How to install hidden hinges on 90s oak cabinets

After years of renovating, our kitchen is finally where I want it to be. One of the best updates we made was to replace our old hinges with soft-close hidden door hinges, also called European hinges. Our kitchen cabinets are 90s oak. Several years ago, I painted them for a much updated look. You can read about that here. While the paint made a big difference, the 90s hinges in antique brass really dated the kitchen. Also, we decided to update to new hardware. New hardware would have had to match the outdated 90s brass on the visible hinges. We could have gotten all new exposed hinges. That would have been an easy switch, but I would have been limited to whatever new hinge tone we installed. I wanted a more current brass hardware now, but maybe in a few years I will want to update to something else. That would mean another hinge update. 

90s kitchen cabinets with exposed outdated hinges
Before photos show the exposed hinges in 90s antique brass
90s oak kitchen cabinets with outdated exposed hinges

While scrolling Pinterest and Instagram,  I have come across some charming vintage kitchens where the cabinet hinges are a beautiful design element. On newer, inset doors, the working part of the hinge can be exposed. Both of these aesthetics are beautiful and create a cozy cottage or English country vibe that I love. But, my cabinets have the type of door that would not work for either of these looks. Eliminating the dated hinge and replacing them with new hinges seemed like the best way to update them. 

My husband, Dave, and I did a good bit of research before launching into this diy project. There is a variety of European hinge options that are specific for different door types. You will have to determine if your doors are inset or overlay and if the overlay is full or partial. Our doors have a partial overlay, meaning that the doors lay on top of the frame, and a portion of the frame is exposed. If your doors are inset or have a full overlay (the frame is completely covered by the door), the existing hinges are probably already hidden or only minimally visible. This post is addressing the type of doors that we have, which are typical of 80s and 90s construction. Once you determine your cabinet style, you will be able to choose a hinge type. Our hinges are face-frame overlay hinges.

NOTE: We ran into a problem, because our lower cabinets have pull-out shelves. If you have pull-out shelves, be sure to read that section below the step-by-step instructions.

Our research also led us to a hinge jig kit. The kit contains the jig, a forstner drill bit and clamps. In addition to what is included in the kit, you’ll need an electric drill, a tape measure, a phillips head screwdriver and a decent work surface.

A jig kit for installing hidden hinges

Prep work for this project is pretty simple. First, you should set up your work station. We set up a sturdy folding table in the garage. Next, you’ll need to remove the cabinet doors in order to install the hinges. We removed one at a time in order to minimize the clutter. You could remove all of them at once, but keeping the kitchen chaos to a minimum worked for us. Finally, since new holes will have to be drilled into each cabinet frame, you’ll create some dust and wood shavings inside the cabinet. It’s a good idea to remove the contents of each cabinet as you work on it. 

With your prep work completed, you’re ready to launch into the installation of the hinges. This is not an especially difficult DIY, but it is time consuming, so you’ll have to exercise some patience. Depending on the size of your kitchen, you will need more than a couple of hours to complete this project. We spread this out over a couple of weekends. If your time is limited, I strongly recommend removing the doors one or two at a time as you’re working on them. It will eliminate the construction zone vibe in your kitchen!

Step 1

Remove the kitchen cabinet doors and remove the old hinges from the cabinet frame and the cabinet door

Step 2

Place your door face down on your work surface. Following the jig instructions, clamp the jig onto the door. The jig is set up to mount the hinges either 3 or 4 inches from the top and bottom of the door. We have standard-sized doors and used the three-inch template. If you have especially long doors, you will want to use the four-inch option.

Step 3

Attach the forstner bit to your electric drill, and drill the cup hole following the guide on the jig. This drills the depression that the hinge will sit in.

A jig being used to drill a hole for the installation of a hidden hinge

Step 4

Attach the standard drill bit included in the kit to your electric drill. Drill the two holes for the mounting screws. There are two holes in the jig to indicate the location for these holes.

Step 5

Fit the hinge into the large hole and attach by inserting the screws through the smaller holes.

Step 6

Now you’re ready to attach the door to the door frame. This might require two people. Place the hinges in the open position. Position your door where you want it to fall top to bottom. The hinge will determine left to right. You will be drilling holes into the inside of the face of the cabinet. With the door in position, use a pencil and mark where the holes will be drilled for the hinge to mount to the cabinet. Once you have established the position of your first door, you can measure and repeat the location for the remaining doors.

A photo showing a hidden hinge attached to the cabinet and the cabinet door

Step 7

Attach the doors to the cabinet frames by inserting the screws through the holes in the hinges and into the holes that you drilled in the cabinet.

Step 8

Use the adjustment screws on the hinge to plumb and level the doors. The best advice here is to follow the instructions that came with your hinges. Take your time and use a level to make sure your doors are straight. If you don’t follow this step, your doors might not close properly. 

Step 9

Fill the holes left by the old hinges with wood filler and paint or stain.

An English country style kitchen with 90s cabinets that have had hidden hinges installed

We completed all of the doors in our kitchen and were so happy to check this project off of our list. But, when we opened our lower cabinet doors, we realized there was a big problem. The pull-out shelves that are in our lower cabinets could not be pulled out, because they bumped into the door. 

A kitchen drawer that could not be pulled out due to the hinge

The shelf bumped into the cabinet door and could not be pulled out with the original hidden hinge (left). With the installation of the new hinge, the drawer pulls out (right).

I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the pull-out shelves. They add so much function to the cabinets. It’s almost like having drawers. Also, if we had removed the pull-out shelves, it would have completely eliminated a shelf in the cabinet, making the cabinets even less functional. We would have had to find or make stationary shelves to fit.

There was no way to move or adjust the hinge in order allow the shelf to roll out. With these hinges, the door overlaps the cabinet opening by about a fourth of an inch when the door is fully opened. There is a slight bevel to our door edges, and this probably complicated the problem. Dave researched and found a different type of invisible hinges (linked in supply list) that would allow the door to be even with the cabinet opening. This type of hinge also comes with instructions and supplies and they install using the same steps as the original hinges.

While the new hinges allow the pull-out drawers to function, there are a couple of problems. The new hinges place the door slightly to the hinge side, making the door out of alignment with the drawer above it. To remedy this, we removed the drawer fronts and drilled new holes that would allow the drawer to be shifted enough to match the doors that were below.

The second problem doesn’t seem to have a fix. When the door is fully open, the outside edge of the door touches the surface of the cabinet base. The original hinges open over the cabinet opening, so this is not an issue. In order to allow the doors to open fully with the new hinges, they have to be fitted so that there is a slight gap along the hinge side that is visible when the doors are closed. It’s a very slight gap, and it’s not noticeable unless you’re looking for it. It bothers me a bit, but the hinges allow the pull-out shelves and the doors to function, so I’m willing to live with it. We left the original hinges on the upper cabinets. They allow the doors to fit perfectly.

A kitchen featuring cabinets that have had hidden hinges installed

Overall, I’m very happy with this update. The visible hinges were the wrong color and style for my kitchen. I love the seamless look that the hidden hinges provide, and the soft-close feature is nice to have. I would recommend the original hinge that we used if you don’t have pull-out drawers to contend with. They’re a little beefier and the soft close feature works a bit better. But for an updated look for our 90s oak cabinets, the combination of hinges did the trick!

Hi! I’m Erin. As life evolves, so does a home. Join me as I share DIY projects to update, renovate, decorate and improve my home to complement my empty-nest lifestyle.

4 Responses

  1. I never realized changing to hidden hinges could make such a beautiful difference. Love it!

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