Installing 5 Tricky Hinges – nothing technically wrong with having the hinge protruding into the cabinet, but it looks less than thoroughly thought out
I previously wrote about several types of hinges commonly in use and described various techniques for installing them. For the second article in this series, here are five hinges with more specialized uses.
95° Stop Hinges
Stop hinges are an excellent choice for box or chest lids in cases where you want to avoid extraneous hardware, such as stays. Precision-engineered, they will hold a lid securely open at 95°. You can use these hinges on chests with lids that overhang at the ends and front, but for the simplest installation, the lid should be flush with the case’s back.
Start by marking the back and lid for foolproof identification. It’s important to keep these parts oriented consistently. Next, lay out the position of each hinge on the top edge of the back. Depending on the length of the lid you may be fine with two hinges; longer lids should have three. These hinges will be mortised into both parts – the chest and the lid – very much as you would mortise a traditional butt hinge. You can start with the mortises on either part, as you prefer. In this example I started with the piece that would be the back of the chest.
It’s useful to have two marking gauges for the mortise layout. With stop hinges, at least 50 percent of the barrel must remain proud for the hinge to operate. For this example, I left the entire barrel proud, because I like the look.
Chop the mortises in the top edge of the chest. When you have removed all but the thinnest slice of waste near the gauge lines, pare out the corners, holding your chisel vertically.
With the hinge fitted in the first mortise, transfer the hinge positions to the lid and repeat the same series of steps.
Rattail hinges are ideal for reproductions of Early American furniture. Then again, with their distant echo of European hardware, they’re so striking that they can also lend themselves to other imaginative applications.
When designing your cabinet, keep the following points in mind: First, these hinges are handed – i.e., they are made for left- or right-handed installation. They also come in inset or offset (half-overlay) versions. Order accordingly.
Second, make sure that the face frame stiles are wide enough to accommodate the width of the “tail” section of the hinge. Lay the hinge on a piece of paper or scrap and measure the width from the end of the tail to the opposite edge of the eye (the ring that will hold the rat’s tail), which will be closest to the opening in the frame. Make sure you have a little on each side to keep the hinge from appearing squeezed into a too-small space.
Finally, the face frame should protrude into the door opening, not be flush with its edge, so you’ll be able to thread a nut onto the eye bolt to fasten it in place.
After you have completed the basic fitting of the door, shim it in its opening and start by laying out the positions of the hinges. There are no fast rules about this with rattail hinges; the vertical position on the door can be based on your preference.
Once you have determined the vertical position for both hinges, mark the center point of the eye and square with a pencil line across the stile. The distance of the eye from the edge of the face frame is also largely a matter of preference. Some people put them 1⁄2” from the face frame’s inside edge, others less. I installed mine at 5⁄16“.
Now set a marking gauge to the vertical center of the eye (in my case this was 5⁄16“) and mark the intersection with the line indicating the vertical position. This will be the center of the hole for the eye bolt.
Drill the Hole for the Eye Bolt
For inset applications the hinge pin needs to be drawn up as close as possible against the face of the cabinet in order for the door to hang flush and not protrude from that plane. Use a narrow chisel to make a small hollow to accommodate the back of the eye. Now insert the bolts in their holes and fasten with nuts from the back. Drop the tail into each eye, hold it parallel with the face frame stile edge and use a bradawl to start a hole for a screw in the tail. (I like to use a temporary screw smaller than the final screw in case I need to adjust the position.)
Next, set the door back in its opening on shims. I find it helpful also to shim the hinge stile, taping pennies or dimes in place. Drop the leaf (or “flag”) onto each hinge pin and mark the holes in pencil on the door. At this point I remove the door because it’s far easier to drill the holes with the door lying down than propped up in the cabinet. I use a square to double-check that the leaf is square to the edge of the door. Drill just two holes in each leaf at this point and insert the screws.
Hang the door and check the fit. If necessary, you can adjust the fit by shifting the position of the tail on the face frame or by moving the leaf (or both leaves) on the door. (Yes, doing so will mean adding more holes, but in most cases they’ll be hidden by the hardware, and it’s worth it to have a well-fitted door.) When everything looks good, drill and insert the last screws.
European Hinges for Bi-Fold Doors
European hinges come in numerous forms, each suited to a range of applications. One handy variety is the bi-fold hinge. Well, it’s actually a pair of hinges: one to attach the primary door to the cabinet and the other to attach the secondary door to the first.
These are especially handy for full-overlay applications, though you can also make them work for inset doors by using a thicker mounting plate.
As with any of the doors in this article, you should have the doors largely fitted before turning to the hinges. Decide which door will be hinged to the cabinet. I’m going to refer to this as the primary door. The secondary door will be the one you’ll pull when opening the doors to reach the cabinet’s interior.
Note: The job will be simpler if you have the luxury of installing these hinges before you apply the cabinet back.
Start by laying out, then drilling the 35mm holes for the hinge cups as you would for any European hinge. I spaced these 31⁄2” from the top and bottom of the door. Screw the hinges in place with #6 wood screws.
Next, clip the mounting plate onto each hinge and set the door in its opening. If the door is inset, shim it up on pennies or other material to create the gap you desire. If the door is full overlay, shim as necessary. While holding the door in place (if you have access to the cabinet interior via the back), drill one hole in the top hinge and one in the bottom hinge, using a #5 Vix bit, then insert screws. If you don’t have access from the back, hold the door in its open position and line up the mounting plates on the cabinet side; insert one screw in each, check the fit, and adjust as necessary. (Alternatively, you can make a simple template based on measurements taken from a mock-up.)
The next step is to mark and drill for the hinge cups of the bi-fold hinge that will attach the primary and secondary doors. These hinge cup holes will be drilled on the back (or inside) face of the primary door, at the opposite side.
Insert the hinges and screw in place as before. The secondary door will be attached by means of the bi-fold mounting plate. Hold the secondary door in place and transfer the center point of each hinge arm. The center of the front holes will be 37mm (or 115⁄32“) back from the edge of the door. Mark a line at this distance, intersecting with the center point of the hinge arm location, then hold the door in place against the mounting plates and drill one hole for each mounting plate using a Vix bit.
Knife hinges come in different sizes, configurations and finishes. The most common varieties for fine furniture are center pivot hinges, for doors that overlay a cabinet’s sides but are enclosed within the top and bottom, and offset pivot hinges, for fully inset doors.
With knife hinges, the stakes are high: In most cases you will mortise the door and cabinet before gluing the cabinet together, and there is little opportunity to modify the fit once the cabinet is glued up.
This is an installation technique that uses a small router and chisels.
Start by clamping your cabinet together without glue. Make sure the opening is square, and fit the door to the opening with a slight gap on all sides. It’s common to use the gap between the hinge leaves, which is created automatically at the top and bottom of the door by the built-in washer, as a guide to the gap size at the sides.
One leaf is mortised into the edge of the door at the top and bottom; the other is mortised into the cabinet.
Next set a mortise gauge to the width of the leaf. For most applications the hinge will be centered in the thickness of the door; adjust the gauge accordingly.
Hold the router squarely on the door’s edge to prevent it from tipping. Rout close, but not right up to, the scribed and gauged lines. It will be more precise to cleanup the rest with a chisel, and the lines you’ve made with knife and gauges will guide your chisel tip for a clean cut.
Architectural Hinges for Furniture and Cabinetry
Every so often I have a client ask if I will build a piece using salvaged architectural hinges instead of conventional furniture hinges. If you’ve ever looked through bins of old hinges at a salvage yard, you can probably appreciate why. Between their finishes (shiny chrome! flashed copper!) and their finials (balls! acorns! menacing points!), salvaged architectural hinges offer a world of quirky decorative possibilities. Because they’re made to support full-size doors, they are also uncommonly strong.
The basic installation method is the same as that for swaged butt hinges: One leaf gets mortised into the cabinet, the other into the door, with the barrel protruding. Due to their size, though, you should keep a few considerations in mind when designing a piece that will use them.
Decide which leaf will go on the cabinet and which on the door based on the end with the loose pin. The fixed finial should be at the bottom; otherwise the pin will simply fall out.
Even on full-size doors that are a standard 15⁄16” thick, architectural hinges are customarily fitted with the barrel protruding. When used on a cabinet door, which is more likely to be between 3⁄4” and 1″ thick, the barrel will protrude to an ungainly degree unless you set the leaves back so that they overhang on the interior of the cabinet. The door will look better if you thicken it with a strip of matching material on the inside face of the hinge stile. There’s nothing technically wrong with having the hinge protruding into the cabinet, but it looks less than thoroughly thought out.
If the inside edge of your face frame is flush with the cabinet side, there’s no need to thicken the face frame stile as you did with the door. If these parts are not flush, add the necessary material before proceeding. Drill and screw the second leaf onto the cabinet, then try the fit.