How to Tighten a Screw That Keeps Spinning in Metal

A loose screw spinning in metal may not sound like a big deal. After all, screws do come loose, and it usually takes only a screwdriver to put them tightly back in place. But some screws, especially those holding metal pieces together, may require more than just a screwdriver to tighten.

A screw that keeps spinning in metal can be tightened by inserting wood shims or steel wool into the screw hole to keep it in place. Using a threadlocker or a metal insert will offer a more permanent solution. Sometimes, it may be necessary to replace the screw and cut new threads in the hole.

If you’ve got a spinning screw to fix, you’re in the right place. Read on for a detailed guide on the various ways to fix a screw spinning in metal. But first, let’s examine why some loose screws are so challenging to fix.

A screw that keeps spinning in metal.

Why Do Screws Keep Spinning in Metal?

A screw can come loose if the pieces it joins together constantly move or are subjected to frequent vibrations. This happens mostly with screws that join metal pieces together.

Over time, the movements or vibrations dent or flatten the threads on the screw shaft and the interior walls of the screw hole, unlocking their grip on each other. The unrestrained screw will then keep spinning when you try to tighten it.

However, that’s not the only reason why a screw keeps spinning in metal. There could be other structural changes to the screw and the hole that could cause the screw to come loose.

The First Step Is to Figure Out the Cause of the Problem

Tightening a spinning screw can be an arduous task. First, you must find out why you cannot tighten the screw.

There are many possible reasons why the screw came loose, and the fix could depend on what caused the problem.

How to Determine the Cause

To determine the cause of the problem, you should try to find answers to these questions:

  • Is there a nut on the other side? If so, does the nut also spin with the screw?
  • Is the screw spinning freely, or is there friction with the screw hole threads?
  • Can you pull out the screw? (Let’s assume you can, for now.)
  • Are the outer edges of the screw hole frayed?
  • Are the threads in the screw hole stripped (at least as far as you can see)?
  • Are the screw threads stripped?
  • Is the screw bent or otherwise damaged?

How to Take Out a Screw Stuck in Metal

If you can’t pull out the screw, you need to tackle that before you can get answers to some of the other questions. Here’s what you can do to take out the screw:

  1. Place a flathead screwdriver below the screw head and push it upwards to hold it in place.
  2. Use another screwdriver to remove the screw.

Now, let’s look at how you can fix that loose screw.

You may also like to read: How to Remove a Rusted Screw With a Stripped Head.

How to Fix a Screw That Keeps Spinning in Metal

Here are the eight most common ways to fix a spinning screw.

1. Hold the Nut in Place and Tighten the Screw

If there’s a nut on the other side and it’s also spinning, it means the nut’s thread is not properly aligned with that of the screw.

You can easily rectify this situation. Hold the nut in place with a pair of pliers or a wrench tool and tighten the screw from the other side. That should force the threads into proper alignment, and the screw will likely stop spinning.

2. Stuff Wood or Metal Fillings Into the Screw Hole

The first thing most people do when they see a screw that keeps spinning is to stuff small pieces of wood or metal through the mouth of the hole to jam the screw in place. And you know what? Sometimes it works!

The filling could include materials such as:

  • Wood shims
  • Toothpicks
  • Matchsticks
  • Steel snow
  • Hard cardboard pieces

In fact, you can use any hard material that can fit between the screw and the interior walls of the hole. And this method may work irrespective of why the screw won’t tighten.

However, this is, at best, a stop-gap solution, and it won’t be long before all that filling falls out. Then, you’re back to square one.

3. Flatten the Rim of the Screw Hole

The outside edges of the screw hole can get bent or frayed, making the hole bigger and causing the screw to loosen.

Use a flathead screwdriver to smoothen the edges and return them to their original state. Put the screw back in the hole and tighten it. That should do it.

4. Use a Thicker Screw

If the screw is freely spinning in the metal, it could mean that the screw threads are not in contact with the screw hole threads, meaning the screw is too narrow for the hole.

The best solution here is to replace the screw with one that’s thicker in diameter.

5. Use a Longer Screw

If the screw seems thick enough for the hole but is still spinning, albeit less freely, the screw likely hasn’t gone all the way to the end of the hole. The solution is to replace it with a longer screw.

If the screw seems too narrow and too short for the hole, you can use methods 4 & 5 in combination: get a thicker and longer replacement screw.

6. Use a Slotted Threaded Insert

You can also use a slotted threaded insert to ensure the screw is well-tightened. A threaded insert is a fastener placed at the end of the screw hole for the screw to lock in.

Here’s how you can place the slotted threaded insert:

  1. Hold the screw by the head.
  2. Slot half the length of the threaded insert into the screw shaft via the tip.
  3. Push the screw into the screw hole.
  4. Tighten the screw as you normally would.

The threaded insert will stay at the end of the hole with the screw locked in it. However, you must use an insert of the right size – it must fit snugly into the screw shaft and go through the hole.

7. Apply a Threadlocker on the Screw

Applying a threadlocker can also help to keep a screw in place. Threadlockers are strong adhesives that come in the form of fluid, gel, or glue stick.

Here’s how you should use it:

  1. Apply threadlocker evenly on the screw threads.
  2. Apply more threadlocker on the hole’s interior as far as possible (use a toothpick to spread it around).
  3. Put the screw back in and tighten.
  4. Wipe off any excess threadlocker with tissue paper.
  5. Wait a day for the threadlocker to be fully set.

If you’d like to try a threadlocker, I recommend the Eskonke Blue Threadlocker M-242 from Amazon. It’s removable, meaning the screw can be removed with a screwdriver if you need to remove it.

And do keep the remaining threadlocker. It may come in handy as it can be used with nuts, bolts, and screws in various products, including automobiles, computers, toys, and household, kitchen, and bathroom appliances.

8. Cut New Threads in the Screw Hole

If the threads inside the hole are stripped, you must create new threads by a process called tapping. You can do this by using an appropriate drill bit to make the hole slightly bigger and then using a tap bit to create the threads.

Since this will make the hole bigger, you’ll need thicker screws as well.

Final Thoughts

Trying to fix a screw that keeps spinning in metal can be pretty frustrating. But the key is to find out why it’s happening. Once you figure that out, you can use one of the above methods, or a few of them in combination, for a lasting solution.

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