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Filing Cabinets Buying Guide


File It Away: a guide to buying a File Cabinet


We haven’t quite yet achieved the long-promised paperless office; proposals, invoices and other necessary documents all need to be safely stored away for future reference. Even at home there always seems to be something we need to hang on to like bill receipts, official papers or the manual for the coffeemaker. While it’s obvious that most people buy a filing cabinet to store files, with so many different kinds to choose from, it might be a little confusing to know what will ideally meet all of your requirements. Do you need a vertical file cabinet or a lateral one? Should it be stationary or mobile? To help you to decide, here are few basic suggestions.

Before You Begin

Vertical or lateral filing cabinets are generally intended for letter or legal sized papers. But what if you want to organize your blueprints? Decide what you want to use the filing cabinet for.

How much will it need to hold? You might need more than one.

Do you want your filing cabinet to match your executive desk? If appearance isn’t a concern, maybe an economical metal vertical file will be adequate.

Do your files, CDs, etc. need special protection? Consider purchasing a fireproof unit that will protect the contents from smoke, heat and flames.

If space is an issue, consider buying a unit that, in addition to the file drawers, will include storage, a work surface or a set of bookshelves.

Before making a final decision, when buying a filing cabinet with specific features like hanging file bars, check the manufacturer’s product description to see what size of folder you will need.

What Kind of Filing Cabinet Do I Need?

Vertical file cabinets are the most common type of filing drawer available. Usually taller than they are wide, they store documents from front to back, either by folder or hanging file method. They can have from one to five drawers and can be made from metal, steel, wood or engineered wood. Vertical filing cabinets come in a variety of styles and features. They take up less floor space than a lateral file. To find out if you will have enough clearance to use the drawer when open, multiple the depth of the drawer by two and add 2 feet for the access area.

A lateral file cabinet is wider and shorter than a vertical file, and has more capacity by housing two rows of files side by side. The files will actually face the side of the cabinet rather than toward you when the drawer is open. If you would prefer to have the files face front like they do in vertical filing cabinets, select a lateral file with hanging rails that will allow you to store your folders front to back. Lateral filing units are versatile because they can accommodate both letter and legal folders in the same drawer. When you’re looking for a file, the drawers do not need to be pulled out as far.

Flat file cabinets are designed to hold non-standard sized documents like blueprints, charts, posters (stored flat) and maps. Some models can be stacked and/or bolted together for the appearance of one tall unit; other flat file cabinets are available in 10-drawer units. There are numerous types of flat filing cabinets available, including features like, metal plan depressors to keep documents flat, anti-slip pads to prevent stacked units from sliding, dust covers and oversized drawers. As with most other types of filing cabinets, flat files are available with or without locks.

Hanging files come in a variety of styles, and depending on the type, can hold both standard and non-standard documents. The files in hanging file cabinets can be mounted in one of two ways, hanging clamps or hanging folders. Hanging clamps secure the documents without denting or marking them; they are ideal for larger documents like plans or blueprints. Usually, they must be purchased separately, and come in several sizes, 18", 24", 30", 36" or 42". Hanging folders are designed to hang between two rods or in a bin or in a drawer. They are most commonly letter or legal sized, but larger folders are available.

Roll files are designed to store your files “poster” fashion, either in tubes or rolled up. They are available in either vertical or horizontal styles. Some types of horizontal roll file cabinets have doors, ensuring that both ends of the file are protected from dust, etc. Vertical roll file cabinets have the added benefit of being readily accessible. They can have different configurations that can hold 8, 12 or 20 or more files. Roll filing cabinets have different features that might include reinforced tube openings to prevent snags and tears, tiered bases that elevate files for easy viewing and label grids for easy identification.

Mobile filing systems have all the features of regular vertical, lateral or hanging files, with the added capability of being portable. They can be transferred easily from one desk or office to another. Depending on the style and design, many mobile filing cabinets will fit beneath a work table or desk, and will include either hidden or regular casters. Mobile file cabinets can feature locking casters, a CD drawer, storage shelves and pockets for quick access to active files.

What Kind of Material Should I Choose?

Whether you are buying a filing cabinet for your home, home office or business, you want it to be strong, long-lasting and well made.

Made by gluing recycled wood fibers together using heat and pressure, MDF or medium density fiberboard, is generally more affordable than solid wood and is as durable. Lighter than solid woods, MDF can be shipped conveniently and cheaply. MDF, when paired with laminates or wood veneers, can look and feel like real wood.

Laminates are produced by pressing layers of materials, such as plastic and wood together and then sealing them with a thermosetting resin. The laminate sheet is then applied to the surface of the file cabinet, which is typally made from some type of engineered wood. Home office furnishings with a laminate finish will be durable and easy to care for.

Wood veneers are created by attaching thin slices of real wood to the piece of furniture to give it the texture of genuine solid woods. Since the veneer can be applied to any smooth, flat surface, it is a popular way to make furniture because it keeps costs down, while giving it the look of genuine wood.

Office furniture made from real woods are manufactured from wood cut from the trunks of trees like oak, mahogany, redwood and pine. Considered the best material for quality furnishings, real wood file cabinets are strong and long lasting.

Steel is a popular material for filing cabinets because of its strength and durability. Since all metals are subject to the effects of time and oxidization, choose a metal filing cabinet with a durable finish or a protective coat that is resistant to corrosion.

What Else Should I Keep In Mind When Choosing a Filing Cabinet?

Safety first: purchase filing cabinets with an anti-tip mechanism that will allow only one drawer to be open at a time.

For added strength and durability, purchase units with reinforced, welded steel corners.

When buying a vertical or lateral file cabinet, if you want to avoid having to use hanging files, select a unit with high sides that won’t require hanging rails to keep folders in place.

Check manufacturers’ product descriptions for the maximum weight capacity per drawer.

The three most commonly used file folder sizes are:

Letter – 8.5 x 11 inches
Legal –  8.5 x 14 inches
A-4    – 8.3 x 12 inches

If fire protection is important to you, keep in mind that these types of cabinets are insulated and are therefore very heavy.


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