A simple guide to choosing and installing hinges.
by Jim Heavey

Door hinges sure have changed since I began building cabinets shortly after the earth cooled. I used to pick a style to match the current fad, and then chose black, chrome, or antique brass. Mounted to the face frame of the cabinet, these hinges became part of the "look." They allowed little, if any, adjustment, making final door alignment a potential nightmare.

The introduction of European-style (also called Euro or 35mm) hinges changed everything. You could conceal the hinge inside the cabinet, placing the focus on the beauty of the door. Installation proves easy, and you can adjust the door up and down, in and out, and side to side with just the turn of a screw [Adjusting door position, below]. However, shopping for them can be a dizzying experience with so many types and makes to choose from. Here's what you need to know to select and install these hidden hinges.

Adjusting door position


Euro hinges allow for simple adjustment in three axes with just a screwdriver [Photo, above]. Align overlay door heights with adjacent doors or balance the reveal at the top and bottom of inset doors, and bring them flush with the face frame.

Loosen screws A to adjust the door up or down. Turn screw B to move the door toward or away from the cabinet face. Use screw C to move the door side-to-side.

Pick the right hinge

Euro hinges have two components: The hinge arm has a cup that fits in a 35mm-diameter recess drilled in the door. The mounting plate, or clip, attaches to the cabinet side or face frame depending on the cabinet construction. The hinge arm then snaps onto the clip.

Some vendors sell the hinge arm and clip as a unit; others let you select them individually to match your application—and that's where things can get confusing. But don't worry. Work through the following checklist to select the correct hinge cup and clip.

Clips for inset doors attach to the rear face of the stile. Clips for overlay doors attach to the edge of the stile.

Select for cabinet type. Face-frame cabinets have horizontal rails and vertical stiles attached to the face of the cabinet box. Clips for this type of cabinet attach to a frame stile [Photo A and above].

Frameless-cabinet clips mount to the cabinet side. Positioning depends on whether the doors are inset or overlay.

European-style cabinets, sometimes called full access, are simply boxes without a face frame. In this case, the clips attach to the inside face of the cabinet [Photo B, above].

Inset doors require an even gap, or reveal, all around for best appearance. Most Euro hinges allow adjustments of between 3⁄64" and 5⁄64" in each direction, invaluable when fine-tuning the reveal.

Determine the door style. Inset doors sit flush with the front of the cabinet box or face frame [Photo C, above].

On a full-overlay door, the door rests against the cabinet face frame (left), or the cabinet box (right). Adjacent doors should align along their top and bottom edges.

Overlay doors close against and overlap the front of the cabinet box or face frame [Photos D, E, above], with the most common overlays being 38 " and 12 " on each edge.

Hinges for overlay doors have a near-flat clip (0mm rise) and a straight arm [chart below]; hinges for inset doors have a taller clip (9mm rise) and a rise (called a half-crank) to the arm.

hinge chart.jpg
Four clip styles and two hinge styles will accommodate the vast majority of your cabinet-making needs. The hinge arm works for either clip shown above it.

Pick an opening angle. For the vast majority of applications, a hinge that opens between 95° and 110° provides clear access to the full cabinet width. You can find hinges that swing further, even up to 270°, which allows the door to fold back against the cabinet side if you need it out of the way as you access the cabinet contents.

Moving the small gray switch turns the closing action on or off—especially useful when balancing the self-close feature of multiple hinges on the same door.

  Determine the closing action. A soft-close hinge eliminates annoying slams by slowing the door just before it shuts completely. Some hinges offer a way to adjust the speed of the closing action [Photo F, above], so you can dial in more resistance on heavier doors, and less on lighter doors. Or, to save a bit of money, use one soft-close hinge and one less-expensive standard hinge.

Because of its universal fit, you can easily replace an existing Euro hinge with a soft-close hinge.
Narrow the field even more. You can further focus your choices by choosing screw mounting for clips and hinges. This eliminates those that require specialized jigs or additional hardware for mounting.

Jigs speed installation


These three hinge jigs eliminate repetitive measuring while ensuring holes get drilled exactly where needed.

Use the cup jig to set up your drill press for drilling the cup holes in the doors.

The face-frame and frameless clip jigs guide your drill bit for installing the clips for both inset and overlay doors. Countersink the holes in each jig to fit the tip of a self-centering (Vix) bit. Short hand-sawn kerfs help you align the jig with the clip centerlines on the cabinet.

Installing hinges

While most hinges come with drilling guides or templates that provide hole locations for both halves of the hinge, WOOD® magazine's Senior Design Editor, Kevin Boyle, developed a system that uses three simple jigs to locate screw and hinge-cup holes for almost all applications [Jigs speed installation, above].

With the Forstner bit in the hole, bring the drill-press table fence against the jig edge and lock the fence in place. Set the depth stop for a 1⁄2"-deep hole.

First, set up your drill-press fence position with the cup jig [Photo G, above]. Mark cup locations on each door 3" from each end, and drill the holes. Place the cup in the hole, square it to the door edge, and drill the screw pilot-hole locations [Photo H, below]. Screw the cups in place.

Use a self-centering bit to center the screw holes. The #3 and #5 bits accommodate most Euro hinge-screw sizes.

To mount the clips to the cabinet, mark centerlines for the clips. For overlay doors, subtract the amount of the overlay from 3"; so for a 12 " overlay, mark the centerlines 212 " from the top and bottom of the door opening. For inset doors, add 116 " to the 3" measurement. Align the appropriate clip jig with the centerline and drill pilot holes [Photos I, J, below]. Screw the clips in place.

For frameless cabinets, use the far set of holes for an inset door, the near set for overlay doors.
On face-frame cabinets, drill holes on the edge of the stile for overlay doors, and on the rear face of the stile for inset doors.

Position the door in the opening, snap the hinge arms to the clips, then adjust the hinges to align the doors.