Despite the rise of electronic documents, file cabinets remain a fixture (and a rather ill-designed one) in most offices. Choosing one involves more than simply selecting the number of drawers; subtle differences can affect whether you wind up with a neatly organized filing system or mounds of paper stacked on top of desks. Factors you will want to consider include office space, the sizes and types of documents you store, and quality of construction.
This guide is designed to give you the facts you need to know about buying file cabinets for your business. The various sections are listed in the box above. You can choose to read this guide from beginning to end, or jump directly to a section of interest.
Types of File Cabinets
There are two main types of file cabinets on the market. The traditional file cabinet is called a vertical file cabinet. These have anywhere from two to five drawers per cabinet. Letter- or legal-sized files are stored facing the front of the drawers.
An alternate design is a lateral filing cabinet. These cabinets are much wider than standard designs, allowing files to be stored front to back or side to side in the drawers. They are also not as deep as vertical cabinets, allowing them to serve as wall partitions or credenzas.
Vertical file cabinets are often preferred in offices where wall space is at a premium. Although vertical files do not hold as much as a lateral file, they take up much less wall space and feature drawer depths ranging from 15 to 28 inches.
Lateral files are more flexible in terms of filing. They can usually hold legal and letter-sized files in the same drawer, while vertical designs must choose one or the other. Lateral drawers are also bigger, holding about one-third more files than a standard vertical unit, with cabinets available in widths from 36 to 42 inches.
When identifying a high-quality file cabinet, the first area to examine is the suspension system that holds the drawers. Even when filled with weighty files, well-built cabinet drawers should open and close smoothly.
Safety features are a matter of quality and should be a priority as well. It can be useful to look for some mechanism to keep the file cabinet from tipping over when multiple drawers are pulled out. The highest quality units use counterweighted drawers and internal locking devices that allow only one drawer to open at a time.
The more use a file cabinet receives, the more likely it is to be damaged. A higher, thicker, more durable grade of steel will protect internal and external components of your file cabinet from damage.
Fire & Impact Resistance
There are specially tested file cabinets that have been found to be fire and/or impact resistant by Underwriters Laboratory. This means that the cabinets can maintain an interior temperature of less than 350º F for one hour even in a 1700-degree fire. Some cabinets can even protect computer disks and media tapes, which must be kept below 125 degrees to avoid damage.
In many cases, a safe can be a less expensive alternative to file cabinets for safely storing confidential materials.
Other Filing Options
If your storage needs exceed your available filing space, you may want to consider a mechanical filing system. These consist of rolling cabinets that can store many more files in a set amount of floor space. To access the files, you simply roll or move the cabinets apart to create an aisle.
Another option is open shelving, which are sets of shelves placed side by side and on top of one another. With open fronts, all files are easily accessible, and it is simple and inexpensive to add shelves as your business expands.
Buying a safe may provide a substantially cheaper alternative to storing important media and documents than paying the extra $400 to $500 for a fire- or impact-resistant filing cabinet.
The cost of a file cabinet depends on the materials used, the number of drawers, the dimensions, and the lock. A two-drawer file cabinet ranges in price from $20 to $600. In contrast, a lateral file will generally cost $200 to $400 more than the least expensive vertical file. A five-drawer cabinet will cost anywhere from $500-$1,300. Fire and impact resistance can add $400-$500 more to the cabinet price.
- Buy cabinets as part of systems furniture. Most manufacturers offer cabinets in different colors, designs, and materials to fit in with the rest of the system design.
- Check internal drawer width. Some cabinets are slightly wider, which can be more forgiving for users who tend to overstuff file folders. Also, inquire about the maximum weight capacity per drawer and choose a cabinet accordingly.
- Avoiding hanging files. If the metal frames of hanging files prove to be a nuisance, look into file cabinets with high-sided drawers that do not require hang rails.
- Save by buying used cabinets from dealers or auctions. Since older units are typically made with high-quality materials, they can be a good bargain. Be careful to check for dings and dents, however.
- See dealers if you want the most options. While an office superstore can be an easy source for buying file cabinets, furniture dealers often exhibit a wider range of options.