Screw keeps spinning

24 Feb 2020
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United Kingdom
Now that I have learnt how to change bulb holders, things go to my head and I changed all the switches in my house. It was all going well till I met my challenge. This particular switch is wedged into the door frame a little.

I removed the old screw and put in the new screw (that came with the new switch) and it is not a firm fit and the switch is now loose. I have tried inserting a fatter head screwdriver/ holding with a plier and tried to unscrew but got nowhere. I have a feeling both screws have the same symptom. What are my options now?


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Try pulling the switch away from the wall such that it is pulling against the fixing screw. While maintaining this, unscrew the fixing screw.
Try pulling the switch away from the wall such that it is pulling against the fixing screw. While maintaining this, unscrew the fixing screw.

I did. Didn't work. :cry: If I pull any harder, the box will come off.
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If you can push the switch far enough against the wall to expose the back of the screw head, I would try pincers or a claw hammer to put force on the screw while trying to unscrew it.

But ultimately you may have to resort to destructive methods of removal and then replace the whole box and switch. Unfortunately it seems the previous installer was a bit of a bodger to say the least (looks like a surface patress embedded in the wall to me), so re-doing it properly may be more effort than it would normally be.
It's probably spinning because the spline on the brass threaded insert has turned in the horrible. brittle, plastic back box. Once it does that all you can really do is grasp the top of the screw and try to pull the insert free without actually breaking the horrible, brittle, plasticky back box. Once it's out you can, hopefully, hold the insert with a pair of pliers and unscrew the screw. Providing the back box hasn't broken you can reinsert the insert and stick it back with some superglue. Two problems that might arise are that the thread might be knackered so the screw will only turn the insert round an round again or you could get superglue inside the insert on to the threads which will only achieve the same result.
As pete50 above says, the knurled thread insert is spinning so the box is likely useless, its the wrong box anyway.
Push the switch back, the screws are Brass cut the heads off with pliers, remove and fit either a flushed in box or if you must, another new surface box, refit switch and jobs a good un
Surface used as a back box....that's different

Its quite common on older installs, I quess its mainly due to the old lighting circuits still having no Earth, the old insulated lug metal boxes were hard to get, i have never seen them on sale since the 80's so people removing any old wooden boxes were left with little choice.

A surface insulated box or an unearthed metal box, with exposed metal screws, nylon screws was an option but hardly anyone done that.

The op should really check there is an Earth present if he intends using a metal box
Yes, the box is plastic. There are also no earth wires in this particular switch.
It was very common for a DIYer to remove a surface mounted pattress, and then flush it into the wall, when decorating.

Some DIYers would not realise it was far bettter to use a proper flush box instead.

You could try snipping the heads off the screws (best wear goggles I suppose) so you can move the faceplate out of the way to have a look at whats going on.

This may be awkward as the faceplate seems to slightly tuck into the architrave.

If you can pull out the screws and the brass threads you may be able to bodge around and salvage the box.

All in all though, the best solution is to be a bit destructive, cut that box out, fit a new box - this time move it a bit to the left to avoid the faceplate being too near to the architrave.

Have a look to see if there is an earth wire that has been cut off. There may be some slack in the cable you can pull down.

A plaster depth metal box is the most likely replacement - pvc plaster depth boxes for flush work were available (probably 50 years ago!) but not seen them easily obtainable.

Using an unearthed metal box is not ideal, though it was very often done years ago with nylon screw lugs to prevent the screws becoming live.

They don't make these boxes now, so the nearest alternative would be to use nylon screws. If you go to this trouble, get a few spare screws - as they can chew up easily if you aren't careful enough.

Far easier to check if you have a cut off earth wire there first.
Looking at the switch that Android has fitted, that may well come with the tiny plastic covers - the holes on the faceplate do look deep.
Looking at the switch that Android has fitted, that may well come with the tiny plastic covers - the holes on the faceplate do look deep.

It does.
I wanted to secure the switch with the screws before putting on the plastic cap.

It seems I screwed up ( excuse the punn ) by using the new screw that came with the switch. I should have just used the old screw that I unscrewed from the old switch. Who knew this would cause problems. I tell you, both old and new screws look exactly the same!

I had a different situation with the switch in the living room. There was nothing to secure the screw to the box. The plastic deep hole is there but there was nothing inside to receive the screw. I ended up using half of a toothpick in the hole as a workaround.

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