The All But One Theory: How To Free a Frozen Bolt or Screw

Why is it that whenever you need to replace something, inevitably after working diligently to free bolts or screws or whatever it is holding the part, there will always be ONE bolt or screw that simply WILL NOT BUDGE!   It never fails… even while we’re in the “off season” and not commuter cruising at all!  This week, David replaced the disintegrating web/rubber handles on the sides of our kayaks.  Sure enough of the 8 screws, six of them came out easily, one gave up after a quick shot of PB Blaster and one flat refused to budge no matter how much coaxing.

Even though it’s not funny at the time, it’s so predictable we laugh and call this our Mr Murphy All But One Theory.

So the next time, you have one frozen fastener – bolt, or screw or whatever that refuses to budge, here are some tips:

PB Blaster

PB Blaster

1. Liberally spray the offending bolt, screw or nut with PB Blaster penetrating spray. Then let it soak for a bit, loosening the corrosion and rust that’s holding it captive.  We’ve tried alot of products to loosen stuck bolts and nuts over the years – WD-40, TD-9 Boeschield among them – but by far the best is PB Blaster.  Wriggle the bolt, screw or nut again.  If nothing happens, spray it again and repeat the process.

2.  If PB Blaster alone can’t do the trick, usually a combination of heat and PB Blaster will.   But be careful because I’m pretty sure PB Blaster would be flammable and we don’t want anyone catching themselves or their boat on fire!  YIKES!  We prefer to heat the offending bolt with a blow torch (we have a small one aboard for just this reason) – use just enough heat to heat the bolt – usually a minute or less – be VERY careful not to burn anything around the bolt — we had a terrible time trying to free our deck waste fill since it was surrounded by teak decking!  The heating method didn’t work well there at all!  Remove the heat source from the bolt, wait until it cools just slightly and spray all around the bolt and also the nut with PB Blaster.  Then tap it lightly with a hammer to hopefully let the penetrating oil work its way down in the crevices.  Now try your wrench again.

3.  If it still doesn’t come loose, repeat step #2.

The Old Adjustable Wrench on the Screwdriver Trick

The Old Adjustable Wrench on the Screwdriver Trick

4.  If the stuck fastener is a screw, you can get more leverage on it if you fasten an adjustable wrench tightly on the blade of the screwdriver to try and get more torque.  Be careful and go slow you don’t want to bend the screwdriver slot, use Steps 1 & 2 above along with the extra leverage.  Be sure to tap the top of the screwdriver with the hammer lightly just as you tapped on the bolt in #2 above to let the penetrating oil work it’s way down into the crevices.

Tap the Top of the Screwdriver Lightly With a Hammer to Allow Penetrating Oil to Penetrate

Tap the Top of the Screwdriver Lightly With a Hammer to Allow Penetrating Oil to Penetrate

5.  Speaking of leverage, sometimes you need to add leverage.  You can always add an extended pipe just large enough to slip over the handle of the wrench or adjustable wrench.  Be careful adding leverage with an extended pipe, you don’t want to overpower the tool and break anything!

6.  On a bolt or nut, be very careful using an adjustable wrench or anything other than the exact size wrench – by tapping it and trying to loosen it, you may inadvertently round the bolt edges which will make it all the more difficult to break loose.  Make sure the adjustable wrench is very tight before trying to move it to lessen the chances of it damaging the edge of the bolt or nut.

7.  If you’re dealing with a screw with a damaged slot, you may have to file the edges of the slot off enough that you can get an adjustable wrench on it to turn it.

Keep Locks From Freezing by Lubing with Tri-Flow Regularly

Keep Locks From Freezing by Lubing with Tri-Flow Regularly

8.  You may have to leave the penetrating oil on overnight for a few days to give it the maximum time to work in extreme situations such as our frozen lock holding our outboard hostage on the rail the first season we returned to the boat in the Rio Dulce. We make SURE to lube all the locks with Tri-Lube Lubricant since that initial scare and we’ve never (knock on teak) had another lock freeze.

9.  As a last resort, sometimes you can cut off the head of the stuck fastener with a dremel or hacksaw and then drill it out.  Blah, bad solution, but sometimes necessary.

Anyone with other recommendations on how to loosen that last stuck fastener?  Please leave a comment!  THX!  Jan




  1. David Pumphrey says:

    Take a look a product called Kroil.
    What PB blaster is to WD, Kroil is to PB

    You can get it on

    That stuff is magical

  2. Great information about free frozen bolt. This is very useful and helpful to all construction workers out there.

  3. Soak it with anti-seize and go to a bar. A watched pot will not boil. Check back tomorrow.

  4. How true! But after several days in a row, when the bartender says he’s getting tired of seeing you, sometimes more drastic measures are called for! 🙂

  5. Hi
    That’s a nice post.

  6. I’m very interested in trying out all those methods but I think the screwdriver has helped many and I’m next, so thanks.

  7. Very interesting post, am also fond of doing different kinds of experiments.I will try your method too. Thanks for sharing new ideas.

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