Oh, curse you--you skinny non mortise hinges! Help!!

bayareafrancyAugust 1, 2008


Background: we have been restoring (not renovating) our 1929 kitchen for 2 years now. We are finally, FINALLY almost ready to paint the cabinets (after 2 weeks of prep work--and I'm only painting 1/2 of the kitchen right now).

Last year I attempted to restore the original hinges. They were coated in multiple layers of paint, and turned out to be a poor quality, plated steel, non mortise hinge. The plating came off with the paint. They were rusty under the paint. And lots of ball finials were broken off. Soooo, I gave up, and reluctantly ordered about 16 pairs of non mortise hinges from Horton Brasses.

We are finally trying to install them. What a NIGHTMARE! I can't understand why non mortise hinges are advertised as easy to install.

The main problem: the new hinges are much narrower (front to back) than my old hinges. In order for the inset cabinet door to close all the way, the hinge has to jut out about 1/8 (maybe a teeny bit less). This is how all the old hinges were done--jutting out a bit.

But the new hinges are so narrow, they cannot jut out. If they do, the screw holes would be ridiculously close to the edge of the door and also the face frame.

I asked a very nice man at Horton Brasses about this, and he said that usually doors with these types of hinges are back bevelled. He said he hadn't heard of jutting them out, but, come to think of it, that would work too. If the hinges are wide enough.

Arrrrrrrgh! I wish it had stated something about back bevelling on the website. Do most DIYers who are doing their own hinges actually have back bevelled doors? I've never even seen a back bevelled door before.

Ok, my choices, now that I've spent all this money on all these hinges:

1. Install the hinge snug, with no jutting out. If we do this, the doors do not close all the way on their own. They boing open. However, we have cabinet latches that will hold the doors shut. I guess this adds stress to the hinge, but is that a problem? TheHusband doesn't want to do this because it is inelegant, and he thinks it looks like a hack job. He wants things to be done properly.

2. Back bevel ALL the doors. I don't want to do this. What if we mess up? The thick, fir 80 year old doors are irreplaceable. Besides, I've just finished priming all the doors. I don't want to lug out the primer yet again. This is TheHusband's choice.

3. Mortise all the hinges? Probably way more work than back beveling. And TheHusband hasn't done this before, so there is that whole 'learning curve' thing.

One last question: Assuming we just go with option 1. Is there a trick/method to installing these hinges? Each door seems to be a careful custom job to get each wonky door centered in each wonky frame. Nothing is 'standard' in this old kitchen. Is there a basic measuring technique we can use? A template? Or is each door going to be a new experience in positioning. Our test door looks like swiss cheese, it has so many holes in it.

(I can try to post pictures if I have failed to explain any of this clearly.)

That was long. If you made it this far, thank you thank you for any help you can offer!!!


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I'd mortise all the hinges, especially since each door is a project unto itself. Mortising is very easy and since it will be done on each hinge seperatly, it will give you more control over how it will come out.

Do a search on google for 'mortising hinges'. There are tons of woodworking sites that give great info and have pics that make it much easier to understand the process. You might also try youtube.com and look for a video tutorial.

Good luck with your project ;-)

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 7:47AM
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Thank you for the reply.

The more I think about it, I just can't understand why the doors don't close. These non mortise hinges are fully swaged (if I am using that term correctly). That is, the one leaf disappears inside the other, and they are completely flat. So why won't the darn doors close? There is a nice gap for the hinges in the face frame. And they slide right in when the door is in position. But as soon as we attach them, 'boing' goes the door.


Thanks again!

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 12:45PM
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One more question: if we do backbevel the doors, what tool do you recommend? I'm super nervous about my precious old doors going near the table saw. Should he buy some kind of porta planer? I don't know if the cheaper kinds are worthwhile though...

Thank you!

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 12:52PM
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What I've noticed is that over time, with old doors, is that the mortised area tends to get "pushed in" toward the edge, so when you remove all the gunk like paint/filler and remount the hinge, it sits lower in front, increasing the distance the door has to swing beyond 90 degrees. (I may not be able to describe it better...sorry).

Here's a trick I've done...(if I'm understanding your problem correctly)..."build up" the mortised-out area toward the edge of the door with small strips of cardboard. I glue it to the door. This lets the hinge sit a bit proud and seems to relieve some of the stress on the door, allowing it to close better. In fact, when I removed some of the same pot-metal hinges you are describing from 100-year old oak cabinet doors, I found that at some point someone had done exactly that.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 1:37PM
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Here are some photos to clarify. I'm sorry some came out blurry:

The hinge:

Profile, nice and flat:

Installed, with barrel right at door:

Interior view:


Cabinet with original non mortise hinge jutting out (door closes all the way):

If only the new ones weren't so skinny. We could just jut them out like the originals.

Can anyone explain why these "easy to install" non mortise hinges won't close all the way?

Thank you,

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 2:33PM
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Ahh...A picture is worth a thousand words, lol. I'm glad you posted these as I had a different understanding of what you were talking about.

OK, here's Plan B ;-)

No need to mortise anything. As for the back beveling you can use a hand plane. Clamp the board down and just run the plane down the side 2 maybe 3 times at a slight angle 3-5 degrees (no more). A block plane would probably be the best tool to use, though a bench plane will work fine also. If using a table saw, tilt the blade a few degrees and run the piece through.

As for the door springing open, it's most likely the screws aren't all flush. This would prevent the door from closing all the way.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 8:53AM
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Thank you for your help! I think we have almost solved the problem.

Rather than backbeveling, we decided to try the cardstock shims first.

It never occurred to me that the part of the face frame where the hinge installs might not be perfectly flat and smooth after 80 years of hard usage. And I just sanded all the paint off it 2 weeks ago. But it is very wonky and uneven. It is definitely 'sloped' on the face frame.

Sooooo, I simply hung a hinge all by itself (no door) on the face frame as a test. Guess what? The hinge wouldn't close! But the shim worked!!

The catch (no pun intended)? Now some of the doors won't close because they are "too big" after adding the teeny weeny cardstock. So we need to plane them down a bit.

Is it hard to plane for a tired, wimpy gal like me? TheHusband is worn out with rewiring our old house, and I can't get him to plane the doors. Do I start planing in the middle of the door? Or at one end?

Hmmmm. Maybe it would be less work to backbevel them (rather than make shims, and then plane.) Do you think it would work equally well?

Thank you again so very much!!!


    Bookmark   August 4, 2008 at 1:33PM
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I would plane a bevel rather than monkey with shims and such.

As long as your blade is sharp you should have no problems shaving the doors. Start from one end and follow the grain. Take as thin a shaving as you can. This will make it a little easier to do and give you alot more control of the outcome. If the plane chatters or there is any tear-out, plane from the other direction. You'll be able to bevel and reduce the width at the same time.

A tablesaw set up will work as well, but my preference would be the hand plane. I'm funny that way ;-)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 9:43AM
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Try using a vix bit for thwe pilot holes for your hinges.They come in many sizes for different sized screws and will keep the screws straight and centered(and flush)A low angle block plane is the easiest way to plane doors,especially on end grain on the top and bottom of a panel type door.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 5:27PM
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