Hinge Types – A Modern Overview

in Hinge History

from The Encyclopedia of Hardware, with some minor edits [1]

Hinge types come in a seemingly endless variety, but keeping in mind the following facts should eliminate some of the confusion.Many companies specify that hinges are “handed”-that is, designed to go on either the left or right hand of the door. In some cases the left hand is considered left as you view the door opening from the outside of the house; in others it is from the inside. This can get very complicated, and the simple fact is that unless you are involved in a very special situation, you don’t need to know the hands, because hinges are interchangeable. All you need to do is turn them over, and they become lefthanded or right-handed, as required. 

Different types of hinges come in various sizes; in the very small sizes they would be used on cabinet doors. In selecting any hinge for a door, there is a variety of data one should know: door thickness, weight, and clearance. But a long-time engineering trick makes it simpler: If the hinge seems to be in proportion to the door it’s going on, use it. For example, if you are hanging an exterior door, you won’t use tiny hinges, nor would you use extra large ones. We are all generally familiar with hinge size and your own judgment should suffice.

Actually, it would be extremely difficult to select hinges that are too small, simply because hinges are tremendously strong—eight or more times, generally, stronger than the job they are called upon to do. As a rule of thumb, though, for a normal-weight interior sash 1-3/8″ thick or hollow-core flush (flat and smooth door use 1 pair of 3-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ butt hinges; for a solid door 1-3/8″ thick use 1-1/2 pairs of 3-1/2″ x 3-1/2″; for a door 1-3/4″ thick use 1 pair of 4″ x 4″ butts; for a solid-core door 1-3/4″ thick use 1-1/2 pairs of 4″ x 4″ butts; and for door blinds 1-1/8″ thick use 1-1/2 pairs of 3″ x 3″ butts. The thickness of the door dictates the size of the hinges and the weight and the number of hinges.

detail drawing of a butt hinge

Butt Hinge

The butt hinge is commonly used on interior and exterior doors because it is neat looking. It consists of two rectangular leaves with screw holes. The leaves are joined by a pin or metal rod. Withdraw this pin and the leaves will separate, handy for when you want to take down the door. Both leaves are mortised, or recessed: one into the edge of the door, the other in the jamb, or door framework. When the door is closed, the leaves meet, or butt together, with only the pin showing.

HardwareSource carries plain bearing butt hinges, ball bearing hinges, and small butt hinges.


The T-hinge or tee-hinge, as the name suggests, is shaped like the letter T. The horizontal part of the T goes on’the door frame, while the vertical part is screwed to the door.

This hinge is flush mounted-not recessed into the door and you’d use the plain kind where you care more about function than about good looks. T-hinges are commonly used on garage doors, to hinge chest lids, and for other utility jobs. Ornamental T-hinges are also available.

detail drawing of a T-hinge or tee hinge
detail drawing of a basic strap hingedrawing of an ornamental strap hinge

Strap Hinge

This is another hinge for utility rather than looks. It consists of two long narrow leaves of equal size extending from a single knuckle. Strap hinges come in various sizes, both large and small; but the length of the leaves militates against their being mounted on a normal doorjamb. Rather, they are the kind of hinge to use where you have a lid of some sort that you want hinged in the center. In marine use, for example, you’ll find strap hinges on fish box lids. When small fish are caught, either side of the lid can be lifted and the fish tossed in the box. When a large fish is caught, the entire lid can be lifted off and the fish placed in the box. For around the home you might use a strap hinge on an outdoor storage box.

Strap hinges are commonly available in the same finishes (plain and galvanized steel) as T-hinges. You can also get them in bronze, but these are ordinarily for boats.

Gate Hinge

The gate hinge has two parts: an L-shaped lag screw that screws into the fence post and a leaf with a knurled nut that fits over the L of the first part and is screwed to the gate. Gate hinges were specifically designed so that they could be easily attached to round posts, but they can be mounted on square posts as well.

While they are theoretically available in a variety of sizes, you’ll usually find them in sizes of either 5″ or 6″.

An advantage of a gate hinge is that if the gate is hung and it is not straight, the hinge can be adjusted to compensate: Just lift the gate off the hinge, turn the lag-screw part of the hinge, and rehang the door .

detail drawing of a gate hinge with an L-shaped lag screwGate hinge. Screwing or unscrewing it raises the door for
leveling and clearance.
detail drawing of a double-acting hinge

Special-Purpose Hinges

A number of special-purpose hinges are of particular interest.

One type of hinge is for dividers that you want to fold in both directions or that you want to fold flat for storage. This is called the double-acting hinge. It comes in two forms; one type has two leaves and knuckles and is somewhat loose jointed because both leaves can open at once. The other is more complicated but is designed to permit the doors to fold either way; they allow the door to open only one edge at a time.

Soss Hinge

This type of hinge (for cabinets, folding doors, and shutters but not regular doors) is named after its inventor and is for situations where you want a hinge that is completely concealed. The Soss hinge is mortised into the door edges, and when the door is closed, you can’t see any part of it.

Soss hinges are very strong, but they are very difficult to install. There is simply no room for error; they must be lined up directly opposite each other right on the money. They are also expensive.

shows 3 steps in installing a soss, or invisible or concealed hinge
The Soss hinge will result in a completely concealed hinge-but it’s difficult to install. Mortises are drilled and the hinges slipped into place and tightened.

Piano, or Continuous, Hinge

Another name for this type of hinge is the continuous hinge, but is commonly called a piano hinge because this is what it is normally used on. It is a long hinge with very narrow leaves and many screw holes. It was designed for a piano because it combines strength with good looks. (It is commonly available in brass finish.) You couldn’t use strap or other hinges on a piano lid without detracting from its looks.

Piano hinges are available in various sizes. They are especially good where the material is thin and strength and good looks are required.

continuous hinge in action for the lid of a toy box 

Continuous hinge in action

configuration of door and frame for "lip edge" cabinet doors; this aids with selection and installation of cabinet door hingesconfiguration of door and frame for "overlay" cabinet doors; this aids with selection and installation of cabinet door hinges

Cabinet Hinges

Hinges are made for three kinds of doors: lipped, overlay, and flush. The lipped door is one in which a lip has been cut completely around the door. The overlay door is cut larger all around than the opening so that its edges rest on the cabinet frame. Flush doors ride inside the frame with their faces flush with the frame face. Each door style dictates the type of hinge that may be used on it.

There are various kinds of hinges, each designed to be used with one or more of these kinds of doors.

One of the most popular hinges is the pivot style. It is designed for use on the overlay door. One hinge is mounted on the top of the door and one on the bottom, with portions of each hinge bent over and screw mounted to frame and door. The result is a concealed hinge.

If you prefer a hinge that lets you automatically close the door, consider the self-closing type. This has a light spring inside that does this. This type of hinge can be used for any type of door-lip, overlay, or flush.

configuration of door and frame for "flush" cabinet doors; this aids with selection and installation of cabinet door hingesdetail view and cross-section for the application of a surface-mounted hinge to a flush cabinet door detail view and cross-section for the application of a pivot hinge to an overlay cabinet door
detail view of a pivot hinge drawing to help install a pivot hinge
detail view of a butterfly hinge
Butterfly hinge 

detail view of a self-closing hinge along with detail view and cross-section for the application of a self-closing hinge to a cabinet door, any type: lip, overlay, or flush

Butterfly hinges are so called because when fully opened they have the shape of a butterfly. They are for flush-door application only. Many people also like them on cabinet lids. They can add an effective, decorative touch, particularly if they’re made of brass, which many are. This is our collection of ornamental hinges, including butterfly hinges

Hinges vary greatly in size and thickness as well as style. … Most manufacturers card hinges and provide complete installation instructions; some even turn the card into a tool: It becomes the template for making the screw holes. Most hinges have the manufacturer’s name stamped on them. This should help you in locating the proper hinge.

Hinges come in a variety of finishes … Chrome, antiqued copper, black, and brass (either plated or pure brass) are quite common.

You’ll likely want to match, the hinge to the style of knobs or pulls, and there is a wide variety of styles to choose from. For example, Belwith International, Ltd., makes antique brass hinges and pulls as well as matching units in black antique and white gold, among others. Weiser offers polished metal knobs, pulls, and hinges as well as etched hardware and Early American styles. Amerock offers, among other things, antique copper and bronze.

Information compiled and written by Tom Philbin
The Encyclopedia of Hardware


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