setting gimmals (you might know them as snipe-bills)

The next chest is begun, but I had to finish the last one yesterday. This one I made for the museum, oak carcass with pine top and bottom. The subject here is how to set the hinges, usually today called “snipe-bill hinges” but I often use the 17th-century term for them, which is “gimmals” or variously gemmels, jimmers, etc. Derived from Gemini, the twins….like my kids. Here’s the set I put in this chest.


The rear stiles’ flat face is inside the chest. This means that on the back, the stiles stick out beyond the rear upper rail, so I cut a notch in them to thin them down at the top to match the rear rail. It’s not an elegant notch, just sawn apart to get the wood out of the way. Then I trimmed it a little with a small plane.

notch in rear stile

Then, I started with a chisel to make a V-notch for the hole to receive the gimmals. This notch is chopped in the arris of the upper rail.

Then bore a hole from the outside, at an angle. All the way through.

Then drive the gimmals into this hole, should be nice & tight, but not so tight that you deform the gimmals.

The eye of the  gimmal that fits in the rail is oriented vertically. Like this:


Now spread them & hammer them back into the rail, like clinching a nail.

setting the gimmals in rail

Then position the lid in place, with sufficient overhang at the rear. Mark the back edge of the chest on the lid, as well as the spot where the gimmal is set.

scribing the lid

Then bore the holes and drive the lid onto the gimmals. I use a heavy mallet, and a scrap piece to keep from marking the lid. Especially important with this pine lid.

driving the lid onto the gimmals

Then clinch them.

clinching the gimmals in lid

That’s how I do them. Works most every time.

If you’ve not seen a snipe, here’s one.

21 thoughts on “setting gimmals (you might know them as snipe-bills)

  1. ………. Divided by a common tongue!

    “Snipe Bills” are also pairs of side-cutting planes, generally used for cleaning up mouldings.

    But you already knew that…….!

    Good luck


    • Spot on there Howard, re planes and tongue, but united perhaps by our love of woodworking and some of the beautiful tools involved. Merry Christmas. ps I don’t doubt that you will as I have some family in Abertillery and by god they know how to celebrate..

  2. Well done Peter, That’s a fine looking Chest that you are working on there. The hinges must be of Scottish origin ( gimmals” or variously gemmels, jimmers ) methinks to be named after Scottish football players….wing it Jimmer ! I wonder if you have tried (and maybe not on this particular piece) setting the hinges the other way around ? By that I mean going across the grain on the lid and giving them a final clench with a nail punch, just on the tips of the wings…and just a light tap! . . . .Also did you choose to do lid and bottom out of Pine or is this your brief or remit? Just wondering Peter. As regards to the Snipe, well I used to do a spot of Sniping years ago, but even now with my old eyesight I can see two Snipes, but on reflection perhaps just the one. Happy Christmas to you and yours, Ted. .. ps Those Snipe hinges? you could come across them in an old tin, in some long gone old chaps workshop and not really know what they were used for? . . . pps don’t let Dewalt see that old handbrace…got any pics of tools in your kit Peter?

    • Hello again Peter, I have a good motto that could apply to the chest that you are making. I have it on my old tool chest Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. Perhaps someday we will look back on these things with joy.

  3. Hello Peter, nice article on the gimmals.

    Once question – is this chest complete once the lid is on? The reason I ask is because of the “rough” finish of the outside of the chest. To my eye, the chest looks like it was kind of meant to look rough or hurried to completion so it could be used. The picture captioned “scribing the lid” illustrates what I’m talking about. Is the back left looking rough for adherence to period examples?

    • Peter works with Riven wood. His chests are beautiful… definatly not hurried, lol Hes all hand tools from what ive seen. period hand tools.
      his chests will one day be (and are) modern masterpieces. I only wish i had the talent this man has.
      (at least i think im right) :) Merry Christmas!

      • look at the “setting ther gimmals” picture…look at those perfectly fitting mortise and tennons,pinned to perfection with a tightness only a professioal can have. I believe he has no modern equipment. He starts from the log, then splits it with wedges and sledge along the radial and gets his boards that way. they are “in the rough” from there they are sawn, planed,jointed, molded…..all with hand tools. You try this method and see how long it takes to make a chest! guys like this are a treasure.

      • I am not questioning Peter’s abilities in the least – he is a first class craftsman. I am asking if leaving the back boards unplaned and rough is part of the period style. I am wondering if when the original chests were made if they were made not for aesthetic purposes but mostly utilitarian reasons thus the unfinished (by today’s standards) back of the chest.

  4. That is a very nice photographic lesson for today Peter.
    I always learn something when a new piece arrives from you in my in-box.
    Thank you very much.
    And, your bird pictures are always a pleasure.
    Thanks again.

  5. I have a Xmas box to finish and had hoped for these hinges, but I feared to screw it up. Your photos give me a good reference…and courage. Thanks for the Snipe picture as well. My only reference to them was the pointless hunts for them that I was sent on as a Boy Scout. Thank you and Happy Xmas.

  6. I watched and listened as Peter had a polite but misunderstood conversation with a couple of woodworkers at Lie-Neilsen last week. Thy wanted a ‘pattern’ for the carving they could apply to the wood with carbon paper. This after the slow and deliberate explanation and demonstration of measuring with dividers and using gouges of specific dimensions to create the curves. Peter explained several times how slow their method would be, how they would have to clean up the carbon smudges and even sand. Without any visible effect or penetration.
    Yes, you leave the back rough – it stands against the wall in a dimly lit space. This is woodworking with hand tools not Ikea.

    • Enough snark already, geez. I work exclusively with hand tools myself and in white oak (QS – I wish riven). I’m just asking if he is keeping true to period details or if this is his preference – I appreciate both.

      Didn’t think I was going against “the family” here asking a question.

      • Matt S:

        Interesting that you used the word “snark” because for some reason I thought Lewis Carroll mentioned snipe, and was going to quote him. I ran out of time, and posted it as is. then you mentioned “snark” & that took me to Alice, etc. No snipe, but LC wrote a poem called “Hunting the Snark” – weird.

        Yes, the back of that chest is rough by today’s standards, & perhaps many others. But it is certainly within reason for 17th-century work…I have seen some rougher, some more finished. most in between.

        Seems like I have staunch defenders while I’m away from the computer, even when the only “snark” is perceived, rather than real. Keep the questions coming, I welcome them. I try to answer them all, some slip through.


      • I don’t see just what was the problem here with the questions posed by Matt. They were exactly the type of things that one craftsman asks another re his work. Peter shows examples of work in progress and the methods that he uses, and there is a leave a comment box, he left comments/questions, whats the problem and what did he do? to deserve the comment “Yes, you leave the back rough – it stands against the wall in a dimly lit space. This is woodworking with hand tools not Ikea”. This comes across as patronizing and cross grained.. I have read his comments and I can assure you that had they been directed towards me and my work? I would have got straight back to him and had a good old chinwag.

  7. OK this is me here now. & it being my blog, I am in charge. I would like us all to cool it – all of this but my comment took place while I was in work, not here at the computer. I took no offense at Matt’s question, and maybe some of the answers were a little curt, but I don’t read any of them as severe. Let it ride. Time to move on.

  8. I used cotter pins for this purpose on a project in Dec…. just an FYI though, they’re hard to bend and get to lay flat, but otherwise seemed to work well!

  9. Thanks for the tutorial. I used them on a New Mexico “trastero” reproduction. That’s Spanish for “armoire.” Your way to set the lid onto the gimmel is most helpful.

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