Cabinet Hinge Types (Old, Concealed & For Kitchen)

Jessica Stone
by Jessica Stone

When it comes to the cabinets in your bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room, a lot hinges on the hinges. Both the functionality and style of your cabinet’s hinges have a major impact on the overall performance and appearance of the cabinets and doors. They are, arguably, just as important as your choice of wood or finish.

Cabinet hinges come in a wide array of types, finishes and with a number of different features that make them operate slightly different from one another. With such a large amount of options, how does one choose?

Continue reading for our complete guide on cabinet hinge types. We’ll walk you through all your options and help you determine which hinge is right for your particular project.

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Framed vs. Frameless Cabinets

The first step in choosing which cabinet hinge will work best for your cabinet is to identify which type of cabinet you have. There are two basic types of cabinets: frameless and framed (or, face-frame) cabinets. Each option has corresponding hinges that must be used.

Frameless Cabinets: Frameless cabinets originated as a European design but have recently grown in popularity among contemporary American properties. As the name suggests, this type of cabinet has no frame, which allows you to insert your hand and feel smoothly around the entire cabinet opening.

They are essentially a four-sided box, most often made out of ¾” thick stock. The hinges on frameless cabinets are mounted directly to the inside of the cabinets.

Framed Cabinets: Framed, or face frame, cabinets are the more traditional American style for cabinets. They incorporate a frame (generally made out of 1-1/2” to 2” wide solid wood) that is affixed to the face, or front edges, of the cabinet. The frame is reminiscent of a picture frame.

Hinges on framed cabinets are installed onto the face frame, while the cabinet door rests on the outside of the frame. Examine the diagram above for a visual representation of the difference between framed and frameless cabinets.

Cabinet Overlay: The next step in deciding which cabinet hinge to choose is to determine the door overlay. This has to do with the position of the cabinet door in relation to the opening. Or, the overlay on a frameless or framed cabinet is characterized by the amount of the cabinet door that rests atop the cabinet opening.

Measure your cabinet overlay by placing a piece of tape or pencil marking along the edge of the doors while they are closed. Then, open the door and determine the distance between the opening of the cabinet and the tape/mark. Alternatively, you can also just measure the width of your cabinet doors together (end to end) and subtract that measurement from the width of the opening. Then, divide the difference by two to obtain the length of the overlay.

Regardless, the type of overlay your cabinet has will depend on whether it is framed or frameless. Here are the most common overlay types you’ll have with framed cabinets:

  • Full Overlay: A full overlay on a framed cabinet is exactly what the name indicates. It means that the doors cover the entire opening entirely, leaving no gap between the frame and the doors and overlapping the face frame on all sides.
  • Inset: Inset doors, on the other hand, are positioned entirely inside of the cabinet opening. When closed, they sit flush with the face frames or sides of the cabinet.
  • Partial Inset: Partial-inset involves lipped doors or a 38” inset overlapping the cabinet door slightly on all sides. However, a 3/8” by 3/8” shoulder positioned along all edges of the back of the door allows for part of the door thickness to rest inside of the opening.

With that said, here are the most common overlay types you’ll have with a frameless cabinet configuration:

  • Full Overlay: With a full overlay, the doors cover all, or most, of the front edge of the cabinet. This type of overlay is most often used for doors at the end of a cabinet.
  • Half Overlay Cabinet: This type of overlay is most often seen in the middle of a run of cabinetry, especially when the doors share a single partition wall. This type of hinge will allow the door to cover half of the partition wall. However, this should not be confused with a ½” overlay, which allows the door to cover the face frame by ½”
  • Inset Cabinet: An inset overlay on frameless cabinets means that the doors sit flush within the cabinet opening, against the front edges.

Though there are many different kinds of cabinet overlays, a partial overlay and full overlay are the most common on American cabinets. Whereas, the actual length of overlay is generally between ½ inch and 1 ¼ inch.

Hinge Styles

As far as style is concerned, you need to decide how you want the hinge to be visible on your cabinet. In some cases, hinges are used to add visual appeal to cabinetry; in others, having a visible hinge could diminish from the desired result. With regard to stylistic hinge considerations, you have three main options:

1. Concealed Hinge

A concealed hinge, or sometimes referred to as a hidden hinge, European hinge, cup hinge, or invisible hinge, is as the name suggests – it is not visible from the outside of a cabinet when the doors are shut. Installing this type of hinge can help achieve the desired look you are trying to achieve with your cabinetry. This is especially the case if you want a more minimalist, modern design, which visible hinges would take away from.

They attach only to the interior of the cabinet door and frame. That way, the doors appear to hover on the face of the cabinet. One of the major benefits of a concealed hinge is that they can be placed wherever you need them to go, without having any impact on the overall appearance of your cabinets. Also, if your cabinets are slightly different from one to the other and cause you to place the hinges in different places, you won’t notice any small imperfections from the outside.

2. Semi-Concealed Hinge

As opposed to being entirely hidden, a semi-concealed hinge is only slightly visible from the outside of the cabinet when the door is closed. They are one of the most popular types of hinges used for framed cabinets. While half of the hinge is visible, the other half is hidden inside and securely mounted to the back of the cabinet door.

You can purchase these types of hinges in varying overlays, depending on the cabinets you have. Though the concealed variety tends to be the most popular, semi-concealed hinges are still desired among those who want to add just a little bit of extra detail to their cabinets. In some cases, these hinges may add details such as a decorative finial tip or ball tip.

3. Exposed Hinge

An exposed hinge is, as the name suggests, fully visible on the outside of the cabinet when the doors are shut. These types of hinges are common among frameless cabinet types, though face frame cabinets often also feature exposed hinges. One of the major advantages to exposed hinges is the ability to open a cabinet door a full 90 degrees. They offer more room and flexibility.

Most often, opting for an exposed hinge is a major design choice. Since they are fully visible on the outside of your cabinets, it’s important that they properly complement the overall style and do not detract from it.

Mortised vs. No-Mortise Hinges

Another important designation to make when it comes to cabinet hinges is the difference between a mortised and no-mortise hinge. With a mortised hinge, one must cut a mortise, or recess, into the door or cabinet in order for the hinge leaves to be properly mounted.

Whereas, the no-mortise hinge style is surface-mounted with screws directly to the cabinet and door. This alternative does not require you to cut any mortises that are specially designed to recess into the surface.

European Style Cabinet Hinge Types

The European cabinet hinge style is a modern, advanced technology. They are essentially a type of concealed hinge that are most often seen on frameless Euro-style cabinets, but can also be used for framed applications. European cabinet hinges consist of a mounting plate that is secured to the cabinet and a cup that rests in a circular mortise and is drilled into the back of the cabinet door.

One major benefit of this style is that they allow you to adjust the hinge in two, and sometimes three, directions. That way, you can fully customize and fine-tune the alignment of the cabinet doors to your liking. Whereas, side adjustment determines the gap between walls, cabinets, and doors to obtain the perfect parallel placement. You can also adjust the height to align the doors from top to bottom.

Another major advantage to European style hinges is that they make it very easy to remove cabinet doors when cleaning or repainting.

American Style Cabinet Hinge Types

It’s important to understand that as far as functionality goes for cabinet hinges, there is the traditional (American) type and the European-style. Though each option serves the same purpose, they operate differently and have very different anatomy.

The traditional American style cabinet hinge is one you likely have in your home. It involves two pivoting plates (leaves) that interlock in the center to form a barrel, held together by a pin. One leaf is attached to the cabinet, while the other is attached to the door. There are many different types of cabinet hinges that fall under the traditional American categorization, however, the most common is known as the “butt hinge.”

Cabinet Hinge Types

With a greater understanding of the various styles and functions of cabinet hinges and how they affect the overall look and feel of your cabinets, let’s take a look at the many different cabinet hinge types.

1. Butt Hinge

The butt hinge is one of the most common types seen on most doors and cabinets alike. They consist of two sides, or plates, that fan out. These plates are joined in the center, which allows them to move freely. One is attached to the cabinet door, while the other is mounted to the frame of the cabinet.

Butt hinges can be described as a semi-concealed type of cabinet hinge, meaning the joint is visible from the outside of the cabinet. As a result, it’s important that you choose a finish that will complement the overall look of your cabinetry. Though they are meant to be a simple hinge, they are still very reliable, easy to install, and will last you for years to come.

The only downside to this type of hinge is that they require you to cut a mortise. That way, the cabinet doors can close properly.

2. Barrel Hinge

Barrel hinges are a type of concealed hinge, often made of solid brass. They are an excellent choice if you don’t want to see the hinge when looking at your cabinets. This type of hinge also allows you to open your cabinet doors a full 90 degrees. They are often used for woodworking projects, such as wooden storage boxes with lids.

However, barrel hinges are also a great option for use on cabinets if you want that hinge-free look. They are easily installed by drilling holes into the cabinet door and frame and then slipping the hinges into the holes. The arm that connects the two ends of the barrel hinge will allow you to open and close the door.

3. Flush Hinge

A flush hinge is similar to a butt hinge in the way it attaches to the frame and the inside of the cabinet door. However, these types of hinges take up much less space inside of the door. When the door is closed, a small piece of the hinge collapses into the larger section, making it appear like one continuous piece.

Similar to the joints on butt hinges, flush hinges are visible from the outside of the cabinet. As a result, you want to make sure that you choose a finish you like and that will complement the overall aesthetic you are trying to achieve. The major benefit to this option is that you don’t have to create a mortise in order to allow the cabinet door to close properly.

4. Knife Hinge

A knife hinge is a flat style hinge that are generally implemented on cabinets where a semi-concealed hinge is desired. It has the capability to allow you to fully open, allow doors to rest flush against the neighboring cabinet without much of the metal being visible. The only visible section of a knife hinge is the pine, or axis point on which the hinge pivots.

These types of hinges are shaped like scissors and as far as installation goes, one half of the hinge is mounted to the top (or bottom) edge of the cabinet door. The other half is affixed to the horizontal cabinet edge, right above (and below) the door.

5. Strap Hinge

This type of hinge receives its’ name from the characteristic strap-like structure. It features long wings that wrap around the spot where the door meets the frame of the cabinet. Strap hinges are mounted on the outside surface of your cabinets and are considered an exposed hinge. As a result, you’ll find these types of hinges in all shapes, textures, finishes, and colors.

The sizing of strap hinges is very important, as you must choose carefully to accommodate both the weight and size of your cabinet doors. They are a very versatile option and the longer variety is very durable.

6. Pivot Hinge

Pivot hinges are commonly seen on home theater system cabinets or cabinets that are oriented lower. They are best used for inset doors, or any type of cabinetry that you don’t want hinges visible. Pivot hinges are installed on the top and bottom of the cabinet frame and door.

Similar to barrel hinges, these hinges have inset pieces. Whereas, the door features an arm that juts out slightly and fits inside of the inset pieces, allowing the door to be pivoted open with the arm inside of the inset.

7. Wrap Around Hinge

A wrap-around hinge may be full or partial, with the former wrapping all the way around the three sides of the frame that the hinge is installed on. A partial wrap around hinge, instead, feature an extra-long leaf that wraps around the edge of the cabinet’s side panel frame. This type of hinge, especially the full variety, offers a considerable amount of support and stability.

It is considered a semi-concealed hinge, so you’ll want to choose the finish carefully as it will be visible from the outside of your cabinet. Additionally, it’s important to note that full wrap-around hinges aren’t widely available anymore. However, partial wrap-around hinges make a great alternative and offer many of the same benefits.

8. Face Frame Hinge

As previously mentioned, face frame, or framed, cabinets are the most common type of cabinet seen in homes across the United States. They feature a piece of wood, similar to a picture frame, that surrounds the opening of the cabinet. The design requires you to use a hinge that is specially designed for this type of cabinet – a face frame hinge.

Face frame hinges are a type of hidden, or concealed, hinge that is not visible from the outside of the cabinet. This design is intended to allow the cabinet doors to rest flush against the face frame, almost as if they are floating in space. If your cabinets are, instead, frameless, then you’ll need to opt for a different type of hidden hinge that is mounted to the inside of the cabinet.

9. Inset Hinge

Inset hinges are a type of traditional American style. They are relatively similar to the butt hinge, except one of the leaves is much narrower and is mounted to the cabinet door frame. Whereas, the wider plate is mounted to the inside of the door. The narrow piece of an inset hinge is visible from the outside of the cabinet, meaning you’ll want to choose carefully.

Many inset hinges have a decorative element to them which can add visual appeal to your cabinet setup. Like most other hinge options, inset hinges also come in many decorative designs and finishes to fit the intended aesthetic of your cabinets.

10. Offset Hinge

Offset hinges are mounted to the cabinet door frame and the surface of the cabinet door. They are intended to be used when cabinet doors slightly project out from the surface of the cabinet frame. The two sides of the hinge are not aligned, which allows the door to extend out beyond the frame.

The design of offset hinges causes the door to swing away, moving the door out of past the opening and increasing the width of entry. This option is especially beneficial for thick cabinet doors that need to jut out from the cabinet frame, without causing them to bump it when opened.

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Special Hinge Features

Another consideration you’ll need to make when deciding on the right cabinet hinge for your project is whether or not you want any additional special features. Some of the options you have to choose from include:

Self-Closing Hinges

Self-closing cabinet hinges, often referred to as spring-loaded hinges, close on their own using their own weight. However, many of these types of hinges don’t have springs at all and instead use a hydraulic operating system. They are very popular for use in gym lockers and home theater systems, but can also be used in kitchen or bathroom settings.

With the spring-loaded variety, the spring inside coils when the door is opened and the recoils when the pressure against the door is gone. This option isn’t entirely durable, as the hinge will wear down over time, especially if you open and close your cabinets often.

On the other hand, the hydraulic self-closing hinge, uses hydraulic pressure to cause your cabinets to close. Once the pressure from holding the door open is released, a vacuum of hair inside of the hinge is created and causes the hinge to shut on its own.

Soft Closing Hinges

Soft closing hinges are similar to their self-closing counterparts, in that they use hydraulics to create a vacuum that closes your cabinet door. However, while a self-closing hinge may shut your cabinets for you, it isn’t always done in a quiet manner.

Though the design of a soft closing hinge isn’t completely “self-closing,” the closing sound of your cabinet is stifled in the process. You will have to exert some force to close the cabinet door but once it reaches a certain point, the hinge takes over and allows the door to glide closed. Put simply, the mechanism inside of a soft close hinge is activated once the door is within just a few inches of the closed position. At this point, it kicks in and gently brings it to a close.

Self-Opening Systems

Self-opening cabinet systems come in a few different varieties, but all have the same function. The mechanism propels the cabinet door open once it is activated by a simple push. They generally consist of a reverse spring-type action which causes the door to swing open fully, after light pressure is applied to the door’s face.

When the door is shut, it is held in place by a hook-shaped latch that serves as a touch latch. In a traditional touch latch, pressing only opens the door slightly. You then have to finish the opening by pulling from the backside of the door

Jessica Stone
Jessica Stone

Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.

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