Installing traditional mortise hinges makes some woodworkers want to turn their electric drill on themselves to just end it all.
While practice is the best teacher, there are little tricks that can help when installing hardware. I have a bunch of “dodges” that people have taught me through the years. This one is ridiculously basic, so stop reading now and watch this silly video of cats.
Once you have your hinge mortise cut (an operation that has its own set of tricks that I’ll detail later), put the hinge in its mortise. If the hinge wiggles left or right in the mortise you should press it up against the wall of the mortise that is your “reference wall” – the wall where all your hinge layout began.
Then take a self-centering punch and… what? … you say you don’t have one? Get thee to the home
center and get one. The Stanley 58-013 version is sloppier than the Starrett version, but it’s usually about $6. OK, got the tool? Need another video of cats before we go on? Alright.
Press the punch’s cone-shaped tip into the countersink of your hinge and press the post down with your finger. Sure, you could use a hammer, but I don’t recommend it. Hammers make a deeper hole, which is nice, but they also tend to make the tool strike off-center.
After you have punched in all the holes on your hinge, take a close look at the results before you remove the hinge from the mortise.
Notice anything? Yeah, frequently some of the holes will be off-center, even if you used a self-centering punch. So select one of the holes that is dead center and drill the pilot hole for that screw. Install it. Drill the other holes for the screws that are on-center and install those. When you are
left with punches that are off-center, stop.
Get your bird-cage awl, a nail or something metal and really pointy. Press it into an
off-center hole and push and wiggle it to create a deeper hole that is centered in the countersink. In the photo above the hole was a little too far away from the camera’s position. So I pressed the tip of my awl into the hole and wiggled it toward the camera. It looks like this:
Then drill a pilot hole in the bottom of that crater and install your screw. Isn’t that nice? Not the hinge or the screws. That has got to be the ugliest hinge we have in our shop. And I really dislike Phillips-head screws for traditional hardware. But you get the idea.
— Christopher Schwarz
• Graham McCullough’s “601 Woodshop Tips & Tricks” is a nice collection of them.
• For the hand-tool woodworker, you can’t beat Percy Blandford’s “1001 Tips for Woodworkers.”
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