Staples | File Cabinet Buying Guide

File Cabinet Buying Guide

File cabinets are an office essential. They keep your documents protected, organized, and out of sight. When choosing a cabinet for your work area, the most important considerations are how much space you have and what types of files you'll be storing. These two criteria will guide your choice.

Vertical file cabinets

This is a traditional style of cabinet that's common in many offices. Vertical cabinets are taller than they are wide and therefore use a minimum amount of wall space. They can have two to five drawers and hold letter and legal–size documents. The files in a vertical cabinet are placed from front to back in the drawer, with files facing the user.

While vertical cabinets are a good choice for long–term storage due to their compactness when the drawers are closed, if you'll be using a vertical file everyday, make sure you have enough room in your office. According to Anthony Hayes, a Staples Furniture Specialist, "A vertical file...doesn't use a lot of wall space. However, it does require an office that has a lot of walking space." Hayes notes that a vertical file cabinet requires an area that's equal to the depth of the file cabinet (about 29 inches), plus the length of the drawer when open (another 29 inches or so), for a total of approximately 58 inches.

Lateral file cabinets

Lateral cabinets, which are wider than vertical cabinets, but not as deep, are built for high–volume capacity. They also have two to five drawers and can hold letter or legal–size documents. Files are either placed in the cabinet from left to right, facing the side of the drawer, or are arranged from front to back in multiple rows. Many two–drawer lateral models are designed to fit underneath work surfaces and tables for additional storage and are often paired with a desk to increase horizontal space.

Lateral cabinets are efficient filing solutions, especially for crowded areas. According to Furniture Specialist Hayes, "A lateral file...can be placed in an area where there isn't a lot of walking space. Most of our lateral file cabinets are 19.5 inches deep with a 19.5 inch drawer extension. This allows employees to access all the files with a total footprint of 39 inches." Due to their shorter drawer extension, lateral files can be used in spaces where a vertical file cannot. "The lateral cabinet can fit nice and snug against a hallway wall...[and] would be ideal for a narrow office with a high volume of files that are retrieved on a regular basis," says Hayes.


Most file cabinets are made of steel for strength. "Steel is very durable and can withstand a lot of abuse and still look good," says Hayes. If you prefer the look of wood, consider how often the cabinet will be used. Hayes advises against purchasing a wood cabinet if it will be used constantly, since it's not as resilient as a steel cabinet. "Wood would be ideal for home office or small work office where there are not a lot of people using it," he says.

To protect your files, look for a well–made cabinet. Hayes recommends a reinforced base and double–walled steel sides for added sturdiness. All cabinets sold by Staples are tested for durability. "Every cabinet that we sell has been through a series of tests that have been established by the ANSI (American National Standard Institute) to ensure the safety and quality of the cabinet," says Hayes.

Safety features

Struggling with a file cabinet drawer that doesn't open easily is not only frustrating, it's dangerous. Invest in a cabinet with drawers that extend fully and glide smoothly on ball–bearing suspension. Also, choose a cabinet with interlocked drawers. This crucial anti–tip feature prevents more than one drawer in a cabinet from being opened at a time.

Protection of contents

If you're planning on storing confidential files, choose a cabinet with a central locking feature — all drawers are secured with the same mechanism. A lock kit will allow you to install removable and interchangeable lock cores in your cabinets so that you can use one key for them all.

If you're concerned about losing your documents in a fire, consider a fireproof cabinet. These cabinets carry the Underwriters' Laboratories Class 350 rating for fire and impact resistance, meaning that they can withstand temperatures of 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour, and the impact of a 30–foot drop. Be aware that this added protection may add at least a few hundred dollars to the cabinet's price, so a more cost–effective solution may be to store your irreplaceable files and other valuables in a safe. Read an article on how to choose a safe for your office.

Additional considerations

  • Plan ahead. Your filing needs may change over time, so purchase a cabinet that can accommodate both letter or legal–sized files and be sure to choose one with adequate expansion room.
  • Mobility. Need to move your files around the office? Try a mobile file cart. Dimensions vary, but these carts are generally no higher than 30 inches and no wider than about 15 inches. Many feature lockable casters, hanging file frames, and a lower shelf for large items. They're a handy item that can be tucked under a table or desk when not in use.
  • Check out collections. Many office ensembles come with lateral file cabinets. Because the items in a furniture collection are sold separately, you can add multiple cabinets as needed, or purchase complimentary pieces, such as a mountable hutch, that will provide additional storage and display options. It's the ideal way to create a professional and coordinated look for your office while still meeting your filing needs.

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