Round off the sharp edges of a screw head and, just like that, you’re stuck in DIY limbo—with a fastener that’s neither in nor out. It’s easy to do with today’s powerful cordless drills. Maybe you had the speed set too high. Maybe you didn’t apply even pressure. Maybe you were holding the drill at a less-than-optimal angle.

“Everyone wants a bigger drill, but they need to know that they have to use the right technique,” says Bingo Emmons, an educator for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

The overarching rule is to maintain solid contact between the driver bit and the screw. Here’s Emmons’ five-step plan to avoid screwing up:

1. Drill Pilot Holes
To keep screws from seizing up in wood, first drill a hole to the same depth as your screw with a bit barely thinner than the screw’s shank. Getting the correct depth is key, Emmons says. If the screw bottoms out in the pilot hole, the sudden spike in resistance will call for more torque, which can strip the screw or even snap off its head.

PRO TIP: Wrap a piece of painter’s tape around your drill bit to set the depth of the pilot hole. You’ll be able to see the colored band even as the bit spins, allowing you to judge when to stop drilling.

2. Use a Fresh Driver Bit
A worn or broken bit can slip out of place and continue to spin, stripping the screw head. A fresh bit will sit snugly in the head of the screw (see photo, above), which makes it less likely to slip.

More on Cordless Drills

3. Use the Clutch
The clutch limits the amount of force a drill can apply when driving a fastener. Once the motor senses too much resistance, the clutch slips and the motor spins but doesn’t engage the chuck (and bit). If the setting is too low, the head won’t land flush with your work surface; if it’s too high, you might snap off the head or bury it. Start with the lowest setting and bump it up a few clicks at a time until the screw head stops right where it should.

4. Squeeze the Trigger Firmly
Regulate speed with the speed switch, not the trigger. “Easing on or off the trigger seems like the right thing to do, but it makes it more likely for the bit to slip off the screw head,” Emmons says. Instead, squeeze the trigger firmly and release it immediately to start or stop driving.

Most cordless drills have two speeds. Slower speeds deliver more torque—good for driving fasteners. Generally speaking, faster speeds are for drilling holes. One caveat: If you’re using a large-diameter hole saw, it will require more torque, thus a lower speed setting.

5. Keep the Pressure On
Hold your drill at a 90-degree angle to the screw and make sure your bit is firmly seated in the screw head (see photo, above). Keep pressure applied as you sink the screw because the deeper the screw goes, the more resistance it will encounter.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the December 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.