European Hinges Explained to Americans, part 2

This post is adapted from my book “Bob Lang’s Complete Kitchen Cabinetmaker”. The book details reasonable options to enable readers to make decisions that make sense for them. Good information about hanging cabinet doors is hard to find, and I hope this helps. Part one is about types of hinges, part two is about how to use them without spending a fortune on dedicated machinery.

SM_Clip_2822European concealed hinges are all about efficiency. To achieve that shops that use them commercially use dedicated machines that cost a lot of money. They can justify the cost because of the volume of cabinets they move out the door.

In a small shop, you can make your own jigs and come close to that efficiency if you can measure and mark accurately and you own a drill press. You can also buy jigs, but then you’re forced to adopt someone else’s concept. Some commercial jigs don’t speed the work at all, and a few cost more than a drill press.

Most European hinges attach to the base plates by a mechanical clip and the hinge itself sits in a hole drilled in the back of the door. If you work precisely, you can mount the base plates to the cabinets, and the hinges to the doors and hang the doors by simply snapping the hinges on to the base plates. If things don’t quite line up you can still clip the doors on if you loosen the height adjustment.

SM_INout_1806When the doors are in place, you can fine-tune the fit, with the adjustment screws. There are three adjustments that can be made. To adjust the height of the door, loosen the screws on both hinges just enough to let the door move. You can then slide the door up and down with one hand, and when you have it where you want it, hold it in place and tighten the screws. Some hinges now have the height adjustment on a cam. Turning the screw one way raises the door, and turning it in the opposite direction lowers it.The position of the door in relation to the face of the box can be adjusted with one of the screws located on the hinge arm. The third adjustment screw moves the hinge arm in relation to the base plate, changing the overlay, or the gap at the side of the door.

The adjustments can be a great help, but they can’t magically fix doors or openings that are out of square, or not the right size.

The hole in the door is 35mm (3 thousandths over 1-3⁄8″) and for Blum hinges 11.5mm deep (29⁄64″). If you are using overlay doors, and want a profile on the edges, make sure that the hole for the hinge cup, and the molding profile don’t intersect. The distance from the edge of the cup hole to the edge of the door is usually 3 to 5mm, so there isn’t much room for a profile on the door edges. Add half the cup diameter (17.5mm or 11⁄16″) to the desired distance between the cup and the door edge to locate the centerline for the cup holes.

SM_DPFIX_1494This is my drill press set up for drilling doors, with marks on the fence to indicate the location of the hole from the edge of the door. Stops that flip up would be an improvement, but unless you are boring for hundreds of doors you don’t really need them. If you get the hole locations reasonably close, you will be able to install the doors, and use the height adjustment on the hinge to compensate for any small errors.

A test drilling determines the depth of the hole for the hinge cup, as well as the distance between the edge of the cup hole, and the edge of the door. A sample from the test fitting is used to set both the depth stop on the drill press, and the fence position if you need to repeat this setup. The fence is just a piece of plywood with a rabbet in the bottom to keep chips from building up. The centerline of the drill bit is marked directly from the bit. The measurements to each end of the door are made from the centerline, and marked on the fence. Line up the corner of the door with the mark on the fence to locate the door for drilling the cup holes.

In the traditional 32mm cabinetmaking system, a line of 5mm diameter holes is bored for installing the base plates and other hardware, such as drawer slides and shelf pins. In the home shop, it’s a lot easier to drill only the holes you need, and the cabinet interior won’t look like it has been shot by a machine gun.

SM_Plate-Jig_1518Once you have established where the holes should be in the cabinet, you can make a jig so you can consistently drill the base plate holes without laying-out each and every location. These holes are 32mm (1-17⁄64″) center to center, and can be drilled at 5mm (13⁄64″) diameter for Euro screws, or 3⁄32″ if you are using #6 screws. The Euro screws hold better, particularly in particleboard. The #6 screws are sturdy enough for plywood.

A jig will maintain the 37mm distance from the front of the cabinet side to the center of the holes, as well as the distance between the holes. There are numerous jigs available, but you can make your own in short order. If the jig is made correctly, the hinge plates can be mounted in seconds.With the hinge plates ready and waiting inside the cabinet, the door hinges will pop right on.

SM_Plate-Jig_1727This shop made jig locates the holes at different distances from the top and bottom of the door opening. This allows the holes in the doors to be drilled at a consistent distance in from the corners, while providing differing overlays at the top and bottom. If you have a kitchen full of doors to hang this keeps you from having to measure and mark each door opening.

Hinge suppliers  provide a little metal jig that puts the holes at the right distance from each other, and from the front of the cabinet. This registers from a centerline marked on the cabinet. If you are only hanging a few doors, you may as well mark each one individually rather than make a dedicated jig.

The biggest mistake you can make with European concealed hinges is to think that the adjustments will cover your backside if you get sloppy. Your cabinets need to be square, you need to carefully calculate the sizes of the doors (and the parts) and you need to hit the numbers when you make the doors. These jigs will save time by locating the holes in the right spots without the need to repeat measuring and layout. They also prevent headaches that come from putting a hole in the wrong place and trying to figure out how to move it.

–Bob Lang

Click Here to read part one of “European Hinges Explained to Americans”

Click Here to read “Butt Hinges Without Fear and Loathing”

These posts are adapted from my book “The Complete Kitchen Cabinetmaker” . It is now back in print, and you can buy a signed copy directly from me, the guy who wrote it. Click Here to Purchase.


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