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How to Hang Inset Doors

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How to Hang Inset Doors

Install butt hinges perfectly and establish consistent, slender margins.

By Tim Johnson

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Nothing signals skillful craftsmanship like an inset door with elegant hinges and eye-pleasing margins. This challenging job leaves no room for error: Uneven surfaces and unsightly gaps will tell the tale if the hinges, door and frame don’t fit precisely. Like mastering hand-cut dovetails, successfully hanging inset doors on mortised butt hinges is a woodworking milestone. 

I’ll show you a three-step method for installing inset doors that produces great results every time. First, you match the door to the opening. Then you rout mortises for the hinges. And finally, you create uniform, attractive margins between the door and frame. Of course, you can skip the mortising step altogether by choosing different hinges (see “No-Mortise Hinge Options, below”).

To complete the job, you’ll need a couple simple jigs, a mortising bit, and a laminate trimmer. A laminate trimmer is a compact router that’s a really handy addition to any woodworking shop. (If you don’t own a laminate trimmer, this is a great excuse to buy one.) 

Round out your door-installing arsenal with a pair of secret weapons—a plastic laminate sample swiped from the home center and a double-bearing flush-trim router bit. This great new bit should be a fixture in every woodworking shop.


Choose hinges

Your first task is to choose between extruded (also referred to as drawn or cast) or stamped hinges (see photos, above). Extruded hinges are machined and drilled, so there’s virtually no play between the knuckles or around the hinge pin. Stamped hinges are made from thinner stock. Their leaves are bent to form the knuckles that surround the pin. Extruded hinges will last longer, because their knuckles have more bearing surface.

I often use stamped hinges because they cost about one-third as much as extruded hinges and they’re available at most hardware stores. They work fine in most situations. Examine stamped hinges carefully before buying. If you notice large gaps between the knuckles and vertical play between the two hinge leaves, keep looking. Be aware that some stamped hinges are brass plated rather than solid brass. Hinges with loose pins make it easy to remove and reinstall the door, but they aren’t widely available.

Click any image to view a larger version.

6. Rout mortises in the door stile. Locate the mortise at least one hinge length from the top. Because of its small size, a laminate trimmer works great for this delicate job.


8. Rout mortises in the face-frame stiles using the mortising jig. You’ll need a laminate trimmer for this job, because the mortises are so close to the corner. 


10. Rout the door to final length. Use a fence and a flush-trim bit with top- and bottom-mounted bearings to avoid blowing out the back edge. First, rout halfway using the top bearing.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker May 2006, issue #121.

May 2006, issue #121

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from AWBookstore.com.