Guide written by:
Lucas, Antique wood-worker, Gloucester
Essential components for cupboards and doors, hinges come in all types and materials to suit different requirements. They may be left- or right-handed, lift-off or concealed, stainless steel or brass... In short, the choice alone is enough to make you come unhinged! Follow our guide to find the best hinge for your job.
- Hinge material
- Opening direction
- Surface material
- Mounting type
Hinge or lift-off hinge?
Hinges are rotating hardware fittings consisting of two plates (or leaves) connected by a pin (or rod). They provide the pivot point which allows a door to open and close. Most are made from metal – nickel-plated or dichromate steel, stainless steel, brass, etc. Hinges are used in cabinet-making, carpentry and woodworking for cupboard doors, trap doors, toy boxes, jewellery boxes, and so on. A hinge consists of three parts:
- An immobile plate, called the passive leaf, which is mounted on the part of the assembly which doesn't move – a door frame for example;
- A pin which acts as the pivot point and is sometimes also called a rod or shaft;
- A moving plate, called the active leaf, on which the moving part of the assembly is mounted.
The term "leaf" can therefore be used to refer to both the fixed plate and the moving plate. In other words, a hinge has two leaves and a pin. The leaf is made up of a flat part and several knuckles: a leaf is female if it has an odd number of knuckles, and male if it has an even number.
Lift-off hinges (also called take-apart hinges or slip-joint hinges) pivot just like ordinary hinges, but the two leaves can be separated, which can be very handy as it allows you to easily remove a door. These hinges are therefore designed for particularly large or heavy doors or windows.
The height of a hinge or a lift-off hinge is determined by the length of its pin. To choose a hinge and a pin, you need to know the load to be borne, the hinge shape, the opening angle (95°, 115°, 165°) and how the hinge will be attached to the surface (with screws, by welding, or simply clipped in place).
What type of hinge do you need?
At first glance, choosing a hinge from the hundreds available in every DIY store doesn't look to be an easy job. The following criteria should help you narrow down your selection:
- The material of the surface to which you want to attach your hinge: if it's wood or concrete, then you need a screw-type hinge. For metal surfaces, a weld-onhinge is a better option.
- Where you want to use the hinge, i.e. indoors or outdoors: some hinges can be used anywhere, but if you're installing a hinge outdoors, it's best to choose a stainless steel one.
- The mechanical characteristics of the hinge – one of the most important points! Make sure you take into account the weight of the pivoted part and the specified hinge limits. Brass furniture hinges will not cope with the weight of a door, for example!
- The type of installation, i.e. surface-mounted or recessed. The most well known are the kind of recessed cupboard door hinges supplied with flat-pack furniture and/or used for kitchen cabinets.
Types of hinge
Allows the door to swing shut automatically.
Double cranked hinge
Used for cupboards with internal "hidden" drawers. Allows an opening angle of 180°.
Piano hinge or continuous hinge
Often used for chests and trunks. Rectangular in shape and very thin and long (usually 6 feet but can be cut to size).
Limits the angle of rotation to stop the door opening too far.
Friction hinge or torque hinge
Holds the pivoting object in position without the need for any additional accessories.
A butt hinge is a lightweight hinge that is not suitable for heavy doors.
Surface-mounted concealed hinges cannot be seen when the cupboard door is closed. This is the type of hinge you find on most kitchen cabinets. Recessed concealed hinges are mortised into the edge of the door and the frame or front of the cabinet.
Concealed hinges are installed with a mounting plate – the fixed part which attaches to the cupboard, and into which the hinge is inserted by either screwing or clipping (easier to install). Both hinges and mounting plates come in all kinds of finishes. You will need to make sure the two parts are compatible and the same size.
Some mounting plates are more complex than others, allowing you to adjust the height of the door or pivoting part. Mounting plates come in two types – screw-onor knock-in, the latter being better for your furniture in the long term.
Thin hinge with a rounded end and a double pivot joint. Usually made of brass. In the past, counter-flap hinges were used for cabinet doors (concealed because they were installed on the horizontal edges).
This type of hinge swings the door fully out of the frame for easier access (opening angle of more than 110°).
A hinge with an angled leaf allowing for an offset opening.
Like a lift-off hinge, the two leaves of a loose-pin hinge can be separated (in this case by removing the pin). Two-knuckle and three-knuckle models are available.
Works in the same way as other types of hinge but has no pre-drilled holes.
Flap stay hinge
Used for horizontal cabinets with a door that opens upwards or downwards.
This type of hinge can be attached to ferrous metals by welding.
Traditional cabinet hinges
Traditional cabinet hinges are rotating fittings which give a vintage or antique look to your furniture. These hinges have a polished copper, aged brass or iron finish and usually feature decorative, antique-style finials. They are installed in one of two ways:
- Inserted into the door edge: in this case the hinges are screwed directly into the edge of the door or pivoting part.
- Surface-mounted: here, the hinges are installed using screws or nails, which gives a better appearance.
Primarily used in France, fiche hinges are long hinges which run the full height of the door. They have a long cylindrical barrel which is visible on the outside of the cabinet and rods which are inserted into the cabinet door. The barrel and rod diameters are given in millimetres. The branches or leaves on the other side of the hinge are screwed or mortised into the cabinet frame.
Armoire hinges are smaller than fiche hinges and can be taken apart (lift-off design). They have leaves or branches which are mortised or screwed into position.
Screw-in or drill-in hinges are more modern. They are smaller and cylindrical in shape. Screw-in hinges come in different colours – white, brown, grey, etc. They were very fashionable thirty years or so ago and were used for Formica furniture. Today you mainly find them on low-end cupboards made from chipboard (although more often than not concealed hinges are now used instead). Screw-in hinges have two screws housed in threaded inserts which are inserted into the door and the frame. Screw-in hinges are not suitable for heavy doors.
What type of lift-off hinge should you choose?
Lift-off hinges have a great deal in common with the cabinet hinges described above – in particular the fact that they can bedisassembled. It can be somewhat confusing to tell them apart because the names are not always used consistently by manufacturers.
When choosing a lift-off hinge, the key characteristics to consider are the same as for other hinges:
- Surface material (iron or wood) – you can choose either a weld-on lift-off hinge or a screw-in lift-off hinge (surface-mounted).
- Location (indoors or outdoors) – choose a stainless steel model if the hinge will be exposed to the elements.
- Mechanical strength – the lift-off hinge must be able to support the weight of the pivoting part.
- Finish – the appearance of the leaves and the pin.
Lift-off hinges are attached either by screwing or welding, depending on the surface material. For weld-on hinges, when attaching heavy doors it is recommended to use fixing plates to make the installation more secure.
Some lift-off hinges have ball-bearings between the knuckles to reduce friction during opening. This type of hinge is also recommended for heavy doors and windows.
Lift-off hinge finish
This primarily concerns screw-in lift-off hinges. You can find lift-off hinges with square ends and round ends as well as finial-tipped hinges.
- Square or round end: refers to the shape of the ends of the hinge pin.
- Finial-tipped: a finial is a decorative piece on the end of the hinge pin, used on traditional or antique-style hinges.
Lift-off hinges are usually made from dichromate steel, stainless steel, anodised aluminium or iron. Some PVC models (designed for outdoor fittings) are also available.
Hinge washers/spacer rings
Hinge washers or spacer rings are very useful accessories which allow you to adjust or modify the height of a hinged door. If you've laid parquet flooring in your living room and find that the door is catching against the floor, check the top of the door: if you still have a few millimetres to spare, you can install hinge washers instead of planing the bottom of the door! Hinge washers have different bore diameters, thicknesses and finishes.
Left-handed or right-handed lift-off hinge: which is which?
If you're not sure which way round to install your lift-off hinges, there's no need to panic. Here's a simple way to work things out!
Open the hinge and look at where the fixed part is – that's the side with the pin, not the hole! If the fixed part is on the left, you have a left-handed lift-off hinge. If the fixed part (i.e. the pin) is on the right, it's a right-handed hinge.
Hinge covers/cover plates
As their name implies, hinge cover plates conceal the pivot mechanism on doors or furniture, allowing you to customise your hinge fittings so they blend in with your décor. Covers are usually pressed or clipped into position and come in lots of different materials – PVC, brass, aluminium and even copper. Which kind you choose is a matter of personal taste. Just make sure you check the length of the cover, its diameter, and (where applicable) the bore size.
Five FAQs about hinges
How do I install a concealed hinge?
Concealed hinges are used for kitchen cabinets and are very easy to install. The trickiest part is preparing a template (i.e. noting all the measurements on a piece of paper) if you don't know the dimensions of the hinge. To do this, lay your hinge flat (as if the door were open) and note/measure all of the dimensions (centre-to-centre distances) required to install it (the recessed part and the attachment screws). Once you've done this, you can:
- Identify the position of the hinges on the cabinet (position them symmetrically) using a tape measure, a pencil and a set square. Mark the drill holes and the cup position.
- Use a drill with a hole cutter bit to make the recess and then insert the hinge cup.
- Insert the hinge – remember to check that it's straight before you tighten the screws.
- Screw the rest of the hinge fitting (mounting plate) onto the cabinet.
- Connect the two parts by screwing them together.
For concealed hinges, you can install covers to completely hide the mechanisms. The colour of the cover should generally match the cabinet.
What type of hinge should I use for furniture?
Concealed hinges are the best type of hinge for items of furniture. This type of hinge is very discreet and secure. The only downside is that they are a little more expensive than conventional hinges. The type of hinge you need will depend on how your cupboard doors are installed:
- Overlay doors: the door closes against the cabinet casing. This is the most common configuration;
- Inset or flush-mounted doors: when closed, the surface of the door lies flush with the cabinet face frame. This gives a very modern look;
- Partial overlay: in this configuration, two doors close onto the single central stile of the cabinet.
Each of these three configurations requires a different type of hinge. Overlay doors need conventionalnon-offset hinges, whereas inset doors and partial overlay doors require offset hinges, with the latter requiring a greater opening angle.
For standard cabinetdoors (height less than 90 cm), we recommend using two hinges per door. If your cabinets are bigger than this, it's a good idea to install a hinge every 50 cm to attach the doors more securely.
What kind of hinge is best for a storage chest?
Traditionally, storage chests, trunks or boxes have pianohinges on their lids. Piano hinges can be cut to the desired length.
What kind of hinge do I need for a trap door?
The best solution here would be to use flatrectangular hinges because these are not overly expensive and, more importantly, are easy to install. You can choose either a surface-mounted configuration or – if the frame and door are wooden – a recessed (concealed) configuration. For the first, simply screw the leaves of the hinges onto the trap door and its frame. For the second option you will need a wood chisel.
How do I install a lift-off hinge?
Like other types of hinge, lift-off hinges can be installed in several ways:
- Surface-mounted: the hinge leaves are attached directly to the two surfaces (fixed part and pivoting part). This is the easiest option, because all you need to do is screw or nail the hinge leaves onto the two surfaces. Remember to check the centre-to-centre distances and the heights.
- Recessed: for this type of installation you'll need to cut a groove or a circular hole (depending on the size and shape of the hinge) so that it lies flush with the surface of the material.
To install surface-mounted hinges you will need a screwdriver (manual or electric), a pencil, a tape measure and a set square. Arrange the hinges equally along the edge of the frame and attach them. Then transfer the measurements to the other part, making sure to use the centre-to-centre distances (you can use a template to help you) and you're all set!
For recessed configurations the steps are same, but you will also need a wood chisel or a hole cutter (depending on the hinge design) to make the recess in the material. If you're installing lift-off hinges on all the doors in your home, you might want to invest in a hinge jig to use alongside your router.
Guide written by:
Lucas, Antique wood-worker, Gloucester, 27 guides
After some time busting my hump at construction, specifically at renovation, painting, carpentry, laying kitchen and bathroom tile, I decided to get my degree as a Carpenter. And I did well because nothing is more pleasant than working on a timber frame or designing a wooden house. Everything about woodworking fascinates me, and building my own home in this material is one of my goals. I’m also a follower of construction tools: I love to learn about innovations, the way they’re used, the tips and tricks, or the performances of each new tool on the market, whether it’s for woodworking or not. I would be happy to advise you and help you with your choices. Happy Tinkering.