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Tips for Choosing the Right File Cabinet

Sujata Iyer
Tired of having your paperwork all over the place? Or did your flea-market-find of a file cabinet prove to be a party for termites? It's time to get yourself a new file cabinet. Here's a guide to making a purchase that suits your needs and stays with you for long.
If you have odd-sized paperwork that you wish to store, when going file cabinet shopping, carry a sample to check if it fits.
Filing, even in today's technology-centric world, is one of the biggest problems that most offices face. Sure you can save all kinds of data and records on a tiny little chip, but paperwork cannot be avoided in all cases. The level of authenticity associated with a hard copy of a document can never be equaled by a soft copy.
However, storage of the said documents can be more than a tedious task in the absence of an efficient filing system. And one of the prerequisites for that is a good filing cabinet. Here's a brief look into the types of filing cabinets, followed by a set of tips on choosing the right one.

The Types

Before delving into the whole affair of choosing the right file cabinet, you need to be aware of the options that you have. Once you have decided what kind of filing cabinet best suits your needs, you can go about looking at the other points that should be considered.
There are two basic types of file cabinets:
  • Vertical
  • Lateral
The image given here will give you an idea of what they look like.

Vertical File Cabinet

  • A vertical file cabinet is, as the name suggests, a cabinet that is more vertical than horizontal.
  • It is usually 25, 26½, or 28 inches deep and allows for storage of files from the front to back.
  • It is best suited for letter size (8.5 × 11 inches) and legal size (8.5 × 14 inches) papers.
  • Most vertical file cabinets have 2 to 5 drawers and are best suited for areas with more walking space because when opened, the drawers will extend to their whole length which can be up to 29 inches.

Lateral File Cabinet

  • Lateral file cabinets are wider and less deeper compared to vertical ones. An average lateral cabinet will be approximately 20 inches deep.
  • The most common widths that lateral file cabinets come in are 30, 32, 36, or 42 inches.
  • In addition to being suitable for letter- and legal-sized paper, they are perfect for storing architectural or engineering designs, artwork, and other super-sized documents.
  • They allow for lateral filing, facing the side of the drawer.
  • They are suitable for areas with lesser walking space as the length is not as much as that of vertical file cabinets.
Once you've picked the type of file cabinet, do your homework to ensure that you buy the right piece.

Choose a File Cabinet that ...

Is suitable for the area you need it in

Where do you intend to use the cabinet? Is it just to keep your bills and other important documents at home, or are you looking for something for an office?
For home use, simply designed but beautifully patterned wooden ones are preferred. They add to the aesthetics of the room and are easy to use as well. For office use, metal ones are preferred because they are:
  • Cheaper
  • More durable
  • Versatile
  • Stronger

Is perfect for your filing needs

What size of paper do you generally file? How frequently do you or will you actually use the cabinet? If you plan to use it regularly, a metal one makes more sense because it can handle rough usage and wear and tear better.

Is made of good material

As mentioned earlier, an office will benefit better from a metal file cabinet.
Steel is the general favorite for file cabinets as it is sturdy and can withstand heavy loads. Make sure the piece you select has sturdy drawers that extend completely when pulled.
Check that the drawers come with a ball bearing suspension which makes it easy to open and close drawers, not to mention save the ears from that irritating screeching sound that ill-fitted drawers make.

Is loaded with safety and security features

The protection of documents within a filing cabinet is essential. So, choose a cabinet that is packed with safety and security features. Ensure that it has a single locking system for security.
You can always have the lock system changed after buying, but ensure that it has one to begin with.
To prevent destruction of documents by fire, opt to buy a file cabinet that has an Underwriters Laboratories Class 350 rating. Cabinets with this fire rating can protect contents within them even in a fire that rages at 1700°F by maintaining an internal temperature of 350 degrees. They can even resist high impact; for instance, a drop from 30 feet.

Is not a nightmare to assemble

When purchasing a cabinet, ask the dealer if the piece will be delivered fully assembled, partly assembled, or totally disassembled.
Assembling a file cabinet even in part (which generally requires the casters at the bottom for movement to be fitted) can require professional expertise, not to mention a lot of time and patience. Do you have all of that? If yes, great! If no, we suggest you stick to a fully assembled piece

Has basic features required of a file cabinet

Apart from these points, there are more questions you need to ask to buy an ideal file cabinet. Have a look.
  • Is it mobile enough for you to clean under it when required?
  • Does it come with warranty? What if parts need to be replaced?
  • Does it have a follower block: an adjustable plate at the back of the drawer to prevent documents from falling over.
  • Does it have interlocking drawers to prevent drawers from falling out when multiple are open?
  • Does it come with a protective coating to prevent damage from rust?
These are the salient features that any average file cabinet should have. So, keep them in mind, and make a purchase that will be worth the money you spend on it.