A Guide to Filing Cabinets

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This is a guide to buying filing (file) cabinets, intended to let you know about all the different types, models and makes you can buy and also a glossary of terms.

Different types

These are filing cabinets that carry documents in hanging suspension files that you will need to buy separately.  Foolscap means the size of the suspension files is slightly bigger than A4.  This is good because you will be able to file documents already in a cover or folder that is bigger than A4.  They tend to be very steady and good for frequent office use and usually come with anti-tilt mechanism.


These also take suspension files that hang but are slightly smaller than foolscap.  The advantages of this are they take up less room and are usually cheaper.  They are better for people who work from home or have a small office where space is at a premium.


Multidrawer (or Multi-Drawer)
These are smaller cabinets that file papers and small items in horizontal drawers.  You don't need to buy suspension files, but you can buy inserts that divide the drawers into sections so you can store smalls items, anything from nails and screws to sewing equipment or a collection of butterflies!  The most common sizes are 5, 10 and 15 drawers though you can get them in any combination.  The cabinets come in A4 size (most common) and A3 size.  Bisley also do a F-Series range which is half way in between.

Lateral or Side Filers
These are similar to foolscap filing cabinets but they go sideways.  Ideal where floorspace is limited as they are similar to standard filing cabinets but with a greater capacity and the drawers do not need to extend so far as they are not very deep. The downside is they are very expensive!

Fireproof and safes
These are cabinets that do what they say on the tin.  They are either made out of fire resistant materials and will keep important documents safe if there is a fire or they are made to keep your documents safe from thieves, more so than a normal filing cabinet that just has a standard lock.


Filing cabinets can be made out of steel or wood and a few are made out of plastic. 

Steel cabinets are nearly always fully assembled and require no DIY, occasionally you will have to attach handles but nothing more than  that.  They are for the most part hard-wearing and can last a lifetime, but they are susceptable to denting in transit.

Wooden cabinets come in two types.  Solid wood, and mdf with a melamine surface.  Solid wood ones tend to be more expensive but look nicer.  Mdf ones have more choice of finish and are more affordable.  Nearly all wooden cabinets are flat-pack except the top-end range.  They are fairly easy to construct and no specialist skills are needed.  Many wood cabinets can be set up to be either foolscap or A4 by the customer.

Finally there are plastic cabinets, these are usually mulitdrawer or small 1 or 2 drawer foolscap/A4 cabinets.  They are cheaper but are not as sturdy as either steel or wood.  They will not last as long and other than for table-top filing, are not recommended.

Other things to think about

There is a large difference in price between the executive Bisley filing cabinets and the cheaper soho cabinets.  Does this mean the cheaper cabinets are rubbish?  The simple answer is no.  Some manufacturers make more of a popular item and therefore can keep the price down.  The cheaper ones do tend to be either more popular or the dimensions are less generous or you have to do some DIY but this does not mean they will fall apart or are useless!  Sometimes choosing a different colour can make all the difference.  Not many people want red cabinets, so less are sprayed red making cost per cabinet much higher.

Made to order
Many manufacturers have cabinets in their model portfolio that you can't seem to buy.  This is because they have to be made to order.  Usually this takes 4-6 weeks and it is not cheap unless you are doing a very large order.  But if you just have to have a certain colour or combination not kept in stock, most suppliers can still order it in for you if you enquire.

Some cabinets are lockable which is a deterant to most people, though a determined thief could still get in with a crowbar.  But it will stop people at work rummaging through your files if they're confidential or stop children rearranging your papers in a pretty pattern if you work from home!


This is the most well-known firm of British manufacturers of steel filing cabinets.  They are well-known for quality and endurance.  Visit www.bisley.com to see their ranges with full specifications on all their models.

Is a relative newcomer to the industry and has been in business for 30 years.  They're based in Suffolk. www.silverline-oe.com

This is another manufactuer, not very well-known as they sell their cabinets as generic items without their logo on. www.damsinternational.com

Triumph TBS

This is not an actual manufacturer, but a name applied to different cabinets made by different companies.  I have not determined if it has any meaning or not!


80% / 100% extension
How far the drawers open.  If they only open 80% you can still reach into the last 20%.  It is a measure to stop the cabinet from tipping over if you should open it too far.  100% extension cabinets usually have anti-tilt instead.

A mechanism that allows you to only open one drawer at a time, thus preventing the cabinet tipping over if you had all the drawers open.

No this isn't a poker term but refers to the handles on a cabinet.  It means the handles do not protrude from the filing cabinet but are built inwards.

An acronym for Small Office Home Office which means the cabinet is suitable for this type of enviroment.  Bisley use the term Homefiler instead.

Suspension files
These are files that hang vertically from the sides of the filing cabinet drawers.  They come in two sizes foolscap and A4 and in a variety of colours.  Make sure you buy the right size as most cabinets are either one or the other and will only take one size.

Come and visit our eBay shop for more ideas in filing!

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