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SmartHinge - The new premium box hinge

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Review by RogerBean posted 09-05-2011 10:16 PM 7906 views 5 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
SmartHinge - The new premium box hinge No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

Hinging a box project is one of the most troublesome and intimidating parts of box making. But, there is a really easy way. The SmartHinge is the best looking, easiest to install premium brass box hinge available. Emphasis on easy.

SmartHinge is the latest entry into the premium box hinge inventory. These hinges are the brainchild of Andrew Crawford and Rolls Royce engineer Clive Jarman. They are solid brass, precision machined “side-rail” style hinges highly polished to a mirror finish.

SmartHinges have two big advantages over the currently available side-rail hinges:

First: When compared to the “quadrant” style side rail hinges, the SmartHinge does not require excavating a cavity in the lid and base to house the quadrant stay. Excavating these four cavities can be a chore if you don’t have the right tools for the job (I use a Dremel with a Stewart-MacDonald router base). Even then, it takes a bit of fiddling to fit them properly.

Second: When compared to the square back side-rail hinge with an internal stop (WoodCraft, Rockler, BCSpecialties.com), the SmartHinge does not require the installer to relieve the lid and base to accommodate the stop pivots. This requires three small relief cuts for each hinge. If you don’t get these right, you end up with some nasty little chip-outs behind the hinges. Also, the exposed back of the SmartHinge is rounded and somewhat cleaner looking than the square back variety.

NOTE: I recently posted a blog discussing several different types of box hinges at: lumberjocks.com/RogerBean/blog/23886

Installing hinges has typically been a hassle for the box maker. It was probably true in 1790 as well. Some folks even avoid hinges altogether rather than deal with the fitting and adjusting issues. Even the lowly butt hinge can be a chore to install perfectly (and have the lid/base align correctly). A very small misalignment at the hinge becomes amplified by the time it reaches the front of the box.

NOTE: Timing. When to install the hinges: I’ve tried it two different ways.

First method: installing the hinges early, after veneering the lid/base edges, but before veneering the outside of the box. (If the inside is veneered, it’s done before glue-up.) The idea is to sand the exterior perfectly even to match the hinge placement and get perfect alignment. This requires a second set of screws so you don’t tear up your finish screws during the several installs and uninstalls of the hinges.

Second method: the hinges can be installed near the end of the process. Using the method outlined below, there’s no inherent reason why this should not be equally successful (presuming your box is square and true to begin with). I’ve done it successfully both ways, but in this example, I’ll be putting them in near the end.

SmartHinge, screws and instructions were all included in the box.

The hinges come complete with detailed instructions and eight #3×5/8” solid brass screws.

Installing the SmartHinge is about as easy as it gets. Using a router table and a 5/16” or 8mm bit (spiral downcut bits are recommended, but I’ve been using a 5/16” Whiteside straight bit with good results).

Set the bit height at exactly 1/8” so the hinge seats perfectly flush with the surface. If the cut is too shallow, the lid will not close completely, leaving an unsightly gap at the rear. If too deep, the lid will bind and stress the screws, and probably cause a gap at the front of the lid.

Spacer block set-up

Next, place a 34mm spacer block (1.33 inches) between the cutter and your stop block. I am using the factory made stops on my Incra fence, but a simple clamped on fence and block work equally well. I also always make a test cut on scrap (because at this stage of the box, I’m not prepared to take any risks. When you’re sure you’re ready, make the first two cuts on the box itself.

Left set-up

Reverse the set-up to make the final two cuts. At this point your hinge cuts should be all identical, with the hinge pin perfectly centered on the back edge.

Right set-up

Place the hinges in the lid and check for fit. All should be good. Drill the pilot holes for the #3×5/8” brass screws with a 1/16” drill (for ply or MDF). For a hard wood like maple it’s necessary to use a larger drill. I also relieve the upper part of the hole to accommodate the unthreaded portion of the brass screw. A little paste wax can also make the screws go in more easily. Some folks like to run steel screws in first to make the way easier for the brass screws. I’ve never broken off a brass screw. If they are going in really hard… DON’T keep forcing it. It’s a real pain to drill them out and fill the hole, etc. etc.

In MDF I usually run a little thin cyanoacrylate glue into the holes to firm them up a bit. I also polish the heads before installing, and always line up the slots. It’s a small mark of the care you put into your project.

NOTE: Here, the pictures show temporary phillips plated steel screws. Because, you guessed it, my box needs more clean-up to align the lid. (No fault of the hinges or the installation.) Apparently, the 3/8 ply I used for the carcass has shifted slightly since glue-up, so I need to do a little clean up; hence the hinges have to come off again. I will use the slotted screws for the final install.

Inside installed hinge

And, on the outside they present a clean, compact, and minimal look.

Outside back pic

OK, that’s all nice, and they look great,but are they worth the $62 price?

Well, if you’re making a box to sell for $50 – 100 at a craft show, then certainly they are not. On the other hand, if you’re aiming for a special box as a gift or for gallery exhibition, then probably yes. Or, if like me, you want to make a high end box, and you’re shooting for absolutely perfect installation, then yeah, I think they’re well worth it.

The SmartHinge can be ordered directly from Andrew at www.box-making.com My order arrived in just a few days.

PS: I will be posting this little document box as a project once I get it finished. Probably a couple weeks.

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




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RogerBean

1256 posts in 1676 days



12 comments so far

View tdv's profile

tdv

1121 posts in 1792 days


#1 posted 09-05-2011 10:36 PM

Impeccable workmanship you couldn’t fit anything less to this box

-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

View CharlieM1958's profile

CharlieM1958

15714 posts in 2941 days


#2 posted 09-05-2011 11:25 PM

Great review, Roger. Thanks for the info!

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

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

12004 posts in 1828 days


#3 posted 09-06-2011 02:44 AM

Thanks for the review. I don’t make anything that would warrant a $62 hinge set. They are nice but awful pricy!!
Don’t they make a Euro style hinge that would be totally invisible from the outside the box?

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View RogerBean's profile

RogerBean

1256 posts in 1676 days


#4 posted 09-06-2011 12:29 PM

Jim,
I presume you are referring to Soss barrel hinges. They are indeed invisible from the outside. However, I do not use them, primarily because I prefer the look of a polished side rail or quadrant hinge. I heard someone once refer to locks as box jewelry, as they are there as much for their appearance as for their function. On a high end box this would seem particularly true, and would also seem to pertain to hinges in some measure as well. In the end, it is the builders call.
Roger

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

View Roger's profile

Roger

15051 posts in 1526 days


#5 posted 09-06-2011 05:28 PM

thnx for all the info, and review. looking forward to seeing the finished box/s

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

View Dusty56's profile

Dusty56

11678 posts in 2410 days


#6 posted 09-07-2011 12:26 PM

They look very nice , but I have to wonder how they arrived at the price.
Maybe it was to keep all but the most serious of box makers from using their product.

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View RogerBean's profile

RogerBean

1256 posts in 1676 days


#7 posted 09-07-2011 02:35 PM

Dusty56,
Yeah, it’s a shame they’re not cheaper. Less would be good. However, it’s probably more surprising that something custom machined in a small shop can be sold for the same price as the Brusso product made in a factory. Even in a factory, machining and polishing metal is a slow, labor intensive process. I suspect the price is just a function of a small quantity, time consuming chore to machine a precision small metal product. Then there’s the packing, shipping, payment, promotion etc. Probably more surprising they are available at all. But, I’m glad they are, even at the current price.
Roger

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

View hingeman's profile

hingeman

50 posts in 1372 days


#8 posted 09-07-2011 04:13 PM

Firstly of all, thanks to Roger for posting this excellent project, highlighting his use of my smartHinges, and for his helpful additions/responses above. And thanks to others who have posted comments …

As the originator of these hinges I have largely kept out of the hinge debate for fear of being seen to promote my own product. But it’s an area I feel I know a thing or two about and would like to clarify a couple of things in response to some of the posts above.

Dusty56 – we certainly didn’t ‘choose’ a price, as you seem to suggest, to put off any potential users! If we were able to make them as good as they are and offer them for half the price I can assure you we would! As Roger rightly points out these are made in a small traditional engineering workshop in small batches to very fine tolerances. And by a Rolls Royce trained engineer.

Also, they have been designed FROM SCRATCH, unlike the Brusso hinges which are poorly designed ‘upgrades’ of previous hinges. One example of a way in which they could have hugely improved their ‘premium’ hinge is that there is simply no reason why a ‘quality’ hinge needs to be ‘L’ shaped. A hinge of this substance doesn’t need a knuckle elongated for strength, the only reason for this feature on weaker hinges made from sheet laterial. Consequently, Brusso’s failure to ‘think outside the box’, and their blind acceptance that this is what a quality hinge should look like, simply serves to hugely complicate the fitting. I think Brusso needs a lesson from Steve Jobs …

Doug Stowe has done a very positive review of the new hinges which will be appearing in the November/December issue of Fine Woodworking, out in early October. I hope this will help to make the case for these hinges. For more info I would point readers to the smartHinge area of my own website and to a post headed Knighthood for Crawford. Not that I wish to claim that accolade, but it is another clear endorsement of these hinges, and the huge difference they can make to this stressful process. What price confidence?!

These hinges are a genuine attempt to ‘solve’ the ever-present problem of choosing and fitting box hinges. I hope no-one objects to these clarificarications. If so, I apologise – I am full of respect for the ‘open’ way LJs is run [unlike some other forums I could mention] and in no way want to abuse what is a superb resource/cummunity/format.

Thanks for your attention, Andrew.

-- Andrew Crawford, Shropshire, UK http://www.box-making.com

View utahwoodworker's profile

utahwoodworker

4 posts in 1178 days


#9 posted 09-09-2011 07:43 AM

Does smartHinge come in stainless steel? Brass compliments many projects, but for some projects nickel or stainless steel seem to be a better fit. Jon

View hingeman's profile

hingeman

50 posts in 1372 days


#10 posted 09-09-2011 10:41 AM

Hi, Jon – stainless is not an option for the foreseeable future but we are currently investigating nickel and silver plated versions of the smartHinge. I hope to be able to announce their availability to subscribers to my newsletter shortly. We also plan a matching lock which will also be available plated.

Andrew C.

-- Andrew Crawford, Shropshire, UK http://www.box-making.com

View 58j35bonanza's profile

58j35bonanza

390 posts in 1415 days


#11 posted 09-13-2011 04:53 AM

Thanks Roger, I have wondered about these hinges. I hope someday I can make a box worthy of them. I keep trying.

-- Chuck

View blackcherry's profile

blackcherry

3186 posts in 2545 days


#12 posted 10-18-2013 01:34 PM

Thanks Roger for this review and after watching the installation process I order my first set do smartHinges. Will post result here soon, thanks once again….Blackcherry

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