Mortising Hinges – Templates or Chisel?

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Templaco hinge templateHinge mortising for cabinets or standard doors does not have to be a daunting task. Nor does it have to be done old school with a hammer and chisel. No offense to those purists out there who have to do everything by hand or they can’t sleep at night. Sure, everyone should know how to mortise by hand because we all have heard that question (or should I say challenge), “What if the power goes out and you have to do it by hand?  What about that? Huh?”  But my answer to that is, “Just because we used different modes of transportation before the automobile, should we shun cars now? Do we do the world an injustice by using the calculator instead of multiplying by hand?  And by the way, do you have a cell phone?”  

Seriously though, if the power does go out – well, here’s my advice: Take everything out of the freezer and throw it in your camp cooler, fill the freezer with beer, and open the door only when you need another one. It could be a long night.

But if you’ve got juice, use a template and a router.

How to Choose the Right Router Template

Templates come in a wide variety of shapes, materials, and methods of use. They can be plywood, metal, or plastic, and proprietary or adjustable. It’s been my experience that adjustable allows for too many parts to get worn by use or mishandling. You can only tighten down that screw so many times before it doesn’t quite fit the hole it’s supposed to, or too much play makes it sloppy.  Adjustable also means more money.

Most templates use a router template guide that uses a 5/8” outside diameter. They make different models to fit different routers. There is also a ½” router bit with a 5/8” top bearing that takes the place of the router template guide but restricts your depth of cut. You can’t extend the bit farther than the bearing will allow. But with the template guide and a long bit, you can go pretty deep. It always makes me nervous when my bit is flying out in the wind, but sometimes, with soss hinges for example, you just have to get down in there.  Just give the ole tightening wrench an extra turn to be safe.

Templaco – the Temple for Templates

Templaco has been around for over 20 years and specializes in supplying templates for almost every application.  From hinges to strike plates to jamb light switches, they have an awesome inventory of off the shelf templates. Single pocket templates for 2” to 5” door hinges are $24. Fully adjustable for depth of the hinge setting, these bad boys are hard to beat.

Woodcraft offers an adjustable aluminum template for hinges 1” to 5” long on stock up to 1-3/4” thick for a whopping $200. Pull your router up a little crocked and you’ll be pissed when you ding the edge of the template. That’s another plus for the good ole plywood template from Templaco. If you hit it by accident, you can use a little bondo and fix it right up.

For a detailed discussion of both single and full length hinge templates, see this review in Fine Home Building.

And don’t worry; your chisels won’t get lonely. You might even have some square corners you need to chisel out!

Cave Man or Modern Man?  You Choose

So as long as you live in or near civilization, use a router template for your hinge mortising.  Save the chisel for pioneer day demos or the rare power outage.  When the power comes back on, get back to the router template – and, I can’t emphasize this enough, “Get the beer out of the freezer!!!”

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About Brad

Brad Baker is Vice President of Operations at Miller Woodworking in the Los Angeles area, designers and builders of custom cabinetry and interior millwork for the rich and famous. They make the impossible, and their work has been featured in fancy schmantsy architectural glossies more than a few times. All that high end creative stuff aside, he maintains a strong spiritual belief that the real sign of a good woodworker is all 10 fingers. He and his wife Ann Baker co-write for HomeFixated. Ann is CEO of Publicity Pros, a firm that provides “All Things Publicity” services and training for small businesses. She’s a hopeless nerd who revels in anything and everything having to do with the technology of attracting attention. And, no joke, she loves to bake.

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