Boxland: Work Stations and Boxing Tips #4: Separating The Top and Cutting a Hinge to Fit

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Blog entry by Boxguy posted 05-27-2012 12:33 AM 13630 reads 38 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Cutting Spline Slots Part 4 of Boxland: Work Stations and Boxing Tips series Part 5: Mortising Piano Hinges In a Box (An Easy Method) »

How do you make a hinge and fit it in a box so that it looks like this when you are done?

You Could Use This!...My Hinge Station or a Hack Saw


Just Browsing? If you want to casually breeze through this just read the dark print and look at the pictures. For more serious readers, I have included details in the fine print.

Economics: Price is a major consideration if you are making boxes for sale. I simply can’t afford to put $35 or more into a set of fine brass hinges and make any money on the boxes I sell. I wish I could. So I choose to use piano hinges that have been cut from a 4 foot length so they fit the particular box that I am working on at the moment. I use 1 1/16 inch wide brass coated steel hinges and try to keep my side thicknesses at 5/8 of an inch. Steel plated piano hinges are my compromise between economy. appearance, and function.

Reasoning: Other than money why this choice? I am trying to make boxes that will still be in use 100 years from now. With modern glues and careful joinery, I may have a chance. Piano hinges are the most stable and strongest way I know to join the lid to the bottom of a box and allow it to swing open. Other styles of boxes lend themselves well to pin hinges and pivot hinges on the outside of the box, but I have not made many of that style of box.

The Process In Pictures: It may take some scrolling, but I have tried to have a picture for each step.

Separating The Top:

Set Your Blade Height: First use a scrap from the original board you started with to set your saw blade to slightly beyond the thickness of the side of your box. (If you lost the scrap you can set the blade by the edge showing on top or bottom, but it is more difficult to be accurate, especially if you rounded those edges as I have here.) Note the shop-made zero clearance insert…good idea.

Set Your Fence: Now set your fence to the proper position to cut your lid off. Always keep the lid to the left of your blade. Cut through the two long sides, but lower your blade so you don’t quite cut through with the end cuts. Notice that I marked the back in chalk so I can be sure to put it back together properly after it is separated. With close grain patterns you often can’t tell the front from the back until you apply a finish. Remember! For the two end cuts lower the blade enough so it doesn’t cut all the way through the box side. This lowering keeps the blade from being pinched by the box. When the box pinches the saw blade a lot of bad things happen to the box and maybe to you as well.

Finish Cutting the Ends: Now cut the remaining sliver away in the two end cuts with a box cutter and separate the lid from the bottom.


Making The Hinge:

Size It: The first step is to set your hinge on the box and determine how long it should be. Obviously you don’t want it to end in the middle of a screw hole, but you do want it to be close to the inside edge of the box.

Cut The Hinge: I took an old metal-cutting band saw and made it into a tool specifically for this job, but you can cut it by hand using a hack saw.

Smoothing And Rounding: I use a cheap ($35) one inch belt sander that I bought from Grizzly for this. But you can use any sander or even just do it by hand. Just remove the burrs and any saw marks. I round off the inside and outside corners so they won’t be too sharp and cut customers.

Shorten The Pin: Over time the hinge’s pin would work loose and stick out as a sharp point. To prevent this I use a small punch to make the pin slide to one end. Shown here is a specialized tool. It is a magnet over a metal bar with a hole in it. The advantage of this is that I can use two hands to work and the magnet will hold the hinge for me. Obviously, you can do this just using something like a small nail to slide the pin to the hinge end.

Cut The Pin: Pictured is cutting off the extended pin.

Stuff The Pin Back In Place: Using the pin punch, slide the pin back inside the knuckle of the hinge.

Crimp The Hinge Ends: Using a ball peen hammer and a small anvil lightly tap the hinge ends to crimp them closed and prevent the pin from slipping out of the knuckle. You may need to resand the hinge if you have a burr or sharp end after peening the ends of the hinge.

Painting The Ends: Since I use steel hinges, they would soon rust if they were not coated. I spray paint the ends to prevent this. Notice that everything you need to do this job is at one station. (See the holders for pliers and hammer?) Once I walk up to this station, I can make a hinge that will fit a box without taking a step. With practice and this station it takes about 10 minutes to size, cut, smooth, shorten the pin, crimp the knuckle, re-smooth, and paint the ends of a hinge. Now, how do you mortise and install these hinges in a box? Read the next chapter of this blog. “How To Install a Hinge to find out.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the hinge station itself. I finished building it this spring and it has seen hard use in a short time. This summer I’ll make the final refinements and paint it to make it pretty.

My Hinge Station (The Chop Smith)

Everything is at hand. Even a trash can.


Paint and New Hinges

Pin punch, Anvil, Magnetic Hinge Holder

Belt Grinder

Modified Metal Cutting Band Saw (It sports a 1/2 HP motor)

-- Big Al in IN

13 comments so far

View kenn's profile


813 posts in 4958 days

#1 posted 05-27-2012 03:13 AM

That’s the way to keep production up, organization. You’ve got a great space there that you’ve worked all the bugs out of, thanks for sharing it with us.

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View GrandpaLen's profile


1652 posts in 3511 days

#2 posted 05-27-2012 04:53 AM

Big Al,

You can’t fault a complete and organized work bench.

While ‘Hinge Station’ clearly defines that location, the ‘Beast’ needs a nom de plume befitting it’s total Glory.

I dub thee “THE CHOPSMITH”. (you have my permission to use that, if you so choose) ;-)

You are proof that David Letterman and Tony Stuart aren’t the only talent from Indiana my friend.

- Len – Nabb, In.

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View JoeyG's profile


1275 posts in 3864 days

#3 posted 05-27-2012 11:41 AM

That’s a great set up you have there Al, I wish I was able to stay that organized, but no matter how hard I try things still seem to get spread out.

-- JoeyG ~~~

View jeepturner's profile


947 posts in 4031 days

#4 posted 05-27-2012 01:54 PM

Nice well laid out blog, with every picture telling the story, and the supporting writing explaining it well.
I think you have a keen sense of utility. Nice work station.

-- Mel,

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4043 days

#5 posted 05-28-2012 09:44 PM

Luv the hinge station. Grt tool holders. Everything you need right at hand

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View The Box Whisperer's profile

The Box Whisperer

678 posts in 3309 days

#6 posted 12-09-2012 11:34 PM

Nice set up, I never would have thought to cut piano hinges to length.

-- "despite you best efforts and your confidence that your smarter and faster than a saw blade at 10k rpm…. your not …." - Charles Neil

View Ken90712's profile


18066 posts in 4427 days

#7 posted 02-17-2013 04:35 PM

Good idea on cutting the top off, man you are organized with all your little mini bins of supplies. Well done.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View Tony Strupulis's profile

Tony Strupulis

260 posts in 4362 days

#8 posted 12-05-2013 06:01 AM

I’ll give your method a try to cut the lid next time!

-- Tony -

View harum's profile


426 posts in 2882 days

#9 posted 03-11-2014 02:27 AM

Impressive designs and textures! Thank you for sharing the techniques. I was wondering if you would have any tips on how to match the sides to the top for a gapless fit and how to minimize seasonal movement of the top relative to the sides. Again, greatly appreciate your blog tutorials. H.

-- "If you're not counting the ripples when throwing pebbles in the water, you're wasting your time."

View DocSavage45's profile


9069 posts in 4081 days

#10 posted 02-10-2016 04:06 AM


Just checked out the hinge blog. I’m making a prototype box nd my customer/long time friend has certain features he’d like. One being a piano hing! Thought of you. Thanks for doing the hard work. Now I just have to remember this when I’m in the shop. LOL!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View dannmarks's profile


1028 posts in 1820 days

#11 posted 01-14-2017 02:08 PM

I love your work sir. There are so many that are awesome that there is no point in picking them out.

View Trev76's profile


13 posts in 1357 days

#12 posted 01-30-2018 08:36 PM

Thanks for the information!

View Klusy's profile


47 posts in 2826 days

#13 posted 04-28-2018 09:58 AM

A nicely rendered blog, each picture tells a story, and supporting writing explains well.Great arrangement that you have.When I have more time, I have to read it all. Many interesting tips and preparations.

-- Antonín,Rožná.Česká republika

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