Pick the Perfect Hinges for Your Boxes
The right choice will help you design and build better boxes
Synopsis: Designing a box? Make sure to choose the hinges before you start building. Boxmaker Doug Stowe lays out the criteria to consider when deciding which hinge is right: appearance, size, weight, and ease of installation. This overview lists the strengths and weaknesses of each hinge type—surface-mount hinges, butt hinges, side-rail hinges, quadrant hinges, barbed hinges, and barrel hinges—so you can make an informed choice.
Selecting just the right hinges to fit each special box can be a daunting task. There are so many types that it’s tough to make the right choice. And you don’t want to make a box before choosing the hinges—that’s like painting yourself into a corner. To help you wade through the options, here I’ll give a brief look at the different hinge types and their applications. There are three main criteria to consider when you’re deciding which hinge will be right for your box. First is appearance. Do you want to see the whole hinge on the outside of the box, see a proud brass barrel at the back, or just glimpse a barely visible barrel tucked into the lid joint? Another key factor is the size of the box and the weight of the lid. Some hinges are more robust than others, but in certain cases you can use multiple pairs of less substantial hinges to bear the weight. One aspect of hinge choice that tends to be forgotten is the installation difficulty. Some hinges simply screw right to the surface, some require cutting a complex mortise, and some require a specialized cutter to make a slot for the hinge. Understanding each type’s strengths and weaknesses will let you refine your box design and find that perfect hinge each time.
Surface-mount hinges come in several forms and are generally available at hardware stores and big home-improvement stores. Depending on the type, they can be nailed or screwed in place. Surface-mount hinges are visible when the box is closed or open. So if you want to accentuate the hinge and draw attention to the back of the box, surface-mount hinges are a great choice. If you prefer a more subtle or hidden hinge, move along. These hinges are available in a range of sizes capable of accommodating most boxes and lid weights. But you must check the screws’ length against the thickness of the box body to make sure they won’t pop through the inside. This can be overcome by using a different-size screw or filing down the screws that came with the hinge. Many craftsmen are drawn to the use of surface-mount hinges by the simplicity of their installation. There are no mortises to cut or holes to drill other than the pilot holes for the screws. While they are one of the easier hinges to install, it’s still important to make sure the hinge barrels are in line and that you leave some space between the top and body at the hinge to let the box close fully.
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