When it comes to cabinets, a lot hinges on the hinges. Hinge style and functionality have a huge effect on the overall appearance and performance of your cabinets and doors, maybe as much as the choice of wood or finish.

With such a wide range of options, how do you choose? This guide walks you through all the options and helps you choose the right one for your project. The best place to start is to figure out what type of cabinets and doors you have because that’s typically how they are broadly categorized.

#1 – Determine Cabinet Type (with corresponding hinges)

There are two basic types of cabinets:

Face-frame cabinets – face-frame cabinets incorporate a frame (often made from 1-1/2″ to 2″ wide solid wood) that is attached to the front edges, or face, of the case. Hinges mount to this face frame. This is the most common style in American cabinets.

Frameless cabinets – Frameless cabinets are essentially a four-sided box, typically made from 3/4″ thick stock. Hinges mount to the cabinet interior. Frameless cabinets also are sometimes called Euro-style cabinets.

#2 – Determine Door Overlay

Door overlay has to do with the position of the door in relation to the cabinet opening. The configurations for frameless and face-frame cabinets are slightly different.

These are the overlay types for face-frame cabinets

overlay door types for face frame cabinets

Overlay: Overlay doors on a Face Frame Cabinet doors do exactly what the name implies: They cover the cabinet opening completely, overlapping the cabinet case or face frame on all sides.

Inset: Inset doors, by contrast, fit entirely within the cabinet opening and sit flush with the cabinet sides or face frames when in the closed position.

Partial Inset: Partial-inset, 3/8″ inset or lipped doors overlap the cabinet opening slightly on all sides, but a 3/8″ x 3/8″ shoulder machined along all edges on the back of the door allows part of the door thickness to sit inside the opening.

These are the overlay types for frameless cabinets

overlay types for frameless cabinetsFull Overlay: A full-overlay door covers all or nearly all of the front edge of the cabinet. This overlay type typically is used for doors at the ends of a cabinet.

Half Overlay Cabinet: This overlay type is commonly used in the middle of a run of cabinets where the doors share a single partition wall. This will allow the door to cover half of the partition wall (or approximately 3/8″). Don’t confuse this with 1/2″ overlay, which will allow a door to cover up the cabinet or face frame by 1/2″.

Inset Cabinet: Inset door on frameless cabinets fit within the cabinet opening and sit flush with the front edges of the cabinet.

To see some photos of our cabinet projects, click here

#3 – Other Things To Think About when it comes to hinges

Decide whether you want to see them

In some applications, hinges are used to add stylistic detail to cabinetry; in others, visible ones would detract from the desired effect. There are three basic options:

hinge type comparison

Concealed: (often called a European or cup hinge) is not visible from the outside of the cabinet when the door is closed. It’s ideal for modern, minimalist applications in which visible hardware would detract from the design.

Semi-Concealed: A semi-concealed is partly visible from the outside of the cabinet when the door is closed and may incorporate details such as a decorative ball tip or final tip.

Exposed: This one is fully visible on the outside of the cabinet when the doors are closed.

Decide whether you want a traditional or a European hinge

hinge anatomy


Butt Hinge: The quintessential traditional hinge, it’s composed of two pivoting plates whose interlocking fingers form a barrel and are held together by a pin. One plate is attached to the door; the other, to the cabinet. Butt hinges sometimes require a mortise in the door and/or the cabinet to prevent an excessive gap.

Deluxe (adjustable mount) Butt: A butt hinge with elongated mounting slots that allow you to adjust doors horizontally and vertically for a perfect fit.

Knife: Shaped like scissors. One half of hinge mounts to top edge (or bottom edge) of the door. Other half mounts to horizontal cabinet edge directly above the (and below) door.

European: A type of concealed hinge especially popular on frameless Euro-style cabinets but also available for face-frame applications. European hinges have a mounting plate that secures to the cabinet and a cup that seats in a (typically 35mm) circular mortise drilled in the back of the door. One popular benefit of Euro-style hinges is that they offer adjustment in two and sometimes three directions, making it easy to fine-tune the alignment of the door.

Side adjustment regulates the gaps between doors, cabinets, and walls for perfect parallel alignment. Height adjustment aligns doors precisely at the top and bottom. Depth adjustment (not always available) lets you bring door faces in line with the vertical front of the cabinet. Another benefit is the easy removal of doors for cleaning and refinishing.

Take into account how far will the door need to open

How far or to what angle a hinge will allow a door to open is called the degree of opening. Some will let the door open just beyond 90°, but others offering a much greater degree of opening are available. For example, a 270° one will allow the door to swing back against the cabinet side. (It bears noting, though, that this type will work only on a frameless cabinet with full overlay doors).

Decide how you want the hinge to mount to the cabinet and door

Surface-Mount does not need a hole or mortise to be drilled in the door or cabinet to mount it. It simply mounts to the surface.

Mortise requires the cutting of a mortise or recess in the door or cabinet to fit the hinge leaves for proper mounting.

No-Mortise: A no-mortise is a style of surface-mounted hinge that screws directly to the cabinet and the door without any mortises or special recesses being cut into the surfaces.

Wraparound: A wraparound is a style where the leaves are formed to wrap around the edge of the door and/or the cabinet side or face frame. A partial wraparound will wrap around the door and have a plain flat-leaf for the cabinet so it can be used on a frameless cabinet. A full back-to-back wraparound will wrap around on both halves of the hinge so it can be used on a face-frame cabinet.

Decide whether you want any special features

Self-Closing: This type pulls the door shut when it is within a few inches of being closed and keeps it closed. Sometimes called snap-closing.

Self-Opening Systems: This type comes with a mechanism that propels the door open when activated by a push.

Soft-Close: A hinge that incorporates a mechanism that activates when the door is within a few inches of the shut position and brings it gently closed.

Buy Enough Hinges to Support Your Door

hinge weight chart

Two hinges are enough for many average-size doors. But if you’re working with an especially large or heavy door, you might need more to ensure you get the performance and durability you expect. For Euro-style concealed hinges, use the chart at the top to calculate how many hinges you’ll need for a given door height and weight. When in doubt, err on the side of too much support rather than too little.