Installing hinges on your cabinet doors is a relatively straightforward project you can take on and finish within a day. Even with modern concealed hinges, you only need a couple of tools and possibly an extra pair of hands.
You can install hinges on a cabinet door by marking where the hinges should go, making a mortise, and drilling a hole where the screws should be fixed. After aligning the hinges and driving the screws in, you should have all your cabinet doors aligned with each other and not sloping.
Using this DIY guide, you should be able to install the three most common types of hinges on your cabinet doors in no time.
Different Types of Hinges
There are at least 21 different types of hinges that can be used on cabinet doors. Today, the most popular is the European style hinge because it is entirely concealed and invisible when the cabinet door is closed.
However, butt hinges are the most common and basic, as they are easy to install and cheap to buy as well.
Here’s a brief overview of the variety of hinges I’ll cover in this DIY guide:
- Butt hinges: Sturdy, simple hinges that are easy to install and large for years. Opt for brass so they develop a patina suitable for fine woodworking or steel for stronger hinges that will last for years.
- Offset knife hinges: Also known as pivot hinges; these are practically concealed and perfect for installing inset cabinet doors. Some models restrict how far the cabinet door can open, while others allow a full range of motion.
- European concealed hinges: For a clean and sophisticated modern look, European hinges are entirely concealed when the cabinets are closed.
1. Installing Butt Hinges on Cabinet Doors
Due to their ease of installation and sturdy build, butt hinges are extremely popular among DIYers and professional cabinet makers alike. Here’s a step-by-step guide on installing them:
Make the Butt Hinge Mortise
To keep the butt hinge flush against the cabinet doors instead of protruding outward, you’ll need to lay out a mortise. That is a small indentation where the hinge should be placed in the cabinet door and frame.
- Set a marking gauge to the midpoint of your butt hinge, where you’ll find the pin.
- Measure your hinge length, using this reference to leave one hinge length above and below the hinge’s location on the cabinet door/frame.
- Mark where you intend to install the hinges using a pencil or use a story stick. Use the marking gauge as a guide.
- Using a precision knife, cut the wood across the grain. The hinge should be in place to ensure you’re cutting the right place and size.
- Place the butt hinge on the base of a router, adjusting it until the hinge is barely touching the tip.
- Test the router on a piece of scrap wood, and check if the hinge sits flush in the mortise. Adjust if necessary.
- Use the router to drill the mortise into the cabinet and doors. Do not use the router up to the marked line.
- Use a chisel to finish off the last part of the mortise, starting with the end grain to avoid splitting the wood.
- Check if the hinge is flush with the wood.
I use the DEWALT 20V MAX* XR Router available on Amazon.com. It’s cordless and easy to adjust, making it perfect for cabinet making. You should repeat the process of laying out a mortise for the door after you’re done with the cabinet frame.
Fixing the Butt Hinge Into the Mortise
Now that there’s an indent in the wood to accommodate the butt hinges, all that’s left to do is screw the hinges in place.
Here’s the easiest method:
- Position the hinge correctly into the mortise and use painter’s tape to hold it securely in place.
- Use a self-centering drill bit to drill holes into the cabinet frame.
- Remove the painter’s tape and use a power tool or Phillips head screwdriver to screw the hinge in place.
- Reapply the painter’s tape and close the hinge, so both hinge leaves are parallel to each other.
- Position the cabinet door and secure it in place using spring clamps. If your measurements and markings are correct, the hinges should fit into the mortises in the cabinet door.
- Apply hot glue on the butt hinge leaves that fit into the cabinet door.
- Quickly press the door in its position, applying pressure towards the hinges to secure them using the hot glue.
- Once the glue is set, you can open the door and drill holes into it.
- Drive the screws in to secure the hinge in place.
2. Installing Offset Knife Hinges on Inset Cabinet Doors
The L-shaped offset knife hinges are best suited for use on inset cabinet doors, allowing for a better finish. They’re barely visible when installed, but the key is to get your mortise and measurements done right.
It’s best to lay out the mortise and install offset knife hinges before you’ve built the cabinet frame. Keep everything clamped into position before you start working. Here’s how you can install offset knife hinges easily:
Laying Out the Mortise for Offset Knife Hinges
- Ensure that there is one 32nd of an inch (0.79 mm) space between the door and the frame. Use a shim to measure this, or place two standard playing cards to approximate the measurement.
- Mark the shape of the hinge on the wood using a pencil for cutting your mortise. Ensure that you are referencing the front of the cabinet frame. Alternatively, some hinges come with a template you can use to draw and lay out the mortise.
- Set your cutting gauge at 9/16” (1.43 cm) if your cabinet door/frame is ¾” (1.9 cm)thick.
- Use the cutting gauge and a precision knife to cut along the marked lines.
- Place the knife hinge flat on the router’s bit, and set the depth as close as possible to the size of the hinge.
- Use the router to drill out the mortise, and finish the edges using a chisel.
Pro Tip: When chiseling the front cut (the cut of the mortise on the narrow side of the hinge), angle your precision knife to get the best fit.
You can lay out the mortise entirely by hand using a chisel, but it will take more time, and it’s less accurate. Repeat the process on all cabinet doors.
Note: If you’re using cabinet doors that are thinner or thicker than ¾”, use this formula to calculate the setting for your cutting gauge:
- Setting (s) = b + ( (a-b) / 2)
- Where s is the cutting gauge setting, b is the width of the hinge, and a is the width of the door
Fixing the Offset Knife Hinge Into the Mortise
Now that your perfectly measured and cut mortise is ready, you can easily fix the pivot hinge into it.
Here’s a simple guide:
- Using a woodworking mallet, drive the hinge into the mortise, ensuring that it is positioned the right side up.
- Make pilot holes using a self-centering bit.
- Add wax to steel screws to avoid stripping, and drive the screws into the pilot holes you made.
- Switch the steel screws for brass screws if provided.
- Assemble the cabinet.
3. Installing European-Style Concealed Hinges
High-tech and modern European-style concealed hinges are gaining popularity nowadays. The doors can be adjusted after the hinges are installed, and installation is quick and easy.
Concealed hinges are made of a hinge and a mounting plate. In this part of the guide, I’ll be referring to measurements for the most common type of concealed hinge available in today’s market, which is the 35 mm (1.37 in) concealed hinge.
Here’s what you’ve got to do to install this variety.
Installing the Hinge Body
- Centering a spade bit 22.5 mm (0.88 in) from the edge of the door, drill a hole in the door measuring 35 mm (1.37 in) wide and 13 mm (0.51 in) deep. (The measurements need to be in mm because you’re working with a European-style hinge).
- Secure the hinge to the door by drilling screws through the holes.
This Bosch 13-piece Daredevil Spade Bit available on Amazon.com is perfect for jobs like this. It makes clean holes every time, and the process is effortless.
Installing the Mounting Plate
- Measure the height at which the hinge body was installed and mark the corresponding height on the cabinet frame.
- Measure a horizontal line 37 mm (1.45 in) away from the edge of the cabinet, drawing the line using a pencil.
- Position the mounting plate at the midpoint where the two lines meet. Ensure that it is level.
- Drive two screws in the allotted holes to secure the plate in place. You don’t need to drill a pilot hole, but that’s an option you may want to consider for the best results.
Clipping and Adjusting the Concealed Hinge
Once the mounting plate and hinge body are secured into the cabinet frame and the door, it’s time to clip them together. European-style concealed hinges allow for adjustment both vertically and horizontally, making the installation even easier because you don’t need to worry about slight errors.
Here are the final steps to installing European-style concealed hinges:
- Align the arm of the hinge body to the middle of the mounting plate.
- Apply pressure on the hinge body and clip the two parts together.
- Turn the adjustment screws to ensure the cabinet door is level. Some models only include one adjustment screw to align the cabinet door a few millimeters to the left and right, as opposed to up and down.
Once you’re done, the cabinet doors should be aligned with the frame, and the hinges won’t be visible when the cabinet is closed. Adjusting the concealed hinges will allow you to change the position of the cabinet door for better alignment of the edges.
If measuring in millimeters is too difficult for you, consider buying a hinge drilling template.
I found the SMATOLS Concealed Hinge Jig kit on Amazon.com. It’s perfect for beginners because it includes all the little tools and parts you need. Also, it’s compatible with 35 mm (1.37 in) concealed hinges and the less common 26 mm (1.02 in) concealed hinges.
Some concealed hinges come with a small button you can press to activate the “soft close” feature, which will allow the cabinet doors to slowly come to a close instead of slamming into the cabinet frame.
You can assemble the entire cabinet in your workshop, unclip the doors at the hinges, and reassemble them in the kitchen or bathroom again. Don’t forget to readjust the doors for any changes that might have occurred during transport.
Tips for Installing Hinges on Cabinets
Even a beginner can get fine woodworking results when installing hinges on cabinets, regardless of the type in question.
Here are a couple of tips that can help you get the best results possible:
- Always test your mortise on scrap wood. Before you commit to laying out the mortise in your cabinet frame or doors, do a trial run on scrap wood. You can check if the hinge is flush in place within the mortise and adjust the depth accordingly.
- Install hinges before building the frame. Using a router and power drill is significantly harder when the cabinet frame is already built. Otherwise, you’ll need to settle for using a chisel and a Phillips head screwdriver instead of any power tools.
- Use a cutting edge to ensure the same measurements throughout. If your measurements are just slightly off, a cutting edge makes the same exact error in fixing all the hinges, thereby negating the mistake.
- Use paper masking tape to draw lines. To avoid permanently damaging the wood on your cabinetry, use paper masking tape to draw any guidelines you might need during the process.
Installing hinges on cabinet doors requires a lot of precision in the measurement phase of the process to ensure that the finished project looks aesthetically pleasing. Using the right equipment and taking additional steps to ensure your measurements are standardized will produce the best results.