How to remove an Allen screw without an Allen Wrench

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Allen screws are not that common. You will hardly encounter them in most of your projects but if you deal with bike and machine repairs and furniture assembly be ready to come across them. That is why it is good practice to have an Allen wrench set at hand in case you come across the hex fasteners. But what do you do when you don’t have the Allen keys and you have to remove an Allen bolt? Don’t worry, in this article, I share some of the tricks for installing or removing Allen screws without an Allen wrench.

What is an Allen Screw/Bolt?

An Allen bolt is a type of screw fastener with a hexagonal groove on the head. Unlike regular bolts which have corners on the outside, Allen bolts have corners inside the head.

Allen bolts are also called hex screws because they have six sides. The hex shape is the most optimal design because it provides the best grip on a wrench. Hexagons also handle pressure and force better than other shapes without deforming. So, if you were wondering why Allen screws have six sides, now you know why. Fewer or more than six sides would deform or get rounded out easily.

How to remove Allen Screws

Removing Allen Screws with Allen hex wrench

The best way to remove Allen screws is with an Allen Key wrench. An Allen wrench or key is a shank with 6 sides for driving hex screws. They come in different sizes for different screw sizes.

To install or remove a bolt with an Allen key, select the proper hex wrench size from your Alley key set and insert it into the socket of the hex screw. It should fit snugly with no play. Lastly, turn the key clockwise to install or anticlockwise to remove the screw.

Most hex wrenches are L-shaped with one side shorter than the other. Ideally, the best side of the hex wrench to use is the shorter side so that you can use the longer side to get maximum leverage. But if you are working in a very confined space, you can use the shorter side as the handle.

If you do not have a hex wrench, you can these other alternatives to drive your hex screws.

Removing Allen Bolt without Allen Key

Alternative 1: Flat screwdriver

You can install or remove a hex screw with a flat screwdriver. However, the screwdriver must have a wide blade that can fit snugly between two opposite corners of the hex head socket. To keep the screwdriver blade from slipping inside the hex socket, I prefer to wrap the blade with a rubber glove. This creates a non-slip grip and allows you to apply maximum torque on the screw.

Alternative 2: Needle nose locking pliers

Locking pliers are not like ordinary pliers. They grip and lock tightly without releasing and you don’t have to keep squeezing the handles.

To use them to drive a hex screw, simply grip the head of the fastener and twist either clockwise to tighten or anti-clockwise to loosen. You can choose to either grip the entire head of the screw or one side of the internal hex and the outer surface.  

Alternative 3: Hacksaw blade or Dremel and slotted screwdriver

If the screwdriver cannot fit into the hex screw head socket, you can use a hack saw blade or rotary tool kit to cut a slot on the head of the screw. Use a hacksaw if the head of the screw is sticking out and a Dremel tool if it is recessed. Once you cut a slot across the head of the screw, insert the blade of the screwdriver into the slot and twist clockwise or anti-clockwise to drive the Allen screw.  

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Julius is a field engineer by day and blogger by night. Throughout his career, he has used or encountered many tools and learned that getting the right tools for the trade is the first step toward getting the job done right. That is why he talks about tools, tests them, and reviews them on this blog.