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Easier Than You Think: Removing Drywall Screws

Easier Than You Think: Removing Drywall Screws

There are two parts to removing a screw and the anchor it is attached to from drywall. The first part is freeing the screw from the anchor and removing the anchor itself; the second part is repairing the hole, and any little cracks that might appear, and, ideally, this cosmetic repair of spackling and sanding is relatively easy and the patch will be unnoticeable.

To start, let’s take a brief look at, and gain an understanding of, the different types of wall screw anchors and how to remove each one.

Spring Wing Toggle Bolt Anchors: The anchor consists of folded wings that are designed to squeeze through a hole and then snap outwards with the teeth that are on the inside of each wing facing the back of the drywall. As the screw is inserted and turned, the wings of the anchor are pulled to the back of the wall with the teeth digging into create a firm and secure purchase.

Plastic Expansion Anchors: These consist of a plastic sleeve for the screw to thread its way into and there are two basic types. One is relatively simple as the plastic anchor is a screw in itself that has been, well, screwed into the drywall. The second type has small studs protruding from the outside of the sleeve and is inserted into a pre-drilled hole that is just large enough to squeeze the plastic sleeve through. Both of these have a central hole that is slightly smaller than the screw that will be inserted into them. As the screw works its way through the central opening it causes the plastic sleeve to expand forcing the screw threads or small studs on the outside of the sleeve to dig into the drywall created a very tight fit.

Molly Bolt Anchors: These are small mechanical devices that operate in a fashion similar to a winged toggle anchor but are the most secure of the three types and the most difficult to remove by comparison. There is a relatively large flange atop of a long metal sleeve that is inserted into a pre-drilled whole and then a fitting screw is used to tighten the molly bolt. The turning action from the fitting screw causes the molly bolt to go into a “designed” collapse with the metal outside of the molly bolt that is behind the drywall forced outward into a strongly supported tripod of “wings” that are pressured into place with the pulling action based on the flange pressed into the front of the drywall.

However, the question you really want answered is, “How do I get these screws out of my wall without ripping the wall apart and leaving a big gaping hole that will take me all weekend to fix?

Relax, it’s actually pretty simple if you just focus on remaining calm and take your time.

Most of the methods below require you to create a little bit of space between the head of the screw, or flange, and the wall. You might be able to get a good start by unscrewing the screw and it may back out slightly without the anchor spinning with it. Otherwise, you need to score, just start to gently dig into the wall, around the head of the screw or the flange.

Once you have a little bit of room you’ll want to place the tip of a flat head screwdriver under the head of the screw or flange and with your hand on the screwdriver being the fulcrum, use the screw driver as a lever to pull the screw outwards from the wall.

The principle here is to create a pulling force against the back of the drywall out into the room you’re in to keep the anchor from turning with the screw.

Removing Spring Wing Toggle Bolt Anchors: The principle behind removing a winged toggle bolt anchor is you need outward pressure applied as you unscrew it so the anchor continues to grip the back of the drywall. This results in the anchor not spinning freely allowing you to unscrew the screw and once the screw is free of the anchor, the anchor will drop down behind the wall.

Removing Plastic Expansion Anchors: If the plastic anchor has screw threads on the outside of it, it might turn with the screw and you can easily remove it. However, most of the time you’ll have to create that space between the wall and the underside of the screw and the grip it with a pair of needle nose pliers and unscrew it using the pliers. The small studded variety can be easily handled one of two ways; you grip ti with the pliers and gently began to twist and wiggle it until it is free of the wall with minimal damage leaving a hole that is only slightly larger than the original.

Removing Molly Bolt Anchors: To remove a molly bolt the beginning of the process is the same as above, score around the flange and get yourself some clearance between the flange and the wall. You’ll just need enough room as you’ll next take a pair of needle nose pliers and grip the metal flange and just slowly work it, bend it, until metal fatigue sets in and the flange will break off. Sometimes it might break of in pieces but, once it has been entirely removed from the bolt all you have to do is take a Phillips head screwdriver and a hammer and gently tap on the bolt sliding it through until it falls down behind the drywall.

The most important aspect of easily and efficiently removing anchored screws from drywall is to approach the entire process relaxed and understanding that if you take your time at the beginning, the patching of the small hole left behind will be a lot easier versus just ripping it out and creating a minor disaster.

Professional drywall installers often use drywall screw guns. If you are installing drywall in more than a couple of rooms, renting a screw gun may be your best option. Drywall screw guns can be pre-set to sink screws at the perfect depth. But most homeowners opt to use a tool that they may already have on hand:  a cordless drill.  Cordless drills are perfect for hanging drywall on a limited scale.

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