drilled off the head, leaving the body of the screw sticking out of the joist.
As with the above methods, use a pair of locking pliers to remove the screw shaft or cut the shaft flush to the joist.
Removing stubborn screws from old decking can undoubtedly be a frustrating process. A few stripped screws can turn that deck repair that was supposed to last an afternoon into a project that consumes your entire weekend.
I hope the methods in this article help speed up your deck renovation project by making the process of removing those old deck boards easier. If you have any questions or comments about removing screws from deck boards, please leave a comment below.