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Filing cabinets : what to look for

Filing cabinets : what to look for

Filing cabinets have always been an important part of every office and despite the virtual revolution; hard-copy documents still need to be stored somewhere.

Lateral or vertical office cabinets?

There are two main types of filing cabinet: lateral and vertical. Vertical cabinets are more common but both systems have advantages that should be considered in relation to specific filing needs.


Vertical filing cabinets

Vertical cabinets stand up-right with the drawers 'stacked' one on top of the other and files are stored from back to front. The main advantage to these is that they do not take up a lot of space and this makes them an ideal choice for small offices. Vertical cabinets also have deep drawers ranging in depths from 15 to 28 inches. If your documents are particularly important you'd be well advised to invest in a metal fireproof cabinet to safeguard your paper work. The disadvantage of vertical cabinets is that they cannot hold both legal and letter-sized files so if your filing requirements include different sized documents it may be worth getting a lateral cabinet.

Lateral filing cabinets

As the name suggests, lateral cabinets are much wider than verticals and usually only have two drawers. Files can be stored from back to front (like in verticals) or they can be stored from side to side. Drawers in lateral cabinets are not as deep as in verticals but their other features make up for this lack of depth. Laterals are much more flexible in terms of filing as they can store both legal and letter-sized files. They can also hold up to 33 percent more than vertical filing cabinets; unfortunately the unit takes up more space. Lateral cabinets come in widths ranging from 36 to 42 inches.

Features to look for

Two of the most important features to look for in a good filing cabinet are suspension and safety. When looking for filing cabinets, safety should always be a priority feature. Safety mechanisms to look out for include counterweighted drawers or locking systems that only allow one draw to open at a time. Both of these features prevent filing cabinets from falling over when one or more drawers are open.

The suspension system is what helps the drawers move smoothly. A good suspension system will keep the drawers moving smoothly even when they have a heavy load of files.

Another feature is the grade of metal used to make the cabinet; the higher the steel grade the more durable the cabinet. Fireproof and impact resistant filing cabinets available to prevent damage to sensitive materials and documents but these do cost more. It may be more economical to buy a safe for such materials.

Other options

If you're short on space then rotary filing cabinets are a good option because they have a much larger storage capacity than both vertical and lateral cabinets. They work by using a simple rotating system that enables the user to flip through rows of files. Rolling cabinets are also a practical solution and consist of rows of open shelves that can be moved apart to gain access to the different shelves.


Cabinets vary in price from $20 to $1,300 depending on the number of drawers, the steel grade (or other materials), dimensions, safety features and storage capacity. Lateral filing cabinets can be anywhere between $200 and $400 more expensive than verticals. Fire and impact resistant cabinets can add up to $500 to the price.