Choosing Cabinet Doors and Hinges

Cabinet door hinge choice is going to differ depending on the style of door you have.  Inset or overlay.  Let’s talk about doors…and then hinges.

Overlay Doors  sit atop your face-frame (or cabinet if you are building frame-less cabinets).
Overlay Doors


Overlay doors are the easiest to install because they don’t have to be exactly, perfectly fitted.  They are more forgiving if your cabinet door opening is not perfectly square.

The overlay can cover as much of your faeframe as you like depending on the hinge you purchase and it’s always a good idea to purchase your hinges before you build your doors.   HINGES open up a whole new discussion.  It seems there are literally a Gazillion different options out there.  (More later…)


Inset Doors sit flush with your faceframe.  (Inside the door opening — on the same plane as the face-frame.)Inset doors

Inset doors are difficult!  period.

If your cabinet door opening is not perfectly square, you have to trim your door to match the imperfectness of your opening.

It’s best to build your inset doors a bit larger than your opening and then trim to fit.
If you’re good, you’ll end up with 1/16″ gap (clearance) on all sides of your door.  Double doors will have 1/16″ gap between doors.

Be prepared for a lot of fiddle factor if you are determined to do inset doors.  You may have to trim, fit, plane, fit, sand, fit… many times before you get a perfect fit.

Your clearance might end up being larger than 1/16″ on all sides, just make sure it’s even on all sides and cut yourself some slack.  Like I said, inset doors are difficult!  :-)



When purchasing hinges, you have to get the ones that will work with the type of door you want to build.

Inset, overlay, face-frame, frame-less, concealed, non morticed, etc.  There are a lot of options– which is why it’s a good idea to get your hinges and then build doors that work with those hinges.


Overlay Options:

This is the kind of hinge I normally use for overlay doors on face-frames.  They are fully concealed which means they are mounted on the inside of the cabinet and back of the door so you don’t see the hinge when the door is closed.

face frame hinges


I like to get hinges that have three way adjustment.  After you install the hinge, you can slightly adjust the position of the door height, the overlay and the distance between the door and the face-frame.

This is another option for face-frame concealed hinges.

170 degree face frame hinge


These two options are cup hinges.  They require you to drill a cup hole into the back of the door with a forstner bit.  Make sure you have the right size bit for the cup hinge you bought.  I use the Jig It from Rockler which keeps my drill straight, makes it easy to set up for uniform holes in multiple doors and have a depth stop so I don’t drill clean through my door.

Jig It for concealed hinges


This invisible spring hinge doesn’t require any drilling but they are a little more tricky to install.

invisible spring hinges


Then there are Overlay Hinges where you can see part of the hinge as well.

overlay hinge


Inset Hinge Options:

Wrap around non mortise inset hinges for frameless or face-frame cabinets.  Part of this hinge is visible on the front.  It is not fully concealed.

Inset hing


Fully concealed non mortise inset hinges for frame-less cabinets.  Non mortise means you don’t have to cut away any of the wood.  The hinge sits directly on top of the wood on cabinet and door parts.

inset hinges


Fully concealed inset cup hinges for frame-less cabinets.

* This is the kind of hinge I most commonly use for frameless cabinets.  (When I build a cabinet with a faceframes but there is no lip on my faceframe — this is also what I use.)

inset hinges


Fully concealed inset cup hinges for face-frame cabinets.

inset faceframe hinges



There are many more options than these but these are the type of hinges I use most often.


Things to note:

When building overlay doors, I determine how much overlay I want and order hinges accordingly.

I most often do 1/2″ overlay when building overlay doors WITH faceframes.

With all the choices and options out there, it can be a bit overwhelming.  I like the idea of ordering one of a few different hinge types and testing them out to see what you feel most comfortable with.   Working with wood is a world of trial and error after all.

Good luck.  ;-)


  1. Carissa says:

    Which hinges would I need to use if I wanted to replace my partial overlay cabinet doors with full overlay ones without removing the face frames?

  2. I have the exact hinge you mentioned under the caption “Then there are Overlay Hinges where you can see part of the hinge as well.” My problem is that on the 3 sets of doors we have that have no center stile, the doors are pushed too far toward center, therefore not enough space to close properly. Any suggestions other than taking down the doors and planing them? Hate that option on already completely finished doors. Great informative post.

  3. Sandra,
    Good overview of a complicated array of product & fitting styles.
    I would like you to please comment on a different aspect:
    1) Just about all kitchen cupboard hinges I see go rusty after a few years, say 5 to 10. They remain fit for purpose but look terrible. Nickel plated steel plainly does not cut it! Is there any solution?
    2) I also note that it does not take long before doors start to sag & the gaps become irregular. Not hard to fix just lie on your back, take all doors off, then tighten everything & replace – then take a cold shower you will need it! It seems the cup sections remain well fixed but the fixing plates on the inside of the cupboard sides just work loose. This ought not to happen but it does & with all the concealed overlay hinges I have seen. Is there an answer? I suspect the hinges are under rated, 2 hinges for doors that typically are nearly 10Lbs may be the reason. Can you please comment.

  4. Sandra, I’m so glad that I came across your blog! You’ve given so much great information that I can use every day in my job doing kitchen cabinet sales. And then there’s the whole DIY part for me personally! I’m really hoping that you can answer my question, though. I have a customer who is refacing her cabinets. She has frameless cabinets and used to have exposed hinges. She wanted concealed hinges so we had the hinge holes drilled 1″ (center) from the edge. She has her new doors but when she hangs them, there’s a 1/4″ gap between the door and center stile, even after adjusting them. We were using full overlay hinges. Can you advise which type of overlay hinge to use and how to rectify the gap? Thanks so much!

  5. One thing about those Blum overlay hinges – I think there are different types depending on how much your doors overlay the face frame. You might have a 3/8″ overlay, a 1/2″ overlay, or even an overlay of more than an inch. You need to size your door with one of these overlay dimensions in mind – design and buy accordingly.

    • Yep. All overlay hinges have different overlays to choose from. (Which is why I suggest selecting and purchasing your hinges before you build your door.) European hinges generally have “full, half or adjustable” and Faceframe overlay hinges have specific partial Inch measurements.

      • Stephanie says:

        I have a hutch for dishes that has one broken hinge. There are no identifiable marks/name on the hinge. My hubby has searched local specialty hardware stores and on-line and i’ve searched as well come up with no match. How do I find a replacement or what are my options now?

  6. Cathy Michels says:

    Thank you Sandra. I have some bathroom cabinets I need to build and have been trying to decide what type of hinges I should use. I will definitely be ordering one of those Rockler jigs! Jigs like that remove my fear of failure and get the project moving forward! I agree with the comments above – you are awesome! :)

  7. You are so smart! I have no plans on doing any of this but if I did it would be an overlay door with your 3 way adjustable hinge. Sounds like a great starter door. I love your brilliance Sandra–you inform so many! I know–years of trial and error got you here! Boy, we are glad you’re here. Love your posts and new series with homeowners.

  8. Okay, I haven’t even finished reading this post, but I just have to comment. First of all, I think you are awesome. I have been wanting all kinds of things done to my house, and my husband is pretty capable, but very busy, and far less interested in house things than I am. I just look at the things you do, and I think how I can certainly learn to tackle more of the things that I want to. Second, a post like this is so helpful. I know it takes time to write and I just appreciate the education so much. So, thank you so much for being awesome, and also giving awesome-ness lessons… :)

    • Thank you Sarah. That was really sweet and heck yes, you certainly can tackle more things on your own. Go for it!

  9. Nancy Williams says:

    This is post is great! I have the cheap overlay hinges on all my kitchen and bathroom cabinets and would love to replace them with the Blum Frame Hinges if the overlay is big enough. Have you ever retrofitted existing cabinets with them?


    • I have not but there is no reason why you couldn’t.

      • but wouldn’t the holes from the original overlay hinges show? I have stained maple cabinets and would love to get rid of the overly hinges but I have two problems. the holes will show, and also, the doors are smaller than what is typical for hidden hinges. All the kitchen cabinetry that I have seen with hidden hinges have cabinet doors that literally touch. inotherwords, they completely cover the cabinet. any suggestions? should I replace the doors? would I save money doing that?