Don’t be embarrassed; it happens to everyone the first time. For example, you’ve got a project coming up, and you are to install some hinges. However,  only then do you realize you don’t really know what you’re doing.


So, how do door hinges work? But most importantly, how do you choose the right hinge? As obvious as it may seem, hinges are a lot trickier than many people expect, leading to many ruined doors and cabinets.

To prevent you from ruining a job and your reputation, here is what you need to know about how door hinges work.

How Does a Hinge Work

A hinge is a Connecting Joint for two plates via a mechanical bearing. The pivot’s movement about its axis allows the two objects to rotate relative to each other. There is only one degree of freedom for hinges since other translations or rotations are prohibited. Hinges could be made using flexible material or movable components.

What are hinges?

A hinge is a mechanical bearing used to connect a door to a frame while allowing limited rotation. Hinges are used on passage doors of any size, from the tiny ones used in toys, to slightly bigger ones in cabinets, even up to large gates.

Of course, hinges are also used for windows and nearly anything that needs to pivot open and close.

There are two main types of hinges:

  • Visible hinges
  • Invisible hinges

Now that we are done with the high-level details, it’s time to get into the technical aspects of how door hinges work.

Components of a Hinge

There are many different types of hinges – from mechanical hinges, rolling hinges and even simple hinges. But they mostly tend to have the same components.

The key parts of a hinge are:

  • Leaf plate – leaf plate is the largest part of the hinge. It is the flat plate that extends laterally and is attached to the door and the frame. Leaf plates usually have holes in them for the screw to pass through.
  • Knuckle – this is the circular, hollow part of the hinge in the middle that holds the leaves and where the pin passes through.
  • Barrel – the barrel is the row of knuckles, which is the entire central part of the hinge.
  • Pin – this is the single most important part of the hinge. It is the long hinge that slides through the barrel and holds the leaves together, allowing the door to pivot. Once removed, the door falls off.

For most hinges, you can easily identify these different components. Of all the common door hinges, only the concealed hinge has an entirely different setup, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What Are The Most Common Door Hinges?

Once upon a time, there was only one type of hinge. But now, there are dozens of different types, not including custom-made hinges.

For the sake of brevity, we have narrowed them down to only the most commonly used hinges for conventional jobs.

Butt hinge

Butt hinges are arguably the oldest and the most commonly used door hinge. It attaches to the abutting surfaces of the door and frame or door jamb, hence the name.

They have the basic setup described above: two leaves, a barrel, and a pin. The leaves may be recessed into both surfaces. As a result, when the door is shut, the only thing that should be visible in the barrel and the top of the pin.

You may have seen some applications where the entire hinge is visible, but that is usually done incorrectly or for artistic flair.

There are different types of butt hinges, including:

  • Plain bearing
  • Ball-bearing
  • Spring
  • Lift-joint

Butt hinges are popular for exterior doors because of how strong they are and are typically made from steel or stainless steel. They can be used for residential and commercial applications.

Flush hinge

As great as butt hinges are, having to cut out your beautifully carved door can be annoying or challenging for some people.

Out of the need to overcome this challenge was born the flush hinges. While it is also made up of two leaves, one plate can fit inside the other mounting plate (flush), making it look like one leaf plate. It also has a barrel and a pin to hold it together.

Despite being easier to use, it is not as strong as butt hinges. Therefore, flush hinges are best for lightweight interior doors and cabinets.

While you don’t have to make a recess on both surfaces, you may decide to do so on the door jamb. When fixed, you should only be able to see the barrel.

Spring hinge

Spring hinges are nearly identical to butt hinges. The only difference is that there is a spring metal around the middle of the barrel, which allows doors to shut on their own. So in a sense, spring hinges paved the way for automatic doors.

Depending on how heavy the door is, you might need 3 or 4 spring hinges. This hinge type is also used on fire-rated exterior doors.

The two main types of spring hinges are:

  • Single – the door can only be opened in one direction
  • Double action – it allows the doors to swing in either direction

Spring hinges are more commonly used in commercial properties as a more subtle alternative to a door closer. Although they can also be used in residential properties, they pose a hazard to little children and small pets.

Barrel hinge

Barrel hinges are the epitome of concealed hinges. It is tubular or barrel-shaped and usually made of brass, and they are designed for woodworking projects such as small cabinets.

These tiny beauties are designed to be so discreet they are not only invisible from the outside, but they are also barely visible when you open the cabinet door.

However, this complex design comes at a cost. As these barrel-hidden cabinet hinges are almost entirely concealed, they are harder to fix as you need precise measurements.

Strap hinge

From the inconspicuous, we move to the obtrusive. Strap hinges have two long leaves or flaps and a short barrel. Unlike butt hinges, the barrel is placed on the external surface of the frame, while the hinge’s leaf plates are also screwed onto the front of the door or gate.

They are most used for large doors, gates, sheds, and barns plus other utility applications. The long leaves, which are usually triangular, provide ample support for the added weight these heavy doors have to bear.

Strap gate hinges can be painted to boost their aesthetic appeal. Of course, there are also unique strap hinges designed to be functional and fashionable.

Butterfly hinge

So named for their shape, butterfly hinges are one of the most beautiful hinges. Butterfly hinges serve a similar purpose to strap hinges, as they are also meant to be visible. As such, they come in a variety of fanciful styles.

The two main types of butterfly hinges are lightweight form and heavy-duty form. Lightweight butterfly hinges are used on ornamental objects like jewellery boxes or lightweight doors.

In contrast, heavy-duty can be used on larger two solid objects like gates and castle-type heavier doors. Like strap hinges, both parts of the butterfly hinge remain visible after installation.

Pivot hinge

Now, we head back to invisible hinges, and this one is a doozy. Pivot hinges allow doors to pivot at a single spot. Unlike a butt hinge, these hinges are attached at the top (on the head of the frame) and bottom (screwed into the floor) of the door.

Pivot hinges can be used for various projects, but they are most commonly used for taller doors.

Given their unique design, these hinges are trickier to install than regular hinges. If the top and bottom hinges are not level, the door won’t pivot properly and will eventually damage the hinges.

Knife hinge

Knife hinges are another hinge type that is invisible or barely visible that not only looks great but works great too. Ironically, knife hinges are actually shaped like scissors.

When installing a knife hinge, one leaf plate goes into the top or bottom edge of the frame while the other is flush to the edge of the cabinet door.

Knife hinges look similar to pivot hinges and may sometimes be used the same way. Knife hinges are also a bit tricky to install as the measurements need to be precise, with no room for error.

Piano hinge

Piano hinges, also known as continuous hinges, are the longest type of hinge. Piano hinges have the traditional hinge parts – two leaves, a barrel, and a pin.

Piano hinges usually run the entire length of the door, as is seen on wooden pianos. In other configurations, you can have two or three shorter continuous hinges that don’t connect.

Continuous hinge is used for desks, cabinet doors, fold-down workbenches, storage doors, and other similar woodworking hinges projects.

Euro-style hinge

Finally, we have another concealed hinge that is growing in popularity. The Euro-Style hinges have a complex-looking design that has the advantage of being completely invisible from the outside.

Also referred to as European hinges, these hinges are made of two main parts: the hinge and the mounting plate. The plate can be placed in several locations depending on the type of cabinet.

The most common configuration is when the mounting plate is installed on the edge of the face frame. This is a more subtle approach compared to when the plate goes on the front surface of the door frame.

Given their small sizes, European hinges are almost exclusively used on cabinets. They also require more skill and experience to install than a butt hinge.

Swing Clear hinges

Swing clear hinges, also known as Offset Door Hinges, are ideal for commercial and residential doors. With swing clear hinges, your door will swing freely clear of openings.

How to Choose the Right Hinge for Your Project

It can be challenging to narrow down the type of hinge you would prefer for your project with so many options. Given their different shapes, sizes, and unique installation methods, there is little to no room for trial and error.

Of course, you can simply look at pictures and pick the prettiest hinge, but that isn’t always prudent. Here are some of the steps you should take to select the right hinge.

Application – project type – door, cabinets or gate hinges

The first thing you need to look at is what you are building. Are they doors, cabinets, or tool boxes? While some hinges can be used for any, others are more limited. For example, European hinges are not desirable for entry doors.

Besides this, you also need to consider the type of frame – inset, fully overlay, or partial overlay. While some hinges may work with an inset or overlay doors, others cannot, or the hinge won’t look as appealing with a different configuration.

Another aspect of the project type you need to consider is if the door or door hinge needs to be removable. If this is a factor, then it seriously limits your options, which is a good thing.

Again you should also consider it’s compatibility with your router bit for door hinge.


The second thing to consider is the load the hinge will be carrying. The load is the door’s weight and can be affected by several factors such as any equipment that will be surface mounted, if people or things may need to hang on the door, and the center of gravity.

As mentioned earlier, some hinges can only be used for light applications, such as barrel hinges, while some are meant for heavier loads, such as strap hinges.

The load will determine not only the type you can use but also the hinge size.


Another important consideration is the material used to make the hinge. This also ties into the project type and load. For example, gate hinges will be exposed to more sunlight and moisture and carry heavier loads, so they need to be made of more durable materials.

The most common materials used for hinges are steel, stainless steel (304 or 316), brass, aluminium (3003 or 5052), and bronze. There are also plastic hinges for cupboards and cabinets.

In case you plan to paint, painting door hinges is typically done with a paint that is formulated for metal, although some paints may be suitable for plastic as well.

Aesthetic appeal

Once you have narrowed down the key factors, you may choose to consider the visual appeal of the hinges. For example, ornamental boxes and jewellery boxes tend to require more artistic-looking hinges.

You may also have a preference for either visible or invisible hinges to go with the overall architectural or interior design concept.


As frustrating as it may be, there are times your plans will be affected by the budget. It is not a surprise that some door hinges cost considerably more than others.

So, depending on how much you are being paid for the project or if it’s for yourself, you have to ask if the cost is worth it.

Skill level

Finally, when it comes to installing door hinges, you have to be realistic with your abilities. You need to ensure you have the skills and the tools to execute the job properly, or you may end up ruining a perfectly fine door.

Bear in mind that many of these door hinges are installed differently, and some need exact measurements.

In addition, Pivot hinges, barrel hinges, and knife hinges, in particular, can be unforgiving if you make a mistake compared to other woodworking types of hinges.

How Does a Door Hinge Work

The door hinge couples the rotation of the door to the frame so that when you push on one side of the door, it swings round with only a little effort.

It’s an ingenious “rotating fulcrum” mechanism that allows for limited rotation to the object connected to it. When the door moves, the pivot point does not move from its original position.

Hinge Connection: How to Install a Door Hinge

Now that you have gone through the unenviable task of choosing a hinge and hinge structure, it is time to learn how to use hinges.

Given the different types of hinges we have discussed (and others yet to be mentioned), it is easy to see that they cannot all be installed the same way. You must understand door hinge anatomy to install it correctly.

However, we have provided a traditional setup, which can be modified to accommodate many hinge types.

Tools you will need

Step-by-step Guide on How to Install Hinges

Step 1: Lay the doors and mark them out

Place the door on a flat surface and hold them in place with clamps. Mark out where the door hinges will go using either the utility knife (for increased precision) or the pencil.

The door must be securely in place, or the hinge won’t fit properly. Where you mark, the door hinges will depend on the type you are using. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to know where to mark.

Step 2: Trace out the hinges

Once you know where the door hinges will go, it’s time to trace them out. If the leaves are to be recessed, then trace the door hinge with a utility knife. Alternatively, you can use a knife.

Step 3: Cut out the mortice

Using the chisel, gently tap the edges of where you marked out the door hinges. Then, dig a shallow mortice to let the leaf plate fits inside.

Step 4: Identify the position of the screws

Place the door hinge into the recess, then use the pencil to mark where the screws will go. Next, place the other leaf plates on the door and mark out the screw spots there as well.

Step 5: Fix the hinges and reattach the door

Using your screw gun, place the screws where you marked out. First, screw it into the door jamb, then on the door. Test it out to ensure it swings properly, and if it does, your work is done.

How do Cabinet Hinges Work

Hinges for cabinets work by supporting the door and allowing it to swing on either a vertical or horizontal axis. There are several basic styles of hinges with various different applications.

How Hinges Work Summary

If you take just one thing from this article, there should be more than meets the eye when it comes to door hinges. Therefore, asking how do hinges work is not a silly question after all.

There is so much more to learn, but the rest are easier to figure out once you understand the basics. Once you’re done installing your door hinge, it is time to move to something even more challenging: finding the best paint for baseboards and trims.

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