How to Install Overlay Cabinet Hinges

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This article will cover everything you need to know about overlay cabinet hinges. It includes an overview of the different terminology used to discuss overlay cabinets, as well as information about the different types of overlay cabinet doors and hinges. Finally, it details the steps required to install overlay cabinet hinges

Different Parts of a Cabinet

To discuss cabinet hinge installation, first we need to identify and define the different parts of cabinets. 

  • The part of the cabinet used for storage is called the carcass
  • When a front piece is attached to the carcass, obscuring it’s edges and providing a place to mount hardware, this is known as a face frame
  • When there is no front piece, the style of cabinet is known as ‘frameless’. Frameless cabinets are sometimes referred to as European style cabinets. 

Overlay cabinets have doors that do not nestle inside the frame of the cabinet. Instead, they completely cover the opening to the interior of the cabinet. They are usually used with face frame cabinets, but can also be paired with frameless models.

The opposite of overlay cabinet doors are inset cabinet doors. Inset cabinet doors do not rest on the carcass or frame of the cabinet when closed. Instead, they lie flush with the carcass or face frame, inside of the cabinet opening. 

Types of Overlay Cabinet Doors

There are two kinds of overlay cabinet doors; full, and partial overlay. Some hinges can be used with either kind of doors

Full Overlay Cabinet Doors

Full overlay cabinet doors can be used with face frame or frameless cabinets. They completely cover the carcass and the opening of the cabinet when closed, whether the cabinet has a front face or not. 

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Learn how to install drawer slides on full frame cabinets.

Partial Overlay Cabinet Doors

Partial overlay cabinet doors also completely cover the opening of the cabinet. When closed, there is a space between the doors that allows the face frame or carcass of the cabinet to be seen.

They are more commonly paired with face frame cabinets than frameless styles. 

Types of Overlay Cabinet Hinges

The mounting hardware used to attach the cabinet doors to the carcass and/or face frame is called a hinge. Hinges allow the door to swing open and closed, and can also determine how slowly or quickly this happens.

Some hinges can be used with either frameless or face frame cabinets, while others are specific to one kind of cabinet. Similarly, some hinges can be used with either overlay or inset doors, while others are made specifically for one style or another. 

‘Overlay cabinet hinges’ can refer to any hinge used to mount an overlay cabinet door onto a cabinet carcass or face frame. 

Butt Hinge

A half-inch butt hinge is a common type of hinge for overlay cabinets. These hinges have two plates, connected by a pin. One plate is installed on the cabinet frame, and the other is fastened to the back of the door. When closed, the plates are hidden, and only the pin can be seen. 

This kind of hinge usually requires a mortise to be cut into the frame of the cabinet. Otherwise, the hinge will be too thick to allow the cabinet door to lie flush with the cabinet frame when closed.

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Flush Mount Hinge

Flush hinges are a low-profile version of butt hinges. They are attached in the same way, but one plate can nestle inside the other. This helps the cabinet door sit flush on the cabinet frame.

They are also sometimes called ‘no-mortise hinges’, because they usually do not require a mortise cut into the cabinet frame. 

European Hinge

European hinges require a circular mortise cut into the cabinet frame. The design makes it easy to remove cabinet doors for refinishing or cleaning. European hinges have adjustable alignment, sometimes in several directions. This makes installation easier than butt or flush mount hinges, as alignment can be adjusted after installation

European hinges are available for both partial overlay and full overlay cabinet doors. European partial overlay hinges are sometimes called ‘half-crank’ hinges. 

Surface Mount Hinge

Surface mount hinges can be used with partial overlay cabinet doors. They are mounted with one plate on the exterior surface of the cabinet frame. The other plate is attached to the exterior of the cabinet door. They are visible when the cabinet doors are closed. 

Wraparound Hinge

Wraparound hinges are used to support heavy or large cabinet doors. They are attached both to the inside of the cabinet opening and to the back of the cabinet face frame. Full wraparound hinges offer more support than partial wraparound hinges. 

Overlay Cabinet Hinge Features

Hinges are distinguished not just by their type, but also by the way they affect the opening and closing of the cabinet door. 

Free Swing

This type of hinge allows the door to open and shut freely. It does not speed or slow the closing of the door. 

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Soft Close

Soft close hinges allow the door to swing freely for all but the last few inches. At that point, a built-in mechanism slows the door down, no matter how much force you’re using to close it.

Soft-close hinges are a quieter alternative to traditional hinges. They are similar to soft close drawer slides, which have the same effect for drawers.

Snap Close

Snap close hinges swing freely until the door is almost closed. Then, they quickly snap shut. These kind of hinges take a bit more effort to open than soft close or free swing hinges, and can be used to secure cabinets inside work vans or recreational vehicles. 

How to Install Overlay Cabinet Hinges

Overlay cabinet hinges attach to the carcass or face frame of the cabinet, and to the cabinet door. Here are the steps for installation.

  1. Measure the overlay. A half-inch overlay would refer to cabinet doors that cover the entire cabinet opening and extend half an inch onto the cabinet carcass or frame. You will need to account for the overlay when installing the hinges.
  2. Choose your hinges. See the list of hinge types and features to choose the perfect match for your cabinets. Most cabinet doors will need two hinges. Be sure to choose hinges strong enough to support the weight of your cabinet door. 
  3. Attach the hinges to the door. Lay the cabinet door down on a flat surface, with the back facing up. Use screws to attach the hinges to the back of the door. Measure from the top and bottom of the cabinet door to ensure that the hinges are evenly spaced. Make sure to account for the overlay. A cabinet hardware jig can make this process faster and easier if you’re working a lot of cabinets.
  4. Cut a mortise, if necessary. A mortise is a recess or hole cut into the cabinet carcass or face frame. This allows part of the hinge to be sunk into the carcass or face frame. Mortises can be used to provide extra support to the hinge, or to ensure overlay doors can lie flat. 

The easiest way to cut a mortise is to use a jig. There are specialty jigs available for certain types of hinges. European style hinges, for example, require a circular mortise, while butt hinges are generally rectangular in shape. 

  1. Mount the doors. Insert the hinge into the mortise, if applicable. Use a drill to insert screws into the provided holes, attaching the hinge to the cabinet face frame or carcass. Have a companion hold the cabinet door steady during this process. 
  2. Check the alignment. Open and close the door to check that it swings freely and closes completely. Door pads or ‘bumpers’ can be used to fill any gap created by the hinge between the door and carcass or frame.

Conclusion

Overlay cabinet doors can be mounted using several different kinds of hinges. Mount one panel of the hinge on the back of the door. Then, attach the other panel to the face frame or carcass of the cabinet. Take care to ensure proper alignment. 

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.