Removing Broken or Rusty Bolts/Nuts/Studs/Screws

Bart McNeil asked on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board for comments about the best way of removing stubborn nuts or bolts. Adam Charnok replied, "This sort of thing is right up my alley. I've probably removed more rusted, rotted, corroded and generally unco-operative nuts, bolts, screws and fasteners than I care to remember." Here's the conversation that resulted, and some suggestions from a few other Jeepers.

Note: Jeremy Gerrish reminds everybody to check that you're turning in the correct direction if it's a wheel lug nut that you're trying to remove. He says he had to cut the studs off his left front wheel, and was about to start on the left rear. "I remembered being in Desert Storm and changing a tire on a 25-ton fire truck since the motor pool mechanics were short handed. The head mech told me that on the left side of the truck the threads were reversed. Well I remembered this when I was blue in the face and had the angle grinder in hand. I got my socket set and turned the other way and it was really easy. Needless to say I felt like a beeeg dummie."

Using Heat

Exhaust manifoldBart: I've heard mechanics say 'Lets put some heat on it,' when confronted with a stubborn nut or bolt.

Adam: This is your best bet -- 95% of the time it works. As long as nothing flammable is in the vicinity.

Bart: How much heat? Where should the heat be directed? Toward the nut? The stud? the area around the stud or bolt?

Adam: Well, you have to experiment. I've gotten bolts out with little heat. On the other hand I've had the thing so "cherry" any more heat would melt it. As far as where to put the heat, remember heat expands, so you would heat a nut. For bolts threading into something you heat the area around it.

Bart: Can a butane or propane type torch be used?

Adam: Sometimes. Most of the time I use oxy-fuel torches with a rosebud tip.

Bart: I've been told to heat the nut, or bolt, and then squirt water on it just before trying to get it off. Any truth?

Adam: I've never heard of this method.

Jim Sammons: I never believed in putting water on a heated nut or bolt to remove them until I had to try it. Where the front fenders and the axle bumpers of a CJ-3B bolt to the frame it is hard to get heat to the back side of these. These are fine thread nuts welded to the frame. When I got my 3B several of these bolts were broken off flush with the frame. To remove them I welded an over sized nut centered over the broken off bolt so that the weld penetrated well into the bolt and continued the weld up into the oversize nut. While it was still real hot, (at this point heat has caused the bolt to swell in the nut in the frame) I poured water on it to "shock it" or actually shrink the bolt. The bolts came out without effort.

Penetrating Oil

Bart: Does penetrating oil work? or is it just another snake oil?

Adam: Yes. This will work very well. Just make sure you soak it all day or overnight.

KroilEd Wilson: I work on steam turbines as well as my Jeep, and I found out about this stuff on the job. The absolute best penetrating oil I've seen in 20 years is Kano Labs Kroil oil. Check out http://www.kanolabs.com/. I think it is available direct at about $4.00 for 8 oz.

I've seen tempers flair on the turbine deck over the last can of Kroil! And my mechanic buddies around home ask "Where did you get that stuff?" It will work where others don't.

Adam: The best advice I could give is being patient. Take your time and think about it. Sometimes going to a bigger tool is not the answer. You will just risk breaking the part your trying to save. When you do get the nut or bolt to move, step back and take a break for a second. Then cover it with WD-40 or equivalent. Then turn the nut or bolt the other direction (tightening it), and then loosen it. You'll be rocking it back and forth slowly, loosening the bolt. Meanwhile spraying it with WD-40.

Bart: How about the melted wax trick? Does it work?

Adam: Hum... never heard of this, but in theory it sounds like it could. The melted wax gets drawn in, thus lubing the threads.

Joel Kamunen: The wax method is using beeswax on the threads when you assemble something. It acts like blue locktite by not letting the nut loosen up, but then when you go to remove the nut the beeswax acts as a lube to keep the nut from becoming rusted to the shaft via the threads.

Bart: Do easy-outs work well enough to be used or do they create more problems than they solve?

Adam: These have saved me more than once. Remember they are hardened and will snap very easily. If you have a broken easy out tip stuck in the hole you're up "you know what" creek with out a paddle. Then its time to break out the dremel with a diamond tip (been there). I've used different brands of easy outs and find "Snap-On" to be the best.

Brass Oil Fitting

Bart: How do you approach brass fittings? Like the brass oil fitting on the timing gear cover which takes the clean oil from the filter and directs it at the turning timing gears.

On my 3A someone jammed something in that fitting to plug it when they removed the oil filter (for whatever reason). it might be steel or wood or it could be even a broken easyout. I have used enough force on it to realise that it is beginning to bend (or collapse). What I am saying is I don't think force is going to remove it. Shall I force it until either it collapses or comes out or should I stop and start drilling.? That's a scary thought having never drilled out and cleaned out a threaded hole.

Being that brass is already soft, would heat do any good? Could you apply heat while it is on the engine? Or is that too risky with engine oil in the crank case? The heat, I would guess, would best be applied around the fitting, not on it. You're going to recommend that I remove the timing gear cover, aren't you?

Adam: There's an old saying: "You never have enough time to do it right once, but you always have enough time to wrong twice". So take the cover off. Believe me, by the time you've fiddled with the fitting on the cover down in that dark spot, dropped your "drop light" (I guess that's how it got it's name), bumped your head, banged your knuckles, dropped the wrench for the 15th time, and practically removed the entire front end to gain access -- you'll have a big mess on the floor, every tool out of your tool box, and be covered head to toe with grease. Then you'll realize it's 2 AM. Plus that little plug will still be in there.

WrenchesRemoving the cover will enable you to put it solidly in the vise to work on it. You will be able to attack it from all angles. There will be no worry about drilling, heating or hurting your self. Plus you can check the condition of the timing gears, and replace the gasket.

I use flair nut wrenches, the kind that is almost closed, for brake lines and oil lines, if there is no line in the way and you have a 6 point nut or bolt. You should use a 6-point socket or closed end wrench. Stay away from 12 point and open-ended wrenches. You will just round the head.

Sheet Metal Screws

Bart: How do you remove sheet metal screws which are too corroded or worn to get a Phillips in?

Adam: If you can, cut a slot in it with a hack saw. If room is a problem use a die grinder with a cutoff blade. This method you can use a regular screwdriver. If all else fails, there's always vise grips in many sizes and flavors.

Bart: For the screws used on the access panels between the seats and on the grill, headlights, etc., here's the way I approached removing them and it "seemed to work".

These screws either would not move and I was beginning to destroy the groove or were so corroded and worn that I couldn't get a good grip on the groove. Using a standard screw driver I placed it either in the groove or in the phillips cross hole, or when possible against the protruding screw head at about a 45 degree angle (or even sharper). Usually a sharp but light hammer tap or two would break the rust bond so that I could unscrew even the most rusted screws. I guess my question here is, am I doing something which will do more damage than good? or did I accidently discover the greatest screw extraction method known to mankind?

Adam: The method you describe sounds great. I've used that before, just not for sheet metal screws. I can't see how it would hurt anything. Just be careful not to slip and scratch the paint (that's if you care about the paint at this point in the restoration).

Jim Sammons: As far as screws go, don't forget that they make impact screw drivers. These are heavy duty tools made to be hit with a hammer. As the hammer blow hits the handle it rotates down torqueing the screw to the left. They can be set either way so that they will tighten or loosen depending on what you need to do, or if by chance you get hold of a left handed screw.

Bruce Noren: The other thing that you should have in your tool box is a tube of "grip tight" (I think that is what it is called). It's a graphite in oil mixture that you put on the end of your screw driver or the head of the screw and it helps to hold the screw driver in the head of the screw. It is a must when using an impact hammer on screws, and many times it gives you the "grip" to turn the screws out by hand or with a vice grip on the screw driver. it really helps prevent "stripping" the head of the screw. I have had great luck with it.

R.L. Cook: I had no idea there was a product called "grip tight". I have been dipping my screwdriver tip in valve grinding compound for years. Works very good.

Cylinder Head Studs

Jyotin: I had an F-head with two broken studs. I drilled one with a counter clockwise drill bit hoping it would come out, but it didn't. I drilled the remainder of the stud out with a slightly undersize drill and tapped the hole. It accepted the stud readily. I did the second one the same way. For the chips, I put a fairly strong magnet on the engine just below the holes that I drilled and collected as many chips as I could. I do not believe that any chips could fall into the crankcase, but I think that a chip or two could get into the cooling system. If you're really concerned about the crankcase, drop the pan after you drill and clean it out.

Cliff Todd: Just had the same problem of a stud broken off in the head of my F-134. I could not get a drill to it as it was the back one closest to the firewall. A friend of mine who is also a welder came over and we placed a nut (just one size larger than the stud) against the hole with the broken off stud in the block and welded the inside of the nut with a low hydrogen rod. This filled up the nut and attached it to the broken stud with welding rod. We let it cook for rest of the night. Sprayed some penetrating oil on the nut and gently worked it back and forth and she gave loose and the broken stud backed out. Use an experienced welder if you know one. Don't want to get everything too hot and crack a block.

Steve: I've used an 'easy-out' set several times before with good results. Sears sells a set of 5 common sizes with matching drill bits. Can't remember the price, but it couldn't have been too bad or I would have remembered. You simply center punch as close to the center of the stud as you can, and drill very carefully into the stud. The easy-out looks like a tap with VERY coarse drill-like threads. It is a left-hand thread. Soak the stud in a GOOD penetrating oil, and then tap the easy-out into the stud EVER so gently, and then use a tap handle or a GOOD wrench to try and turn the easy-out and the stud counterclockwise. The easy-out tightens itself into the stud as you try to loosen the stud from the block.

One of two things will happen: A, the stud comes out or B, the easy out will break and you are royally screwed (literally). That's because the easy-out is hardened like a drill bit and virtually impossible to drill out. You'll have to try the welder trick. The good news is that it has always worked for me. I think that drilling out the core of the stud relieves some of the pressure on the stud, or something. I have also just drilled the stud/bolt out as best as I could with an angle-drill and tapped the new hole for a bolt. Some sealant on the bolt will work if you should accidentally hit a water jacket.

Thanks to all the contributors. -- Derek Redmond

See also Brake Drums and Wheel Hub Removal and Steering Wheel Removal on CJ3B.info.

Elsewhere on the web, see Broken Exhaust Manifold Stud Repair at MightyMo.org.

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Last updated 7 May 2002 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond