How to Properly Install Butt Hinges

Installing a door hinge

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There are varying thoughts on whether it's better to install the hinge to the door or to the cabinet first. In most cases, it is preferable to install the hinge to the cabinet first, as you can actually mortise the recess for the hinge before assembling the cabinet. Either way can produce clean results, so the choice is up to you.

To begin, measure the width of the hinge, from the center of the knuckle outward to the edge of the hinge, and subtract 1/32-inch from this measurement. This is the distance that you'll need to measure in from the edge of the door or cabinet frame for the width of the mortise. Transcribe marks to the edge of the door or frame at this width with a pencil. Then, position your hinge with the long edge of the hinge against these marks in the position where you want the hinge to be located and scribe the outline of the hinge.

Note: An adjustable marking gauge is a perfect tool for scribing these lines; however, this is a specialty tool that most hobbyist woodworkers may not wish to purchase if they don't cut a lot of hinge mortises. As such, the description in this article is for cutting the hinges without a marking gauge.

Next, measure the thickness of the hinge flange and mark the depth of the flange on the inside face of the door stiles or the outer edge of the cabinet face frame.

Cut the Outline

Once your pencil marks are in place, gently score the marks using a utility knife. We like to use a combination square as a reference guide for the utility knife to keep the score lines straight and even. Pay special attention to scoring the corners, as they can be difficult to cleanly mortise. Take your time and remember that care with scoring the lines will yield a better-finished mortise.

Remove the Waste

There are two common methods for removing the waste once you've marked and scored the outlines of your mortise. One is to use a plunge router with a straight-cutting bit to remove the desired material and cut the mortise. While you can do this with your task free-hand, there are mortising guides available that clamp onto the door or frame that take out the guesswork. These kits come with a collar that connects to the base of your router to guide the router and prevent it from extending beyond the boundaries of the scored lines.

A more traditional method is to use a bevel-edged chisel to cut out the waste. Be sure that your chisel is sharp and undamaged before you begin the task. A dull chisel is a dangerous chisel.

The easiest way to remove the waste is to deepen your scored lines to the desired depth, then make a series of equally-deep cuts perpendicular to the long edge of the hinge mortise, about 1/8-inch apart. Once you have each of these cuts completed to the proper depth, you can simply turn the chisel on edge (with the flat side of the bevel facing the surface of the door or frame) and knock out the scored pieces.

When all of the scored pieces are removed, clean up the face of the mortise with the chisel, paying special attention to the corners and edges of the mortise. Lay the hinge into the mortise to see that it lays flush with the face of the wood and sits evenly within the mortise.

Drilling and Attaching the Hinge

Once the mortise is completed, place the hinge into the hollowed mortise. Position the tip of a nail set in the center of each screw hole, and tap the end of the nail set with a hammer to make a small pilot hole for drilling the screw hole. Then, insert a small drill bit into a cordless drill or electric power drill and drill a pilot hole for each screw.

Set the drill aside, position the mortise and drive a screw into each of the holes with a screwdriver, securing the hinge to the wood.

To complete the installation, hold the door in place against the frame with the hinge installed to one half of the assembly, mark the locations in the mating surface and repeat the process. Once the hinge is attached to both the door and frame, visually inspect the opening and closing of the door to ensure that both hinges are working together properly and that the door closes and opens easily and that the door lays flat against the assembly.

Other Types of Hinges

Butt hinges have been around for a long time and are still widely used today because they offer a classic look, can handle years of use and are relatively simple to install. There are a variety of butt hinges available for use on anything from interior and exterior doors on your home to cabinet doors. While recessed European hinges are popular in kitchen cabinetry (primarily because the hinges do not show from the outside of the cabinet), on many hutches and other fine woodworking projects, you simply cannot beat the traditional butt hinge.

Installing a butt hinge is a straightforward process, but requires a bit of precision to give the clean look and functionality you expect. No matter whether you choose to use steel or traditional brass hinges for your project, if you take your time and do the job right, you'll be pleased with the results.