At the risk of offending the three remaining members of the HCDAOA (Hollow Core Door Aficionados Of America), nothing screams “low budget crap” like a hollow core door. Naturally, when we bought an old farmhouse a short time ago, whoever “updated” it last, three or four decades ago, had outfitted the entire place with them. They’ve been on my hit list, but I’ve been focusing on other, more urgent projects first, like getting rid of the 40-year-old shag carpeting from all the floors and one bedroom wall (don’t ask), pondering the crumbling barn foundation, and fixing the leaky roof and windows, for example. We’re re-doing all the trim in the house in oak, and when I found a good deal on solid oak six panel doors that fit, I grabbed ‘em! They’re slab doors, which means you pretty much get a blank slate – none of the mortising for hinges and locks has been done. Installing hinges is not my forté; I’ll do an odd one once in awhile, usually chiseling it out by hand, with mixed results. This job requires cutting hinges for eight stained oak doors, though (no caulk or shims allowed!), with three hinges on each, so when we received the Hinge Mate HM 1100W from the folks at WoodCraft to review, I called dibs!
My sentiments on doors also extend to tools (and pretty much everything else, now that I think about it). I’d rather spend some extra money and buy a quality product, than “save” a few bucks, and get something cheap that might look “pretty good.” Those are invariably the things that end up self-destructing before long, clogging the landfills, causing you to wail and gnash your teeth, and forcing you to replace your “bargain” purchase. The plastic case the Hinge Mate HM 1100W comes in is sturdy but unexceptional, but as soon as I opened it, my first thought was “Wow, nice tool!”.
Anatomy Of A Hinge Mate HM 1100W
The Hinge Mate HM 1100W is made of extruded, anodized aluminum. The aluminum is about ½” thick, and is beautifully machined (as a $200 piece of aluminum should be!). It’s in a U-shape, designed to slide over the edge of the door and then clamp into place; many cheaper templates require you to screw or nail them into position on the door.
The Hinge Mate can handle hinges from 1-5” long, and will work on doors up to 1¾” thick. It comes with a ½” diameter (¼” shaft) top bearing carbide bit, the storage case, and instructions. Here’s a quick video look at the tool from the folks at WoodCraft:
About those instructions: Read ‘em! I know, real men/women don’t need no stinking instructions, and that’s how I usually roll. And for most tools, I fudge my way through pretty well. The Hinge Mate HM 1100W is a bit of a different beast, though, so I decided before I fired my router up to 27,000 RPM, set it down on my sporty new aluminum template, and started chewing chunks out of a solid oak door, I’d get some schooling.
The manual starts out, as most manuals do, with some basic safety info, then gives some general hints on using the Hinge Mate HM 1100W (don’t over-tighten the clamps, etc.). Next up is some useful information on layout and measuring for hinge placement, and instructions on how to use the template to cut a lock strike plate mortise in the jamb set. Then it’s on to the meat: how to set it up to mortise a hinge.
Let’s Make The Cut
Setting up the Hinge Mate HM 1100W is pretty straightforward, and the guide provides excellent step-by-step instructions. I decided that since the old hollow core doors were going away, I’d try a practice cut on one of them. As it turns out, that was an excellent move; more on that in a minute.
To get the template setup for your hinges, first loosen the adjusting screw (no tools are required for any of the adjustments). Slide the movable saddle (no, this doesn’t make you a cowboy) to the side, and place a hinge leaf in the channel between the fixed and movable saddles. Slide the movable saddle against the edge of the hinge leaf, lock it in place by tightening the adjusting screw, and slide the hinge leaf out.
Slide the Hinge Mate HM 1100W over the edge of the door and have it assume the position (of your first mortise location, that is). Clamp it in place, and install the bit in your router. Any router should work fine; I used my compact DeWalt DWP611PK, and it powered through with no trouble at all. To set the depth of the cut, lay a hinge leaf on either side of the template opening. Set your router on top of the hinges, and adjust it so the tip of the bit is just touching the edge of the door. Remove the hinges used as spacers, and like magic your depth of cut has been set!
To make the cut, the manual recommends you stand behind the template, with the clamp knobs facing away. Cut the mortise by following the perimeter of the Hinge Mate from right to left. Handy HF hint: to prevent tearout, rout shallowly along the outside edge first, then get the inside perimeter and remove the material in the center. It goes quickly, and when your beautiful hinge mortise is finished, just loosen the knobs ¾ turn, slide the template to the next hinge position, and repeat! Once the template is set up, and the hinge locations are marked on the door, the actual cutting takes almost no time at all.
Some Things To Know
The Hinge Mate HM 1100W is an excellent tool. The basic setup described above is simple, and provides a mortise into which the hinge will fit perfectly. (Note: if you are using square-cornered hinges, you will have to square up the corners of your cut; this is easily done with a sharp 1” wood chisel). It cut a beautiful, smooth mortise; the only flawed part was a small round depression in the center of the mortised area, where I let the edge of the base plate slip off the edge of the template. If you’re using a compact router with a small base plate, just make sure you keep it properly oriented. If you’re using a larger router, the larger base plate should keep you out of trouble.
The provided router bit cuts the perfect profile for ¼” radius hinges. These are widely available, and if you’re using square edge hinges, leaves just a small area to chisel out. Another hinge in common use has a 5/8” radius; the provided bit will NOT cut the proper radius for these hinges. D.C. Precision Tools, the maker of the Hinge Mate HM 1100W, makes a bit with the proper radius, but it is available only with a ½” shank. If you’re using a smaller router that takes ¼” shanks, like I was, the Freud 50-103 is available from Amazon for around $20.
Something to keep in mind as you shop for hinges: make sure you get a hinge big enough to carry the weight of your door, but don’t get a hinge that’s too big for the diameter of your door. Since my doors are oak, and heavy, I figured “Aha—I’ll be smart and get 4” hinges, that take four screws, and will be plenty strong!” It seemed like a brilliant idea, but after cutting my test mortise on the old door, I discovered that 4” hinges are designed for 1¾” doors, not the 1-3/8” doors I had bought. Two of the screw holes were right at the edge of the door; not very useful. Back to the home store I went, where I traded in my sixteen 4” hinges for twenty-four 3½” hinges. (Since the doors are so heavy, I want three hinges on each). The hinges are available in both ¼” and 5/8” radius, but since the existing hinges (and jambs) have the 5/8” radius hinges, I bought the 5/8” version, so they’ll fit into the existing jamb mortises. Since no one locally carried the 5/8” radius bit, I ordered it from Amazon, and it arrived literally as I was posting this article. Anyhow, thankfully I discovered my stupidity BEFORE cutting a chunk out of one of the new doors.
Since I’m replacing existing doors, I want the hinges I put on the doors to line up with the existing hinges in the jambs. To do so, I made a “story stick,” which shows the exact position of each hinge, relative to the top of the door frame. Once the position is marked on the stick, just transfer it onto the edge of the new door. Make sure you let the stick overhang the end of the door before marking it, to adjust for the 1/8” gap you need to leave at the top of the door, and the bearing and bit radius difference, another 1/8” in this case, for a total of ¼”. If you’re doing multiple doors, make sure to check that the measurements are exactly the same for each; some adjustments will likely be required. Also, when marking your doors, be sure to mark the face that will be cut with an “X” or a piece of tape.
Kickin’ Out The Jambs
The Hinge Mate HM 1100W can also be used to mortise your jambs, provided they are not yet installed in the frame opening. It will NOT work on already-installed jambs, as it must be clamped around the jamb. For my installation, I’ll have to mortise each jamb for one new hinge (to supplement the two existing ones) by hand. If you do use the Hinge Mate to mortise the jambs, you’ll need to position the template to provide the correct backset for the hinges. It’s automatically set for 1¾” thick doors, but for all other thicknesses, there is an adjustable stop pin you can easily lock into position to hold the correct backset. It’s all explained in the manual. The kit also comes with spacer blocks, for mortising rabbeted jambs.
If you’re a door guy, who installs a LOT of hinges, or just a serious DIY person who enjoys having the right tool for the job, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Hinge Mate HM 1100W. It’s a quality, precision tool, quick and easy to setup and use, and if properly cared for, should provide a lifetime of service. Its one drawback is that it can’t be used on installed jambs. The Hinge Mate HM 1100W is available for around $219, link below. If you sign up for WoodCraft’s emails, you can even get a 10%-off coupon. Meanwhile, if there are any interested members of the HCDAOA out there, I have eight examples of the hollow door maker’s craft available, in various stages of disintegration. If you want ‘em, come and get ‘em, but hurry – the bonfire is next week.