Patience and Accuracy Pay Off. There is nothing quite as beautiful as a small wooden jewelry box and its promise of treasures hidden inside. Poorly installed hinges that bind or catch can ruin the anticipation of opening the lid. Installing hinges to hold the lid in place can be tricky, if not downright maddening. The hinges have to be perfectly spaced and correctly oriented on the lid for it to function correctly. Furthermore, brass screws are soft and prone to breaking. Here are some simple steps to make sure that you avoid all of the pitfalls of this challenging operation.
Practice these techniques on scrap first and in no time, you’ll be ready to perfectly place hinges on your precious jewelry box.
Mark the location for the hinge with a pen knife, not a pencil. Set the desired distance on an adjustable square and use this setting for both sides to insure they’re the same. Clamp the top and bottom together and mark them at the same time, so the marks are perfectly aligned.
Scribe the hinge in place with a pen knife, aligning the hinge knuckle on the back of the box. Index the side of the hinge with the mark you made on the box in the previous step. Make multiple passes to gradually deepen the scribed mark.
With the router unplugged, set the depth of the router bit for mortising the hinges. Install a straight bit in a palm router. Use the actual hinge to determine the perfect depth for the mortise. Make a test cut to check depth.
Mill the hinge mortises with a palm router, cutting up to the line you made with the pen knife. Clamp a support board inside the box to support the router. The router guarantees mortises with perfect depth and flat bottoms. This level platform for the hinge to sit on prevents binding and uneven alignment of the hinges. This technique takes a little practice, but free handing this cut is easier than you think, thanks to the shallow cut required for small hinges.
Using a chisel, square the corners of the hinge mortises and pare back to the line in any spots where the router bit cut short of the line. Use the flat surface created by the router to help guide the chisel.
Drill pilot holes for the hinge screws. I use a self-centering bit, available at woodworking specialty stores, for a foolproof hole. Driving screws into un-centered holes can pull the hinge out of alignment.
Brass screws are very soft. To prevent the brass screws from breaking, first drive the same size steel screws in each hole to cut threads. Then remove the steel screws and replace them with brass screws. For this step, I pick up a screwdriver instead of my drill in order to get better control and break fewer screws.
Photos By Mike Krivit
I’m making a small jewelry box with the top extending beyond the case. What do you think of making the mortises on the case twice as deep allowing the upper hinge to fit without allowing a gap? I would then use small thumb tacks through the holes in the bottom hinge to locate the holes for the top hinge.
The article stops before locating the hinge to the box top. In order to have the top match perfectly to the bottom, how do you locate the actual pilot holes in the lid? I see in the second picture, marking the spot for the hinge but if the holes are off…..?
Hello. If the holes are drilled incorrectly, it would be wise to drill a 3/16” hole and glue in a dowel. Trim flush and then re-drill. I might recommend a self-centering ‘vix-bit’ to ensure holes are in the correct place. https://amzn.to/2WOzZqx
Paul-Woodworkers Guild of America
You didn’t discuss how to position the screw holes in the lid so you get a perfect alignment with the body of the box. I find this the most difficult part of assembling hinges.
use a self centering drill bit
I read the item on how to cut perfect hinge mortises. Thanks for the help
A router for a 1/16″ thick hinge? Controlling even a small router has a large chance of failure.Best use a chisel.
Although not the hinges you are describing, I am asking about a support lid stay, a kind of hinge I suppose! I have asked how to fit them on Google, rephrasing every way possible, and I cannot get an answer to the simple question, How do I attach them. Sorry if I am out of line not asking about the hinges you are describing. I would be very grateful for some help. Thank you.
Hi Sharon. Can you provide a link to the product that you are trying to install, please?
Hi Sharon. We do not have any generalized instructions for this, and they are probably all different, but sometimes the manufacturer or retailer can supply installation instructions for the products that they sell so you might want to start there.
If I gave you the specific measurements of the jewelry box, would you be able to tell me where to position the lid stay?
I’ve noticed after installing hinges on a small box using your method, there is still a gap all around the lid and it does not sit “closed”. Looks like perhaps mortise is a tad too shallow? I set the router bit
the way you suggested…any comments? Thanks!
Hi Michael. My suspicion is that the mortise is not quite deep enough. Hold a straight edge across the hinge and wood when the hinge is installed and see if you can notice a slight height difference. A slight difference will create a noticeable gap in the top.
I need to make 20 hinge mortises on small boxes. The hinge is 1 1/2″ by 7/8″.Are there any jigs that i can make or buy?
Hi Alexander. I would suggest making a simple jig by making a cutout in scrap wood in the shape of your hinge, and using a router and small straight bit to mill the mortise. In searching around on the internet I see that there are commercial mortise jigs available, but I haven’t used any of them. I’ve only used the approach that I’ve described here.
I am working on a design using basswood and would like to add a hinge but don’t want the gap nor is the thickness (1/4 inch) conducive of making a mortises box – getting frustrated trying to solve my dilemma. Any suggestions .. thank you.
Hi DK. 1/4″ material makes this tricky, especially with basswood which is pretty soft. Perhaps you might consider making some wooden hinges that sit over the top. That would eliminate the gap, and would have enough strength to fasten through the basswood. These can provide a beautiful accent to a project as well.
I bought a pair of Vertex 90 stop hinges. When the hinges are closed and parallel there is a gap between them about the width of each hinge. The hinge will not close flat. Is this a defect or is this how they are supposed to be? I’ll call the company from which I bought them but wanted a second opinion too?
Hi, Brian. They should close flat. I would look closely at the screws, and be sure that you are using the right size, and that they are completely flush with the surface of the hinge and not slightly protruding. If you use a domed screw head, or do not completely sink them, they will not close properly.
Everyone always mentions that small steel screws should be inserted first. Where can I find these small screws in steel? Every place seems to offer them in brass.
I have installed a lot of hinges over the years only I use a chisel to cut the mortises. My percentage of perfect door fits are pretty low. I usually have to shim a few of the hinges and often the doors dont close all the way before springing back open. Would you care to comment on how I can get perfect fits every time?
Hi, John. When fitting doors, there are many considerations, and how the hinge is set is only one factor. First, the box and the door must be square. Second, the hinges should be high quality, with little or no play. Only then does the hinge set matter. While it is possible to use only a chisel, it is difficult to get an even and flat depth for the bottom of the hinge set, which is why I recommend using a router to control the depth. There is a tool called a router plane which would can ensure a flat bottom hinge set.
Can you please tell me is the use of a router the only way to reach an accurate depth
I am not familiar with the palm router and how to use it is there any need for a guide bush
to keep the router on track
Hi, Harry. A router is the best way to do this. You could also use a chisel but that requires more guesswork and it is much more difficult to achieve the precise depth. Guide bushings are not needed, and are not used in this article. A small router like this is easy enough to handle, and you just end up with a slight bit of cleanup work which takes only seconds with a good sharp chisel.
You can also use a router plane. They sell new ones and used router planes on Ebay. Also google them to find out more.
Any way to use such small hinges and add a soft close mechanism, so it doesn’t close quickly and doesn’t make noise? Haven’t seen such online, but there must be a way, just maybe not the same way as a typical soft close hinge works on regular cabinets. Anyone ever came across that?
This is a good question. I am not aware of any hinge mechanism that can control this on a small box. The challenge is that because of the light weight of a small lid it is a fine line between holding a small lid open (preventing it from closing on its own), and allowing it to close gracefully.
Let us know if you come across anything that you like that solves this problem.
Any luck in this search for small-scale soft-close hinges?
Hi Robert. Unfortunately I am not aware of anything. I suggest checking with these folks: https://www.wwhardware.com/.
Question. On small butt hinges that do not fold flat, is it necessary to leave a space between the box and lid for proper closures?
Some hinges are designed specifically for installation without mortising. They have thinner profile plates, and they are designed to that the plates from each side of the hinge do not sit on top of one another. Here is an example: http://www.rockler.com/non-mortise-hinges-without-finial
For other box hinges you wouldn’t necessarily have to mortise for the hinge, but if you don’t it will create a gap between the lid and body of your box. It might also cause strain on the hinges and your box if you are forcing the box to close in the front while the hinges are forcing the gap to remain in the rear of the box. But if the hinge plates are thin enough you might be able to get away with not mortising.
Thanks so much! Makes perfect sense for perfect installation. I appreciate the tip and the clarity.
how do you guide the router accurately?
Hi Bill, It’s a freehand cut. Like Seth says, freehanding takes a little practice, but will be easy once you get the hang of it.
I have a friend that makes beautiful koa wood boxes it showed me a techniques where you set up a stop block depth gauge and fence on your router table so that you don’t go too deep and you’re sure on the alignment marks.
I have a friend that makes beautiful koa wood boxes. He showed me a techniques where you set up a stop block depth gauge and fence on your router table so that you don’t go too deep and you’re sure on the alignment marks. the stoplight can be set up using hinge to locate the length of the cut to the next stop block. it requires redoing the same procedure on the other side using a spacer to start the edge of the cut and the hinge to end it in a similar manner.
I made a template jig to accurately guide my router & I use a bit with a bearing.