Mortising a Hinge with a Chisel
A step-by-step guide to laying out and cutting a mortise for a door hinge
If you’ve got a houseful of doors to outfit with hinges, a router and a hinge template are what you need to get the job done quickly. But these tools are expensive, and they require setup time. If you’re installing only one or two doors, you can mortise the hinges just as fast using a sharp chisel.
Unlike most cutting tools, a wood chisel is not fully sharpened at the factory. For fine carpentry work, the back of the chisel must be perfectly flat, and the beveled side must be razor sharp. Plenty of jigs are available to ease the sharpening process, or you can send your chisels to a local sharpening service.
Becoming proficient with a chisel is useful for more than just hinges. Among other things, the mortising and carving techniques shown here can be used to install strike plates.
Laying out the mortise
Follow the sequence below to lay out the mortise and mark the mortise using a pencil, a sharp knife, and an awl.
Alternatively, there’s a $10 tool that can eliminate the guesswork. With three sharp edges that match the dimensions of a typical (3-in., 3-1/2-in., or 4-in.) butt hinge, a Butt Marker (The Stanley Works; www.stanleyworks.com; 860-225-5111) establishes and cuts the outlines of the hinge mortise with a few good whacks from a hammer.
Working with a chisel
Follow the sequence below to chisel out the mortise.
After creating a flawless mortise, you don’t want a bunch of crooked screws sticking out at all angles. A #8 self-centering hinge bit, also called a Vix bit (Eagle America; 800-872-2511; www.eagle-america.com), ensures that all screws are centered and plumb. Using the hinge as a template, place the bit in the screw holes and drill.
Tom O’Brien is a former Fine Homebuilding editor. Photos: Brian Pontolilo