By David J. Marks
Making your own hinges out of wood, in some instances, can be the perfect complement to a piece. It can be the one element, although thought of as a minor detail that has a major impact on the overall feel of the piece.
The wooden hinges described in this article are designed specifically for use with folding screens, but the idea can be modified and adapted to be used in a wide variety of furniture applications.
For a folding screen to function properly, it needs to be able to stand up by itself anywhere in a room, and fold up flat to be stored away, which means the hinges have to be “bi-fold”. In order to accomplish this, the edges of the stiles and knuckles of the hinges have to be rounded so that there is clearance for them to pivot.
I begin by cutting the hinge recess (or mortise) into the stiles, which are the vertical members of the frames. These have to be laid out and cut accurately to ensure that the hinges are aligned. I used a piece of ¾” thick plywood as a template, notched it on the table saw, then after rough cutting the mortises with a jigsaw, clamped it to each stile measuring off the bottom and routed them using a flush trim bit. Afterwards I used a sharp chisel to square up the corners. The next step is to mill the stock for the knuckles. You want to orient the grain so that it is perpendicular to the stiles. This means that the grain is running the length of the knuckle. If the grain was running parallel to the stiles, it would be weaker and could possibly break.
At this point I now have a piece of hardwood stock that is ¾” of an inch thick by 2 inches long but about 4 or 5 times as wide as I need. The extra width is helpful during the next step which is to radius the ends with a 3/8” radius bit at the router table. The extra width helps to support the stock against the fence; afterwards they can be cut to width.
I use a machinist vise at the drill press to drill the holes for the 1/8” brass dowels. After cutting the brass dowels to length and lightly beveling the edges, I use a router with a slot cutting bit and cut two 1/8” slots on either side of the mortises in the stiles for the brass dowels to slip into. These can easily be concealed by gluing in some splines which will also hold the pins in place. Here’s some good advice; apply some wax to the brass pins before gluing in the splines. The wax will prevent any excess glue from sticking to the splines and help ensure that the hinges will move freely.