Hardware is a necessary part of our craft. Often you can make or break a nice piece of furniture by the hardware you use. I tend to stick with tried and true when it comes to hardware, brass screws, butt hinges, knife hinges and brass and steel locks.
I make sure that the hardware is appropriate to the piece it is on and take plenty of time to fit it. Remember, before you make that first chisel cut, you can always change your mind.
There are no tricks to getting a tight fit around your hardware. You do not have to go to elaborate lengths either. I use nothing more than marking tools and a sharp chisel. Careful marking and cutting are keys to a good fit. The one thing I usually do when mounting hardware is to cut the mortise slightly undersize when roughing it in and trim the edges to an exact fit as the last step. This gives me a gap free fit every time.
Hinges are, for the most part, simple. Two leaves connected to a pivot point. One leaf is attached to the carcase and the other to the door. The main thing you have to be sure of when mounting the hinge is that the center of the pivot is outside the plane of the door and carcase. Pay attention to this and your doors will work as planned every time, even on complex special purpose hinges.
Properly drilled pilot and shank holes will prevent broken screws. In ten years of making furniture the only reason I have broken screws is shoddy quality screws or the wrong pilot holes. I came across the following chart while I was at school and I am still grateful to the unknown individual who put it together. You will notice that it uses # drills and my advice is to get yourself a complete set (#1-60) of these bits.
Pilot and Shank Holes Chart
Screw 1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10
Shank Hole 48 43 39 33 29 28 17 10
Pilot Hole 53 52 48 45 40 38 31 25
If you really feel the need for further precautions run a steel screw of the same size into your pilot hole, as this will tap it for your finish screw.
I never bother to line up the slots in screws. It’s one of those little details that no one (except other cabinetmakers) will ever see or notice and it also means you have to over tighten or loosen screws to make it happen. Screws have a primary purpose and that is mechanical, appearance comes secondary, but never in my mind at the expense of the first.
One other thing to consider when putting in screws, make sure that your screwdriver properly fits the screw head. If it doesn’t, you are going to tear up the screw, the hardware or the cabinet it’s going into. Don’t be afraid to go to the grinder with your screwdrivers to make them fit screws properly, tight in the slot with no part of the blade sticking out of the side of the screw.
Never let hardware change a design decision. If commercial hardware doesn’t quite work, consider making it up yourself. I have made special purpose hinges, lid stays and door pulls. The hardware I have made has been pretty simple for the most part. Mostly involving filing and drilling with a small amount of silver soldering thrown in for good measure. One item that has been a big help to me is a hand crank drill press that I found at a junk store. Accurately drilling holes in metal is a little tough so this drill press has saved a lot of aggravation.
Unfortunately though, my experience is limited in this area so it would be foolish to try and teach you about metalworking. The best thing to do would be to take a metal working course or find a good book that clearly explains the process.
Before you jump out to buy specialty hardware, consider alternatives first. Bed bolts are a good example of this. Traditional bed bolts are expensive, and for the cost of only one of these, you can buy ordinary bolts from any hardware store that are entirely suitable and much more easily replaced in the event that one is lost.
One of the things I picked up when I was at school was a technique to color brass. It is very simple to do. You need a large jar with something attached to the lid on which you can hang hinges and other hardware. I used two small eyebolts for mine.
First remove all finish from the brass you want to color. The finish will prevent this technique from working. 100 grit sandpaper works well for this. Fortunately, most of the hardware I buy has little to no finish on it.
Using Ammonia Fumes
Place a small amount of wood shavings in the bottom of the jar and pour in about a quarter cup of ordinary household ammonia. Attach the hardware to the lid with wire so the pieces you wish to color are hanging in the vapors, but not touching the shavings or the liquid ammonia. The next day your brass will have a nice “aged” look to it. Sometimes this can work in only a few hours, but I usually leave the hardware in the jar overnight.
When you remove the hardware from the jar rinse it off with water, then dry. Properly dispose of the ammonia and shavings (I used to flush them myself).
This method also works well for screws, but they may take longer to color as the brass used for screws is a harder alloy and reacts differently to the fumes. To make this easy, run your screws into a small block of wood that easily can be hung from the lid. One note of caution; this can cause stress cracks in brass, but I have only had this problem with cheap pressed hinges that I no longer use.
Whitechapel Ltd. Ball and Ball
P.0 Box 136 463 W. Lincoln Hwy
Wilson, Wyoming 83014 Exton, PA 19341
(800) 468-5534 (800) 257-3711
Paxton Hardware Co Horton Brasses
Box 256 Nooks Hill Rd, P. 0. Box
Upper Falls, MD 21156 Cromwell, CT 06416
(800) 241-9471 (860) 635-4400
Larry and Faye Brusso
3812 Cass Elizabeth
Pontiac, MI 48054