By Joshua Farnsworth

In this article, and the above video, I show my simple 4 step method for adding historical style hinges onto a dovetail chest.

Historical but hinges and slotted screws from toilet bowl cleaner

In my last video & article I showed how to use toilet bowl cleaner to turn these inexpensive, zinc-coated hinges and screws from a hardware store, into lovely historical hardware (see the video & article here). But you can use any hinges or screws for your project.

The Works Toilet bowl cleaner stripping zinc from hinges and screws

I recently made these 4 dovetail chests for my kids for Christmas. I wanted these chests to have a very timeless and traditional look, which includes antique-looking hardware.

How to Install Hinges on a Chest or Box

In this article (and the video above) I show you my easy method for installing the hinges. This simple 4 step method can be used for various sized chests, boxes, or cupboards. Before we start, I’ve listed the tools and hardware used in this woodworking lesson.

Historical but hinges and slotted screws from toilet bowl cleaner

Tools used in this woodworking lesson:

Click the links below to find the items I used in the video and article.

(Some of the above links may earn us a commission if you make a purchase. However, this does not impact our recommendations, nor does it cost you anything).

1. Marking the Hinge Mortises

Now that I’ve got the hardware looking good, I’ll use a pencil to mark the distance in from the edge of the chest where I want the hinge to go.

Adding hinges to a dovetail chest box

In this case it’s about 3-inches from the edge. But do what looks good on your piece of furniture.

Adding hinges to a dovetail chest box

Next I take the two hinges, oriented like in the photo above, and I lay them in place on the line that I just drew. Then I take a sharp marking knife and make two tick marks: first on the pencil mark, and then on the other side of the hinge. For greater accuracy I use the flat face of the knife against the hinge.

Adding hinges to a dovetail chest box using a marking knife

In the case of this chest, I want to leave a little bit of wood behind it, so I pull it toward me and leave about an eighth of an inch behind.

Adding hinges to a dovetail chest box

I make a little tick mark with my pencil, and then I set my marking gauge to that distance. Then I strike the line with the marking gauge.

Adding hinges to a dovetail chest box using marking gauge

Keep this setting, because it will be the same for all the other hinges that you’re installing. Don’t worry if the mark goes beyond where your hinge will be. That’s just a maker mark that will show how you made the chest. Then I extend the first tick marks with the marking knife, using the combination square as a guide.

Adding hinges to a dovetail chest box using marking gauge and combination square

Again, I position the flat face of the knife against the square. Then I set another marking gauge for the thickness of the hinge.

Adding hinges to a dovetail chest box

You can also just do this step later if you only have one marking gauge. But I make sure that I set my gauge to extend just over the edge of the hinge. Having that extra depth will help the lid close with a smaller gap. Then I strike the line.

Adding hinges to a dovetail chest box

2. Cutting the Hinge Mortises

Now you can see the mortise that I’ll remove for the hinge to sit in. I like to clamp a scrap board to the top of the chest to help prevent me from blowing out the fragile back side of the mortise.

Clamping safety board to prevent blowout when installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

I just use some quick clamps on each end of the chest, and just cover up the rear line to give myself a little more protection. Then I take a sharp chisel and deepen the two cross grain marks.

Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest using a chisel to layout the mortise

Next I take a chisel and remove some of the wood from the mortise. I try to not go down to the baseline yet.

Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest using a chisel to cut the mortise

And you can see how the scrap wood helps to stop my chisel from going too far. I’m also using my hands to control the cut. My right hand is pushing, and my left hand is putting the brakes on. Occasionally I’ll take a very light cut on top. Be very careful with this or else you’ll split the back right off. I’m just lightly severing the fibers. And then on the next cuts, I can go down closer to the line.

Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest using a chisel to cut the mortise

I do a bit of cleanup work to clear out the remaining wild fibers. Now I use a router plane to go down to the final depth, and flatten the bottom of the mortise.

Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest using a router plane

If you don’t have a router plane, you can just eyeball the flatness of the mortise, and you can get it pretty close. But a router plane really makes this more reliable and faster. Be very gentile with the router plane, because you can easily break out that small piece of wood. And I continue to sever the stray wood fibers with a chisel. Now you can see how nicely the hinge fits into the mortise. It is just a hair lower than the top of the wood.

Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest test fitting

3. Installing the Hinges on the Chest

Now that the hinge mortises are cut, I move onto installing them. I lay them in place and use a sharp pencil to outline the screw holes.

outlining holes with a pencil while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

Next I use an awl to mark the center of each hole. Push hard, because this will help center your drill bit.

Using an awl to mark for a drilling whole while installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

I’m using an egg beater and a drill bit that is a bit narrower than the screw shaft. You can also use a power drill.

Using an egg beater drill to bore a hinge hole Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

Just bore the hole until you get to the depth of the screw.

Using an egg beater drill to bore a hinge hole Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

Before I insert a screw I dip it in some wax, like this beeswax furniture wax that I made in a previous video and article (see it here).

waxing screws while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

This will help the screw in way easier. And then I drive each screw down most of the way.

Driving screws with a screw driver while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

I don’t drive the screw all the way down yet, because I like to make sure both screws are centered in their holes.

Driving screws with a screw driver while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

You can see how the hinge can shift, so I go back and forth tightening them a bit at a time. And I try to “clock” the screws, by aligning the slots. It’s just aesthetics.

Driving screws with a screw driver while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

4. Install the Hinges on the Lid

Now I set the lid back on the chest, and align the pencil marks with the hinges. I then use a marking knife to transfer the size of the hinge to the lid, with a small tick mark.

Marking the hinge on the lid while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

I put the knife right up against the hinge. I move the lid to my workbench vise to layout the hinge mortises. This step is pretty fast and easy because I still have my settings on my marking gauges.

Using a marking gauge while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

I first mark the depth with the cutting gauge (see above), and then the width (see below):

Using a marking gauge while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

Then I use a combination square and marking knife to connect the lines.

marking a mortise with a marking knife and square while Installing butt hinges on the lid of a dovetail chest

It’s as easy as that. And the marking lines are hard to see, so I use a sharp pencil to darken them.

marking a mortise with a pencil while Installing butt hinges on the lid of a dovetail chest

Cutting out the mortise on the lid is just about the same process as on the box, so I’ won’t repeat it.

Deepening the mortise layout with a chisel marking a mortise with a marking knife and square while Installing butt hinges on the lid of a dovetail chest

Just layout and chop out the mortise and use the router plane (if you have one) to flatten the mortise bottom.

Cleaning out a hinge mortise with a router plane marking a mortise with a marking knife and square while Installing butt hinges on the lid of a dovetail chest

Now for boring the screw holes on the lid. This is where the tape on the drill bit is really important, because I really want to make sure I stop well before I go through the top of the lid.

Boring hinge holes marking a mortise with a marking knife and square while Installing butt hinges on the lid of a dovetail chest

For the lid I like to start the screws before I install the hinge, because it’s harder to start a screw hole when I’m trying to balance the lid next to the box.

Driving a screw while Installing butt hinges on the lid of a dovetail chest

I don’t need to go all the way down. Just enough to make it easy when the hinges are on.

Resting a box lid on boards while Installing butt hinges on the lid of a dovetail chest

Now I stack some wood to make it easier to balance my lid upside down while I attach the hinges.

Driving screws on a chest lid with a screw driver while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

And I just add the waxed screws in just like before, except I don’t tighten down any of the lid screws until they’re all in place.

Driving screws on a chest lid with a screw driver while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

Then just like before I go back & forth, and rotate tightening each screw a bit until they’re all tight. And again, I like to clock the screws to make them look a little nicer.

Driving screws on a chest lid with a screw driver while Installing butt hinges on a dovetail chest

So here you can see how amazingly historical these inexpensive hinges and screws look, and even more importantly, they work great and will last for many years.

Historical butt hinges on a dovetail chest

Conclusion

Historical butt hinges on a dovetail chest

In the next video I’ll show how I add traditional-looking hasps so I can lock the chest.

hasp on dovetail chest

So make sure you subscribe to my newsletter below so you won’t miss that video. If you have questions or want to share some of your own tips, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

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Pointing finger vertical