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Some Thoughts on Box Hinges

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Blog entry by RogerBean posted 1141 days ago 7485 reads 8 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Box hinges are always a problem.

Hingeing is the nemesis of all box makers. We all get a little twinge when it comes time to fit the hinges. We generally have a lot of work invested by the time we get to the hinges, and a slip here can make a real mess of many hours work. And, I am no different. When it’s possible to spend $100 on hinges and a lock for a single box, picking the right ones for your box project is worth a little time. Perhaps this will help a little for anyone struggling with the question of hinges. I’m going to focus only on hinges in this blog. Perhaps some thoughts on locks another time.

First Rule: select and buy the hinges before you begin the box. Nothing is worse than trying to fit a too-large hinge, and as little as 1/64th too large will look terrible, and cause you no end of grief. If you don’t want to keep an inventory of different hinges on hand, buy the hinges first, then make the box.

Second rule: Don’t treat the hinge-fitting casually. I’ve learned this the hard way. I now take the time to get my router table set-up absolutely perfect before I cut. I always make one or more test cuts on scrap before I reach for the box. If I’m to fit the hinges by hand, then get the set-up absolutely perfect before you mark and cut. Tape the hinges in first and work the lid. Check the alignment. Great care is the only way to avoid a misaligned lid or unsightly gaps around the hinge. Take your time.

Selecting hinges: Here are the ones I know about.

There are a number of hinges readily available to the box maker, and the choice of hinges will go a long way in deciding the final result. The best rule of thumb is to start with the best hinges (and locks) that you can justify. Of course, if you’re making a box to sell for $40 or $50 at craft shows, you have few choices. Anything other than the 50 cent stamped butt hinges (or a nail/pin hinge) and you’re probably working for nothing.

Butt Hinges:

Even the butt hinges differ considerably though. Left and center in the picture below are very inexpensive stamped brass (3/4” and 1” long, for 1/4 and 3/8 thick stock) butt hinges available by mail from Rockler or WoodCraft, or maybe even at Home Depot or Menards. They are cheap and have no stop, so the lid will flip all the way back when opened. For comparison, the hinge at right is the machined butt hinge used by Andrew Crawford for his flute cases. (Flute cases are by their nature thin and intended to lay flat when open.) It is much higher quality, machined brass hinge, without a stop. The example here is shown prior to hand polishing.

Brusso (not shown) offers a quality machined brass butt hinge with a built in stop in 3/4” and 1 1/4” sizes. If you really prefer to use a butt hinge, these are a huge step up in quality over the stamped hinges. The brass is available for $22.50 to $24.50 for small and large size and the stainless for $52 and $57.

Ideally, the butt hinge should match the thickness of the case back, permitting a simple router table cut all the way through the case thickness, and not leaving a tiny sliver of wood on the inner edge to split out and look terrible.

I generally don’t use butt hinges, as I much prefer other choices for the type of boxes I make, mostly for visual reasons.

Barrel hinges, cylinder hinges, Soss hinges, and kerf hinges:

Sorry, I have no experience with these types of hinges. They appear to me to be most suitable for small or inexpensive boxes, and while they probably work fine, they aren’t aren’t good choices for the type of boxes I like to build.

They do look like they would be easy to use, and they are inexpensive. I also prefer to avoid any hinge that requires chamfering or rounding the back side of the lid, as I just don’t like the appearance. The kerf hinges I’ve seen are probably fast to install, but lacked the quality feel of the hinges listed below.

Hence, I don’t have much to offer on these four types of hinges.

“L” Shaped Quadrant Hinges: Traditional mark of a quality piece.

These are generally stamped brass, relatively inexpensive, and can be quite attractive. They are suitable for a very nice box if you don’t want to spend much. They can be had for $6.00 – $9.00 a pair, in two sizes from numerous mail order sources as well as WoodCraft or Rockler. However, these are a real stinker to install flawlessly, and I know of

no commercially available router jig to fit them, so unless you can build your own jig, be prepared for a difficult and frustrating experience. It can be done, but if you are unsure of your abilities there are easier choices.

Brusso (not shown) is an exception in the L-shaped quadrant category, offering a nicely machined, quality hinge. They are no easier to install, unless you spend $33.50 for their proprietary brass hinge routing template (one for each hinge type and size). I don’t use this hinge, as they look a bit too “heavy” for my taste, but there’s no denying they are very well machined (and they do offer a jig). Taste is taste, after all, no more or less. These come in two sizes at $40 and $59.50 respectively. Brusso hinges are available at a variety of sources.

Side-rail Hinges:

These have become my favorite hinges. These are the type hinges I have been using on nearly all my boxes. I prefer them for a number of reasons I’ll mention below. There are three basic types available, and I’ll say a bit about each.

First (at left) is the square back internal stop, non-quadrant hinge. This is a nice looking hinge that can be installed with a single cut on the router table, and can be used with a 3/8 thick box wall. (at 3/8, the hinge must be fitted close in to the inside edge, as the hinge is 5/16” wide, leaving only about 1/16” of wood on the outside to hide the hinge from view. The inside can be covered with box lining to completely conceal the metal edge.) In 1/2” stock the hinge can be centered, leaving wood on both sides.

This particular hinge, because of the square back, requires that the wood must be relieved on the rear (both top and bottom) to allow for movement of the square pivot stops or it will jam and splinter the wood when the lid is pivoted with the hinge screwed in tight. While also a bit of a nuisance to relieve, the relieving at the top is visible, and constitutes my major objection to this hinge.

Second, (in the center) is the side rail hinge with a quadrant. These do not require the relief cuts. This hinge is slightly longer, and offers the look of a quadrant if you prefer it. It offers an attractive look on larger boxes. The quadrant, of course, requires excavating a fairly deep cavity in both the lid and base to contain the quadrant as the box is closed. This operation is not too demanding if you have a Dremel router attachment. It can also be done with a drill press and chisels if you are careful, as you are working very close to the edge.

These two hinges are available from Rockler, Woodcraft, and BCSpecialties.com and generally run from about $30 – $40 a pair. They are gold plated, so do not touch them with sandpaper if you are working close in with the hinges installed. These are the hinges pictured on previous boxes in my projects section.

If you are looking for a chrome/nickel side-rail hinge, Ian Hawthorne offers similar hinges in both brass and chrome. I have not personally used his hinges, but if his work is any indication, they should be good. These ship from Northern Ireland and run £25 (about $42) a pair.

Third, (at right) is the new SmartHinge, offered recently by Andrew Crawford. Andrew is an absolutely uncompromising craftsman, and his hinge reflects the extreme precision of his boxes. I received my first shipment of these custom machined hinges a couple weeks ago, and have begun using them. I presently feel these are the best high quality hinges available on the market today. They’re also the easiest to install perfectly, (instructions included) as the hinge stop is internal, permitting a round, smooth appearance at the back, and does not require any relieving or notching for clearance. The countersunk screw holes are even “stovepiped” slightly to conceal any odd reflections from screws that might be less than perfect. At the moment, they are highly polished brass, but he’s exploring a plated option as well. They’re also extremely strong and sturdy.

Andrew ships these directly from England, and I received mine very quickly. They may seem expensive at £39.95 (about $65), but for a fine box they’re a solid investment. A beautiful box deserves beautiful hardware. Besides,these are only a couple dollars more than the Brusso quadrants, are much easier to install, and do not require buying a routing template. The stress reduction alone is probably worth the cost. I plan to use the SmartHinge exclusively in the future.

Conclusion:

I hope this provides some help for all the box makers out there who also find hinging a box to be frustrating. I have not tried to provide detailed installation instructions, as that would make this a very long blog indeed. There is so much more that can be said. But, I hope it has been at least somewhat helpful.

Here are some sources:

www.rockler.com
www.woodcraft.com
www.fine-boxes.com
www.leevalley.com
www.bcspecialties.com
hawthornecrafts.com/
www.whitechapel-ltd.com

Roger

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)



14 comments so far

View CharlieM1958's profile

CharlieM1958

15671 posts in 2823 days


#1 posted 1141 days ago

Good information, Roger.

Boxes the quality of yours deserve the best hinges money can buy. For those of us who are just building boxes for fun, another source of decent but inexpensive hinges is Lee Valley. One item they offer that I really like is stopped piano hinges. They are reasonably priced, fairly easy to install, and hold the lid open nicely.

And if one is still terrified of messing up his box with a poor hinge installation, there is always the friction-fit lid option. I find myself going this direction fairly often.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View RogerBean's profile

RogerBean

1095 posts in 1558 days


#2 posted 1141 days ago

Charlie,
Thanks for the heads up on the piano hinges. Somehow they slipped my radar. I’ll check ‘em out. You are right, of course, that there are alternatives to hinges entirely. My favorites are the sliding lid and the slip fit that you mention. The pin hinge is another alternative.
Roger

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View Richard's profile

Richard

799 posts in 1295 days


#3 posted 1141 days ago

Roger, good information on the hinges. I am pretty much stuck with butt hinges and still seem to need the Hinges for Dummies book to get them right sometimes.

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2697 posts in 1891 days


#4 posted 1141 days ago

Thanks for the information. I have been searching hinges for the last week for my boxes.
You just reenforced what I had decided already.

Thanks for sharing

-- She thought I hung the moon--now she just thinks I did it wrong

View bibb's profile

bibb

288 posts in 2136 days


#5 posted 1141 days ago

I recently bought a pair of brass high quality hinges from Ian Hawthorne (side rail hinge far left picture) and I am very happy with them. They are heavy, well machined hinges. The set came with screws and the proper drill bit. The reveal at the lower back is , in my opinion, very modest and not a distraction. Installation was easy.
Bibb

-- "Imagination is more important than knowledge" Bibb in CO at http://katanadesign.com

View Roger's profile

Roger

14177 posts in 1409 days


#6 posted 1141 days ago

appreciate all the good info on this subject. thnx a bunch

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Kentuk55@bellsouth.net

View RogerBean's profile

RogerBean

1095 posts in 1558 days


#7 posted 1141 days ago

Hummmm… Guess I better work on writing more clearly. My fault, not wanting to run on and on, thinking the blog was getting too long as it was. And, I hope I’m not acting like a hinge snob.

My enthusiasm for the side rail hinges is heavily influenced by the fact that they are much easier to install properly. I did try to say (perhaps poorly) that the $6-9 quadrant hinge is good looking and appropriate for very nice boxes, but is pretty hard to fit properly… even if you’re experienced. And, Autumn is perfectly right, many fine old boxes had some pretty interesting (and simple) hinge setups. Autumn’s examples are good ones.

If you are going for period accurate, side rail hinges would probably be out anyway on the basis of authenticity. Mostly, I was trying to say that if you’re having trouble installing hinges, that the side rail units are much easier, and they look good. Use the ones that work for you, that you think works for your project. Ultimately, that’s the criteria that is most important. Hope this is at least a little clearer. And, sorry if I gave the impression that expensive hardware is the only answer. It is not.
Roger

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View BritBoxmaker's profile

BritBoxmaker

4340 posts in 1641 days


#8 posted 1140 days ago

Excellent information, Roger. Very thorough. The hinge twinge is the main reason I don’t tend to use them unless specifically asked to do so. Wooden ones, whilst not quite so robust, are a good alternative for me.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging. http://www.theartofboxes.com

View bigike's profile

bigike

4031 posts in 1893 days


#9 posted 1140 days ago

Thanks roger this is a very informative post but as for me I don’t see myself spending so much on hinges. I think it’s crazy $30-$60 for a pair if your tring to stock up wow that is a deep hole in my pocket but if you want to get go for it. I have no problem adding a chain stop/lid stay to my boxes if the hinges don’t have a built in stop. The hinges I get are from the hardware store around the coner from my house and solid brass and look like a good quality hinge. Maybe a box for myself or someone in my family I would pay that much for a set of hinges.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://www.icombadaniels@yahoo.com

View RogerBean's profile

RogerBean

1095 posts in 1558 days


#10 posted 1140 days ago

Thanks to all for the helpful comments. The great thing about this site is the wide diversity of woodworkers who make boxes (and a lot of other things). I actually enjoy the whole spectrum of box making, though I tend to spend most of my energy on very complex boxes. Some folks prefer to use no hardware at all (hi RichGreer) and others like always to use hi grade fixtures. Also, the fact is, that there’s a limited number of hardware choices, so when we begin a project we’re forced to decide what the end result is to be.

The important thing is that we enjoy what we’re doing, and create objects that suit us, and of which we can be proud. Whatever our choices, making boxes is a great source of fun and satisfaction. As it should be.
Best to all.
Roger

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View shipwright's profile

shipwright

4848 posts in 1403 days


#11 posted 1140 days ago

Great string Roger. I’m a little possessed with inventing new wooden hinges that I haven’t used / seen before for each piece at the moment but that too will pass. When it does I’ll read this thread again. Very good information to have on hand.

Thanks for gathering it in one place for us.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fiberglass trees. http://prmdesigns.com/

View Randy63's profile

Randy63

230 posts in 1497 days


#12 posted 1140 days ago

Very helpful and interesting blog Roger. Other than the side rail and smart hinges, I have at one time or another used all of the hinges you mentioned and the piano hinges that Charlie mentioned. I think they all have their place in box making. I do not think that the type of hinge used on a well crafted box would ever degrade the value of the box, but I sometimes feel that the use of top quality hinges and hardware certainly can add to the value of a box. However an poorly made box even with top quality hardware will still be a poor quality box. And if any hinges, regardless of the type are installed poorly the box will still reek of poor craftsmanship. The best of boxes have it all, design, excellent craftsmanship (flawless joints etc.), veneers matched perfectly, no voids or gluing errors, interior finished with appeal and interest, all hardware installed to reveal no flaws in the closing of the box, and a well executed finish to promote and yield the beauty of the boxes wood.

-- Randy, Oakdale, Ca.

View rance's profile

rance

4126 posts in 1765 days


#13 posted 1140 days ago

Good information Roger. I’ve always chosen hinges ‘after the fact’. Thanks for enlightening me. They are part of the design now. :)

I’ve used “L” quadrant hinges but I think I’m gonna switch to side rail hingers (with quadrant) for easier install.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View itsmic's profile

itsmic

1419 posts in 1723 days


#14 posted 830 days ago

Good stuff, I think it is Great that Andrew has added the Smarthinge to the list of options for box makers, a very needed option in some cases. Hardware when used, is a very important part of the finished product and all considerations above have validity. I like every thing from these great new smart hinges to the slip fit Charile mentions. Thanks Roger for sharing Your insight and experience.

-- It's Mic Keep working and sharing

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