Reinstalling screws into plastic

We live in a world of plastic consumer goods held together with screws.  These are thread-forming screws with sharp threads that cut threads into unthreaded holes in the molded plastic parts with the intention of never being removed.  Unfortunately sometimes removal is necessary for repair or, increasingly, simply to replace batteries in inexpensive goods.  The problem is that simply screwing the fasteners back in cuts new threads each time, destroying the integrity of the plastic threads and the strength of the joint.  All is not lost, however:

There is a technique to reinstall thread-forming screws without damage.  Place the screw at the start of the hole on the end of your screwdriver.  Using the tips of your fingers loosely on the shaft of the screwdriver, turn it backwards, i.e. counterclockwise, with only the weight of the screwdriver pushing on the screw.  Since the screw is turning backwards the sharp threads will not cut into the plastic.  Turn until you feel or hear a light click – immediately stop.  This means that the screw thread has dropped into the start of the original plastic thread channel.  Now turn the shaft gently forwards, clockwise, to make sure the screw threads slide in smoothly.  If so,  run the screw in.  Do not over torque it.  When you feel it bottom out, stop turning.  That will be firm enough for most plastic assemblies.  If it does not turn easily or feel smooth,  back off and turn backwards feeling for the click and try again.  Some screws are called double lead or hi-lo and have two thread heights.  In that case you will get two clicks, one lighter and one harder.  The harder click is the proper thread channel.  In general it is a good idea to turn backwards at least a full to turn to find the most definite click.  This can also make the best of an already compromised hole.

This works as well for reinstalling wood screws without damaging the threads in the wood.

While I’ve done this for decades, I was reminded that it is not a universally known technique while working on my Dyson vacuum.  These are pricey vacuums with the subassemblies held together internally with screws that you really want to be careful with.  The subassemblies themselves snap to each other.  Dyson only sells subassemblies on their web site that can be replaced without removing and replacing screws.   As all I needed were beater bars and not the entire floor head I kept looking.  I found the smaller parts I needed at evacuum.com for much less than the assembly cost.  After carefully removing the old parts and installing the new screwed on parts without damage I realized why Dyson only sold snap-on parts to consumers but sold smaller parts to dealers.  They did not want consumers to inadvertently  damage their units trying to repair them, but assumed repair shops would know how to do this safely.

Hence this post.  I hope it helps you with future plastic and wood repairs.

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