How to Recess Door Hinges

When you go through a door, you only pay attention to two things:  the door handle, and that it opens.  It’s the “how” of the door opening that never occurs to you.

But, if you have made a door in your woodworking shop, you know exactly the “how” of it.  It’s the three (usually) hinges that door swings on that matters, and you installed those hinges in one of two ways.  There really isn’t anything like a solid wood door for your home, perhaps even with recessed panels. 

This piece will describe both of those ways for those who haven’t made a door yet.  They have to do with whether you used a router or you did it “old school.” 

Either method requires that the door hinges be recessed into both the door and the door jamb.  A door jamb is one side of the door frame; a door frame has three jambs:  the two side jambs and the head jamb.  Doors are connected to one door jamb with the hinges and are secured by the door handle/latch to the other jamb when closed.

When installing the door hinge to both the door and the door frame (jamb), you must create a notch, an inset, on both pieces.  If you don’t, the door will not close properly and will not be flush to the jamb. 

Finally, in order for that door to close properly and flush to the jamb, the hinge plate must flush with the surface of the wood.  From a woodworking standpoint, this means the notch needs to be only as deep into the wood as the hinge plate dimension.  Thus, the notch must be carefully created.

Do Door Hinges Need To Be Recessed?

This is a fair question.  In most instances, the answer will be yes.  There are surface mount door hinges that can be used in some instances, but generally, hinges will be recessed to allow for a flush closing.  We’ll limit our discussion today to recessed hinges.

One final note before we get into creating the notches:  if the hinge plates are not inset, undue pressure is placed on the screws that attach the hinge plates that can cause the screws to shear from the torque; and, the doors will not close flush with the frames, defeating the privacy purpose of doors.

How To Recess Door Hinges With a Router

How To Recess Door Hinges With a Router

After building your door, it’s time to carve out the notches (mortises) to install the hinges.  Today’s tool inventory includes a great convenience for this task – the hinge template.  The hinge template makes creating the hinge mortise easy and quick.  You can even make a hinge template jig if you are really ambitious.

Hinge templates are easy gadgets to use and are matched with hinges, even.  Settings are configured to the size of the hinge you are using and whether the corners are square or rounded. 

After setting the configurations to match the hinge you are using, the template is attached to the door edge.  Template kit components often include the router bit and the drill bits for screw holes and screwdriver bits (straight and Philips).

Set the router bit depth to the dimension of the hinge plate.  This is important.  You want the hinge plate to sit flush with the surface of the door, so it will close smoothly and flush without applying sheer pressure to the screws holding it in place.

PORTER-CABLE Door Hinge Template (59370)

Run the router fully within the template, making sure you remove all material from the mortise.  Remove the template tool from the door, and half of the job is done. 

The other half is creating the corresponding mortise on the door jamb.  Accurate measurements are required, as you want the mortise to match perfectly on the frame so the door will hang plumb and true.  That will ensure the door opens and closes smoothly and flush to the jamb.

Although this piece is about hinges, the other fixture on your door will be the closing mechanism or latch.  The strike plate, part of the door handle set, needs to be recessed, as does the latching mechanism on the door.  This will ensure that the handle set on the door and the latching set on the jamb will line up accurately and allow a flush closing.

Here’s a very helpful video about hinge templates.

And, for the DIYers, here’s a video showing how to make your own template jig.

Power tools are great, and creating the mortises for door hinges is an easy process and task in your shop.  But, what did we do before power tools? 

How To Recess Door Hinges Without a Router

In the olden days (pre-power tools like routers), recessed hinges were set by hand.  In fact, even though you likely have a router in your woodworking shop, you also have the “old school” tools that were used for this task:  a chisel and a hammer.

With a pencil, mark the outline of the hinge on the door.  Using your chisel and hammer, cut grooves along the outline.  Then, do the same on the outside of the door to mark the depth of the door hinge.  Then, simply chisel away the material with the outline to the depth you’ve marked.

How To Recess Door Hinges Without a Router

The result is the mortise for the hinge, and if you’ve been careful and used the hand tools properly, the hinge plate will fit neatly in the recess.  Fit the plate in the mortise, drill holes for the screws that will hold the plate in place, and attach the plate to the door edge.

Doors were hung with recessed hinges for a very long time before routers were added to the power tool arsenal, and there are likely doors still hung today in old houses that were mortised the old way with hand tools.  In fact, doors may have been hung recently by old school carpenters, even.

Here’s a video we found using this hammer and chisel method.

Pre-Hung Doors

There is a third option to consider, although it is a little bit like cheating from a purist’s standpoint – the pre-hung door.

These ready-to-go options come with hinges and handles already attached to a three-sided frame:  the side jambs and header jamb.  The hinges are recessed, so there is no need to router or chisel the mortises.

They may require a little more work to install, but the hinges are already manufacturer-installed.  The advantages are obvious:

  • No need to router or chisel
  • Factory-aligned
  • Already close flush

Installation is easy and quick, and many steps are already completed. 

It’s cheating but in a good way.  We don’t mean to disparage the use of pre-hung doors.  There is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, though, in doing the work yourself and the pride taken in doing it well.

Hinge Materials and Finishes

Door hinges are made with a variety of materials, and which one you choose for your project depends on your personal preference and color match to other door fixtures in your home.  Materials include:

  • Stainless steel
  • Brass
  • Copper
  • Bronze
  • Cast iron
  • Pewter

Door hinges can be painted, too, if you choose.  Again, your choices will hinge (pun intended)  on the colors and decor of your home, but the options are varied and personal to you.

All things door hinges for you today from us, as you have seen.  Challenge yourself, whether old-school hand tools or power tools and make the entire project yours.

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