I've got an outdoor ceiling light fixture. Think this: light fixture

A few months ago, due to an accident, the fixture itself broke completely. As in, the socket that the light bulb goes in smashed and broke off.

I want to replace the light fixture entirely and have bought a new one. However, the screws holding the old one up are so old and rusted that they're entirely rounded off. There's no way for my screwdriver to grip it, so I'm not sure how I can remove it.

I considered just prying the thing out of the ceiling and drilling new holes right beside the old ones, but my porch is very old and I'd be afraid of damaging it.

What can I do?

5 Answers 5


Using a hand-held grinder or rotary tool, you could grind a slot in the screw head and then use a flat blade driver to remove.

  • So like a dremel? That's a fantastic idea. I'll give that a shot tonight Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 21:29

You can drill out the old screw. You should use a center punch to insure that you place your drill bit in the middle of the screw.

If the old screw head is completely rusted, you can just remove the head of the screw (again by drilling it) so that nothing is holding the base of the fixture to the ceiling.


If any of the head or shaft of the screw is visible, you may be able to grip it tightly with pliers (or a vise-grip) and unscrew it. If you try this, don't apply too much torque as the rusted screw may break off.

  • 1
    This is my personal favourite method. Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 3:54
  • mole grips are easier but its a good hack anyway Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 11:13
  • @bigbadmouse I looked up what a "mole grip" is. Same as a vise grip! So we agree. :) Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 22:03
  • 1
    yes, sorry @BrettFromLA - I should have thought that americanese would differ. I was going to link for clarity but was short on time with my employer's utterly unreasonable demands that I spend work-time working . I was referring to pliers being less good than vice grips because vice-grips you can just keep turning. I still use your tape on signature idea Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 8:10
  • you could use a manual impact driver and hammer like this amazon.co.uk/TEKTON-2905-8-Inch-Manual-7-Piece/dp/B000NPPATS @BrettFromLA this is probably called a "raccoon-scrambler" in americanese Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 8:12

Drilling or grinding the head off is probably your best bet as mentioned by others, but here are a couple more options.

If there's enough of the screw exposed you can try cutting a slot across the top so that you can use a flat screwdriver on it. If it sticks out enough you can use a hacksaw, otherwise something like a dremel with a thin grinding blade.

There are tools specifically for removing damaged screws. From the picture your screws might be too small for it, but it's worth considering. Here's the first one I found when I duckduckgo-ed screw removal tool.

Whatever you do, give it some lubricating spray like WD40 etc. beforehand, and let it soak in for a bit. This will help free it up and make the job easier.


Sometimes you can drive a screw IN a quarter or eighth of a turn to crack any rust that is preventing the screw from coming out normally.

Depending on the orientation, you can sometimes drop a bit of lubricant on the shaft and have it wick up the thread. This makes the hole somewhat useless in the future if you want to put another fastener in.

Since the old fitting is trash already, you could break it away from the screws using pliers or cutters. Then once a length of shaft is exposed use pliers to twist there.

Last resort is to cut the fastener off flush with the surface and simply leave the embedded end there. Your new light fitting will hide the crimes and it will look fine. However some future repairer may curse you when that fitting needs replacing.

Do use stainless steel fasteners when installing the new fitting, to prevent this happening again.

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