Tools & Expertise for Every Project's Success.

How to Tighten a Bolt That Keeps Spinning

Whether you’re a passionate DIY-er or your wife is forcing you to fix the patio door, it’s every handyman’s worst nightmare to deal with a spinning bolt. It won’t come out, it won’t tighten and it just keeps rotating, getting on your every last nerve.

The most important thing to remember is to stay patient, avoid breaking everything in a fit of frustration, and figure out what the problem is before you try to fix it:

What Leads to a Spinning Bolt?

The bolt may spin in place due to a few different reasons:

  • A hole with specks of dust can prevent the bolt from staying in place. It acts as a lubricant.
  • Another reason may be that you have the wrong-sized bolt. Both over and under-sized bolts are going to keep spinning.

How to Avoid Spinners

With the right technique, you can save yourself the trouble of dealing with spinning bolts. Before drilling, blow, or use a tiny piece of cloth to clean the hole out completely. Make sure you use the right drill bit and drill straight. Holding the drill at an angle will secure the bolt in place.

Your drill bit should be sharpened before you begin. A blunt drill bit will bore a hole that is too small for the bolt you have. In fact, even brand new drill bits may sometimes need to be sharpened if there are any manufacturing defects. Trying to force a bolt into a hole that is too small may damage the surface you’re working on. As you try to pressure the bolt in, keep it straight. A slight angle will keep spinning in circles.

What to Do if You Already Have a Spinning Bolt

You’ll have to channel your inner Houdini to get the spinning bolt out- you’ll have to pry it out, twisting it simultaneously. Get your hands on a crowbar and pry the bolt out of the hole.

Worse comes to worst, you’ll have to drill the bolt out or using a metal-cutting bit to break and remove the bolt before replacing it. If you’re using any of these extreme measures, you’ll need to patch up the hole before you start drilling a new one.

As a last resort, if all else fails, use a chisel to break through the bolt. Be warned, that this may damage the object you’re working on, so if you’re fixing a bolt in the trunk of your car, it’s advisable not to get this violent.

Are Your Bolts Stripped?

Let us just start off by pointing out that it is possible to overtighten your bolt. Overtightening will cause its strings to be bent out of shape and the bolt will never tighten. If your bolt is spinning, you will need to check if your bolt is stripped or your nut. Either or both will need to be removed and replaced with a bolt/ nut that isn’t damaged. Once the strings are damaged, they can’t be repaired.

A major cause for bolt stripping is using the wrong socket head on your wrench. The socket head should fit perfectly on the bolt with barely any wiggle-room. If it’s too tight or there’s too much space, you’ll probably end up stripping your bolt.

How to Deal with a Spinning Bolt

Even if you’ve done everything right, there’s still a chance that you might end up with a spinning bolt. Even if you need to tighten the bolt for the work you’re doing, chances are you’ll have to remove the spinning one and replace it.

Just Try Tightening It

The simplest and first method you can try to fix a spinning bolt is to just tighten it with a wrench. There is a chance that the bolt was not sufficiently tightened in the first place. However, if that doesn’t appear to be the case (and watch out for a stripped bolt if you try and tighten it too much), you can try any of the following tips to help you out:

Drill a Deeper Hole

You might have initially overlooked it, but there’s a possibility that the hole you drilled was not deep enough. Remove and measure the length of the bolt (the size should be in accordance with the object or surface you’re working on) and use a sharpened drill bit to drill deeper. Once the hole is deep enough, insert the bolt and tighten it with a wrench till it is firmly secured in place.

Try Wiggling the Bolt Around

This tip is all about chance. Try wiggling the bolt in place with the help of a socket wrench. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the right angle at which the bolt will fit and fasten into place. If not, the problem is more serious and you’ll most likely have to remove the bolt and start over. Here are the ways you can remove the spinning bolt:

Use a Nut Splitter

If the bolt and nut are spinning together, it’s time to crack the bad nut. Get a nut splitter from your local hardware store, or you can easily buy one online, and break the nut. Be careful not to apply so much pressure that you damage your work surface.

Once the nut is cracked, pull out both the nut and the bolt and find out what the problem was before trying to insert another bolt. You need to know whether you’re dealing with a stripped bolt or whether you just screwed it in at the wrong angle.

If you’ve accidentally widened the hole too much, you can use items such as metal putty to fill it up and set it before drilling a new one.

Use a Flat-Blade Screwdriver

Ease the flat head of the screwdriver under the bold and push it upwards. Once the bolt springs free, remove it, replace it if it’s the wrong size, and fix it.

Use a Pair of Pliers

Grab the bolt head with the pliers and pull and twist at the same time. This will help yank the spinning bolt out.

Does a Spinning Bolt Need to be Tightened?

All this effort gives rise to the question- does a spinning bolt even need to be tightened in the first place? Even though the spinning bolt is in place, it is not stable, and it’s a sign that something has clearly gone wrong. You need to either tighten the bolt or remove it, find out what caused the spinning in the first place and secure it into place.

It’s Not Impossible

Although it might seem like the spinning bolt won’t tighten, it’s not impossible. Sometimes, the problem is quite simple and just tightening the bolt further or drilling a bit deeper will get the job done. Other times, you’ll have to remove/ break the bolt (and maybe even the nut) and start from scratch.


What Happens If You Over Tighten A Bolt?

So you don’t have an issue “currently” with a spinning bolt. However, your bolt isn’t spinning because you have managed to over tighten it. This too can be harmful to whatever project you are doing. When you over tighten or over-torque a bolt you could strip the bolt or even snap the screw heads.

Why Do Bolts Loosen?

Be honest! If bolts didn’t loosen you wouldn’t even be in this long drawn out predicament! So you are probably wondering why do they loosen anyway?

It is believed that vibration, shock, or even changes in the load can cause bolts to loosen. It could also be side sliding of the nut or bolt as it relates to the joint.

You could try a lock nut to prevent loosening once you have this project near completion and the spinning figured out.


Related Reading