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    How to Install Surface-Mounted Hinges

    more on woodworking safety

    Tools and Materials

    Step-by-step instructions on installing surface-mounted hinges

    If you like the idea of quick and easy hardware installation, you’ll love using surface-mounted hinges. There’s no complicated routing and chiseling—just great-looking results in a hurry. Whether repairing an old box or hinging a new one, the steps are the same.

    Photos by Robert J. Settich

    This article originally appeared in Taunton's Complete Illustrated Guide to Choosing and Installing Hardware (2003).

    How to Make

    Simple box hinge

    click to enlargeThe box hinge

    Align and tape the box edges: A simple box hinge is a great introduction to surface-mounted hinges. In this example, I started with a vintage box that's nicely made but suffers from bound hinges so that the front of the box gapes open. As you'll see, a box hinge offers a perfect solution to a woodworker's common dilemma.

    Strap hinge

    click to enlargeUse package sealing or masking tape

    Position the hinges: Put four thicknesses of self-adhesive notepaper (Post-It is one brand) between the base and lid, positioning the spacers near the ends of the box so they won’t interfere with hinge placement. Carefully align the edges and ends of the base and lid, and tape them together using package sealing tape or masking tape.

    No-mortise hinge

    click to enlargeLay hinges in position

    Install the hinges and finish up: Tip the box onto its front face so you can lay the hinges in position. Move the hinges side to side to let your eyes judge the best location. When you’re satisfied with the placement, carefully position one hinge, centering the barrel along the gap at the back of the box.

    Overlay hinge

    click to enlargeThe finished product

    Add spacers and mark centerpoint: If you’re uncomfortable visually aligning the hinge, you can position it with a try square. Drill the pilot holes and drive the screws, but keep checking as you work to make certain that the base and lid remain flush. Repeat the process for the other hinge,and remove the tape and the spacers. The slightgap at the back of the box ensures that the front of the box will close tightly even when the box changes size due to changes in moisture content.

    click to enlargeThe rustic strap hinge

    Make the overshot cutline: Strap hinges add authentic styling to rustic furniture, and with a few installation tips, you’ll get great results fast.

    click to enlargeStart with spacers

    Add screws and spray-paint for a vintage look: I feel that the rustic look is enhanced by relatively large hinge gaps instead of the tight spacing you’d probably use on more tailored furniture, so I put some 1⁄8-in. plywood spacers between the pieces. Make a pencil mark at the centerpoint of the end hole in one leaf. Put a short piece of masking tape about 1⁄4-in. past the tip of each hinge leaf, and remove the hinge.

    click to enlargeMark between the tape pieces

    Secure the hinge: Place a framing square so that it aligns with the pencil mark, and use a utility knife to scribe a line between the pieces of masking tape. This overshot cutline will mimic the mark a country cabinetmaker might have used to align a hinge. Replace the hinge, and use the pencil mark and scribed line to position it.

    click to enlargeAdd and customize the screws

    Make the jig: There were no screws furnished with this hinge, so I had to give some ordinary fasteners the antique treatment. Temporarily drive slotted (not Phillips) screws into the end of the scrap board to hold them for filing and painting. This photo shows how an ordinary screw (left) is faceted with a file (center) and then spray-painted flat black (right) for a vintage look.

    click to enlargeDrill pilot holes and install

    Drive in the hinge leaf: Drill pilot holes for the screws, and drive them to secure the hinge. The installed hinge is strong, functional, and has the styling appropriate to its use.

    click to enlargeNo-mortise hinge

    Complete installation: A no-mortise hinge is a fast and efficient way to hang inset cabinet doors, producing an even reveal between carcase and door on the hinge side. By using the easy jig shown in this demonstration, you’ll also help ensure consistent reveals at the top and bottom of the door. As you’ll see, the finished height of the door is equal to the opening in the carcase minus the thickness of two mending plates.

    click to enlargeThe block is usually equal in length to the hinge

    Overlay mechanics : To make the jig, simply cut a block of scrap wood that equals the length of the hinge, and screw a 1⁄16-in.-thick mending plate to one end. Of course, you can cut the block any length you wish. Making it equal the length of the hinge merely follows a common rule of thumb for hinge placement

    click to enlargeDrill the pilot holes

    Space and attach the hinge leaf: Make sure that the screw is fully seated in the countersink. Hook the plate over the end of the door, and register the barrel of the hinge against the face of the door. Drill pilot holes, and drive the screws into the holes in the hinge leaf that have the countersinks visible. Move the jig to the carcase, and set a spare hinge atop it and with the barrel against the edge of the carcase. The hinge will be backward in this position, so drill pilot holes in the leaf that has its countersunk holes toward the side of the carcase. A self-centering bit makes this an easy and accurate job.

    click to enlargeA finished no-mortise hinge

    Use plywood to ensure overhang: Move the hinged door to the carcase, and drive the screws to complete the installation. When the door is closed, you’ll enjoy the appearance of even spaces surrounding the door.

    click to enlargeThe popular overlay hinge

    Adjust fit and drive the final screw: The overlay hinge adds a nice aesthetic to your country-inspired cabinet. A popular choice for kitchen cabinetry, this hinge is easy to install as well as adjust.

    click to enlargeOverlay end view

    When an overlay hinge spring is in an unloaded position (before installation), the leaf that mounts to the frame pulls the door leaf toward it. See the end view in the photo. So when you screw down the hinge, the spring makes the door move away from the mounting point. Inserting a small piece of plastic laminate near the hinge loads up the hinge enough so that the frame leaf is flat against a reference surface.

    click to enlargeTraditional overlay spacing

    The installation photo indicates where the laminate is placed. It also shows the traditional spacing for overlay hinges: one leaf width from the end of the door. Hold the hinge’s leaf against the pencil mark and the knuckles against the edge of the door while you drill pilot holes in two of the slots in the leaf. Use two flat-head screws to attach the hinge leaf.

    click to enlargeMeasure overhang

    The usual overlay for kitchen cabinet doors is 3⁄8 in. The face frame of this cabinet has rails and stiles that are 2 in. wide, so rip a plywood strip 1-5⁄8 in. wide, and place it flush with the bottom rail. That way, when you rest the doors atop the strip, their lower ends will overhang the opening by 3⁄8 in. I also wanted a 1-5⁄8-in. reveal along the vertical edge of the door, but I set my adjustable square about 1⁄32 in. larger than that to compensate for a bit of springback when the laminate shim was removed from the hinge. Drill pilot holes and drive the pan-head screws to secure the hinge leaf to the stile.

    click to enlargeA completed overlay hinge

    If you need to adjust the fit of the door side to side, simply loosen the screws on the backside of the door. When you’re satisfied, drive the third screw into the hinge, positioning it near the end of the slot to ensure that the door won’t wiggle out of place.