European Hinges Explained to Americans: Part 1

This post is adapted from the 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_cranks_1800-327x300The concept behind the design of European hinges is to set up a repeatable process that accurately places the components of the hinges, both on the door, and on the cabinet. These hinges are adjustable after installation, so that minor errors in the sizing or squareness of the doors or cabinet openings can be corrected. An excellent solution in many cases, they are far from perfect. The variety of options available can be bewildering, but most of the confusion can be resolved by answering two questions; how far do you want the door to open, and do you want it to sit in the opening, or overlay the opening? The most common, and least expensive hinges open to 110°-120°. Trying to open the doors beyond this degree can damage the hinges or their mounting plates. Wider opening hinges, to 165 to 180 degrees are available, but are more expensive, and take more space inside the cabinet.

Full overlay hinges leave the edge of the door about 11/16″ beyond the opening.

Euro hinges have two distinct parts, the hinge (on the door) and the base plate (inside the box). Different combinations of hinges and base plates can be used to vary the degree of opening, the amount of overlay, or the size of gaps on inset doors. The most commonly used hinge is the 120-degree full overlay. This leaves a gap of about 1/16″ at the edge of a frame-less cabinet. Two cabinets side-by side have a gap of about 1/8″ between them, and that 1/8″ gap should also be used between two doors on a single cabinet.

Base plates come in various heights-the thin ones keep the hinge close to the cabinet side for overlay applications. Thicker base plates move the hinge in to the opening for half overlay or inset applications. You can use European hinges on face frame cabinets, and the easiest way to do that is to place a strip of wood behind the face frame. Make it flush to the edge so you have a place to attach the base plate.

You need to do two operations-drill the right size hole in the right place on the door for the hinge cup, and locate the base plate in a precise location on the cabinet.The hinge cup sits in a large (35mm) hole, and is usually attached to the door with 2-#6 x 5⁄8″ screws.  The location of the  hole determines how the door looks and functions when it is in place. I’m no fan of the metric system, but it is easier to use it when laying out Euro hinges because specifications are metric. Converting back and forth can be a chore, and small errors due to conversions can lead to big problems.

One of the “givens” with Euro hinges is that the holes for mounting the base plates are 37mm (1-29⁄64″) back from the front of the cabinet for overlay doors. For inset doors, add 37mm to the thickness of the door to locate the plates. The distance from the top or bottom end of the door to the center of the base plate can vary, and for most cabinet applications the distance should be between 3-1⁄2″ and 4” (96mm to 100mm).

“Half-Cranked” European hinges leave less of an overlay on the cabinet.

If the doors overlay the opening, they look better if they come nearly to the edge of the box, this is called full overlay. Half, or partial overlay hinges exist, primarily for the purpose of fitting two doors to a common cabinet partition. Leaving a big reveal around an overlay door doesn’t look as good as a full overlay; you’ll end up with inconsistent gaps between the doors. Many “American-style” builders make cabinets with lipped doors, where a rabbet on the back of the door sits outside the opening. This is supposed to make things easier and I go into great detail in the book about why this looks bad and isn’t such a good idea.

This hinge is “half-cranked”. The bend at the edge of the hinge moves the edge of the door closer to the edge of the opening. The combination of plate height (the part screwed inside the box) and amount of “crank” determines where the outer edge of the door lands on the cabinet. In a typical project, you shouldn’t need two types of hinges and you likely won’t need these. You can also achieve a half-overlay with a standard, uncranked hinge and a taller mounting plate.

Doors can be inset by using a “cranked” hinge and a tall plate.

A “full-cranked” hinge has more of a bend, and brings the door inside the edge of the opening, exposing the edges or face frame. The same thing can also be achieved with a half-cranked hinge and a taller mounting plate. The important thing to remember is that the drilling distance for the plate mounting holes is from the back edge of the door. Add the thickness of the door to 37mm to layout the holes for mounting the plate.

European hinges usually have a spring that makes them self-closing. With overlay doors, the front edge of the cabinet serves as a stop. When you inset a door with these hinges, you need to provide something inside the cabinet to keep the door from going too far in.

There isn’t much difference between the major manufacturers, and your hardware supplier should be able to help you decide the exact parts you need for your specific application. As always, it’s a good idea to practice on some scrap to get the distances just right.

— 360 Woodworking


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