Adjusting Traditional Butt Hinges

Last winter I wrote an article for Popular Woodworking about adjusting traditional butt hinges—the kind you use with inset doors, mortising one leaf into the door and the other into the side (or face frame) of a sideboard, kitchen cabinet or armoire. I pitched the article to editor Andrew Zoellner because many people are bedeviled by butt hinges’ apparent lack of adjustability; there I was, in the midst of fitting 20 doors in a kitchen, nudging them up, down, in, out, and side-to-side to get slender, even margins. It seemed the perfect time to write something about this largely neglected subject in the interest of helping others.

I submitted the manuscript and photos before my husband and I left for two weeks in England. Everything was on track for publication. Then, over morning coffee with a friend in London, we learned that F+W, the magazine’s publisher, had filed for bankruptcy. (Thanks for shouldering the burden of acting as messenger, St.John.)

The bankruptcy news was a blow on multiple fronts. I thought the article would never see the light of day. So I’m especially happy to report that it’s scheduled for the November issue of Popular Woodworking, now published by Active Interest Media; it should go on sale October 8.

This article is especially close to my heart because aside from a few tricks I’ve figured out for myself, what I know about this topic (and many unrelated techniques) came from working with people in the trades. You’re not likely to recognize their names from magazines, YouTube, or Instagram. They’re guys (all men, in this case) who do the work they’re hired to do and take pride in doing it to a high standard but don’t necessarily talk or write about what they do. Thanks:

Kent Perelman (R.I.P.)

Jay Denny

Kenneth Kinney (R.I.P.)

Ben Sturbaum

John Cantwell

Dick Stumpner

and Daniel O’Grady

—all listed in the order in which we met. Thanks also to Mr. Williams, one of my teachers in the City & Guilds furniture making program at the Isle of Ely College in 1979 and 1980.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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11 Responses to Adjusting Traditional Butt Hinges

  1. Paul B. says:

    Your post reminded me of an ill fated task I completed several years ago for my youngest daughter. The screw holes to the butt hinges on the entrance door to her apartment had enlarged over time, so that the door wouldn’t stay closed and her safety (city of Buffalo) was compromised. I told her I could easily re-seat her hinges in slightly different locations–a one hour job. Several hours later I was still struggling to get the hinges at the right depth to allow the door to fully closed without binding. In retrospect I realized that the gap between the framing and the door was so large that I could have just fastened the hinge halves onto door and frame, without chiseling out a recess and the door, albeit it still have not latched as securely as it should. I was so angry with myself for not having tried this first. I had to do a ‘professional’ carpentry fix, don’t you know? What we ended up with was the ‘butt-ugliest’ (pun intended) installation and a door that unlatched like it was spring actuated. I hatez them butt-critters with a passion.

    I look forward to the issue and your article.

  2. John Koenig says:

    Looking forward to its publication! I actually submitted a pitch to PWW a few months back (also before the bankruptcy) and never received any response back either way, so there’s a glimmer of hope!

  3. I spent some time with Andrew at the Woodsmith Workshop last week. And I spoke at length with the Woodsmith folks about Pop Wood. The plan is to allow both magazines (Woodsmith and Popular Woodworking) take their own, unique directions. I am excited to see what the future holds for them.

  4. mike says:

    Where is the article “Adjusting Traditional Butt Hinges” the hole article to be read??

    • tsstahl says:

      “So I’m especially happy to report that it’s scheduled for the November issue of Popular Woodworking, now published by Active Interest Media; it should go on sale October 8.”

      It is ok to feel a little silly now. Finish that cupajava next time. 🙂

      • nrhiller says:

        Not feeling silly (at least, over this; there are plenty of other grounds for me to feel silly, though). It is the November issue. Print periodicals are routinely published earlier than their cover date, sometimes by two months. Others would be better able to explain this than I, but my guess is that the offset allows for media-mail-rate postal delivery to subscribers so that magazines should arrive by the nominal month of the issue.

    • nrhiller says:

      It’s in the November issue of Popular Woodworking, which you should be able to find at a book store (remember those?!), if you don’t subscribe.

  5. ikustwood says:

    It will be with great pleasure i will look at it! I have found myself more attracted to Pop Wood in the last 2 years because of the hand tool approach. Since my skills are limited and that i decided to stop working with power tools (i do not count on them for a living so it’s easy for me: it’s not a judgement since i admire the ones having the courage to pursue in the Trade) as much as possible, it appeals more to me than F+W. Mortise & Tenon is even closure to my heart, but that is no ordinary magazine, so it’s in a Class of it’s own. Thank you Madame for sharing your knowledge.

  6. Charlie says:

    Thanks for mentioning those that you learned from. We all need to step back occasionally and remember who helped us get to where we are today.
    Looking forward to the article. Although my career was in commercial construction, the difference in our work is only one of scale. The doors and tolerances are bigger, but a 3′-0″ x 7″-0″ HM door still has to fit uniformly in it’s frame and function smoothly.

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