Ask a Mechanic | Removing Stripped Bolts

Question: Carl wants to know: I stripped the head on one of my stem bolts and can’t get it out. Do you have any suggestions on how to remove stripped bolts? From: Carl

Answer: There are so many specialized tools for removing stripped bolts that the market for tools in this category is probably bigger than the entire IBD industry in the U.S. So you have plenty of options there, but I imagine you’d like to avoid buying a special tool.

If it’s a stem faceplate bolt that is the problem, just remove the other faceplate bolts to release the tension off of the remaining stripped bolt. Without that tension, it shouldn’t be too hard to get the bolt out.

If the stem bolt is on the steerer clamp, here is another easy fix. Since there are usually two bolts sharing the clamping duties, tighten down the bolt that is good in order to help take tension off of the stripped bolt. This is often all you need to do to get the job done, which raises a good point; an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

When you are loosening pinch bolt assemblies be sure to back off each bolt a little at a time so that one bolt isn’t left holding all of the tension. Likewise, always avoid overtorquing the bolt during the install so that you don’t find yourself in this situation later. Using precision made tools like a Birzman T-handled Allen wrench also goes a long ways to protect bolts from damage.

For other situations dealing with stripped bolts, oftentimes things aren’t as bad you may think. Usually all you need to do is apply some penetrating oil to help break up any corrosion under the bolt head or on the bolt threads and then take a high quality tool and make sure that it is driven as far into the bolt head as possible. A light tap with a hammer or mallet helps with this. Then push the tool into the head while you are backing out the bolt so that the tool stays engaged with what little material is left in the bolt to engage with.

Sometimes with stripped Allen head bolts you can find a torx tool that is just slightly bigger that will fit into the damaged bolt head. The splines on the torx tool can grab onto what’s left of the frayed metal in the bolt head and help get the bolt out.

If none of these tips work for you, you can use one of the thousands of stripped bolt removal tools out there to help you get the job done. For what it’s worth, we’ve always had good luck with Easy Out type tools.

Welcome to our Ask a Mechanic column where our expert mechanics Daniel Slusser and Greg O’Keeffe answer your bike maintenance questions. If you have a question for us, please post it on the Art’s Cyclery Facebook Wall or e-mail Daniel directly at To see more great how to videos click on the highlighted link to subscribe to our YouTube channel and stay up to date on each episode of the Art’s Cyclery/VeloNews Ask a Mechanic Series.