How do you figure out what kind of stationary shelving will best suit your filing system needs?

Read my Article “Questions to Ask Before Choosing Shelving for Your File Folders” for a list of questions designed to help you figure out your particular shelving needs.

I have listed stationary storage units with advantages and disadvantages associated with each type of unit. I have only included units that have a finished look (not industrial) suitable for an office or a record’s department. Units included in this comparison are: Vertical 4 drawer file cabinet, Lateral 4 drawer file cabinet, Stackable Open Shelving , and L&T Open Shelving.

For simplicity purposes I based the comparison calculations on letter size file cabinets.

1: Vertical 4 drawer file cabinet

Vertical file cabinets are what most people think of when considering a filing unit. The records are positioned front to back in the drawers.  File drawers are suitable for very small file systems.

Comparison Unit: One filing cabinet measuring 16″ W x 53″ H x 27″ L

-Floor space required 5.9′ (square feet) (includes drawer extension)

-Total filing inches provided: 100″


• Familiarity

• Unit can be locked

• Hides files, making the shelving unit more decoratively attractive


• Expensive

• Very inefficient use of floor space

• Time-consuming because of need to open each drawer to access files

• Difficult to use with other media

• Requires using hanging files which are expensive and break easily

• Need to reach down into files which increases chance of cutting hands on files

• Difficult to reach top drawer

• Tips easily with top drawer open

• Color-Coding not efficient because you can only see small portion of the files at one time which leads to more misfiles

• Not suitable for large filing systems

2: Lateral 4 Drawer File Cabinet

These units are basically vertical file cabinets with the drawers opening on the long dimension instead of the short dimension. The records are positioned side to side in the drawer.

Some Lateral file drawer units do not require hanging files to be used.

Choosing between lateral and vertical cabinets depends mainly on available floor space or preference for which way the files are positioned.

Comparison Unit: One filing cabinet measuring 32″ W x 56″ H x 21″ L

-Floor space required 9′ (square feet) (includes drawer extension)

-Total filing inches provided: 133″

Same Advantages and Disadvantages as Vertical File Cabinets except Lateral units require more floor space.

3: Stackable Open Shelving

Stackable shelving is basically metal boxes with the front open and stacked upon one another.

Comparison Unit: One shelving unit measuring 36″W x 74″H x 12″D

-Floor space required 3.2′(square feet):

-Total filing inches provided: 252″


• Somewhat efficient use of floor space

• Color-coding files efficient way to spot misfiling, all files are visible

• Versatile, can easily add additional cubes on top to increase shelves

• Less expensive than units with drawers

• Easier to access files

• Top shelf accessible

• Reference shelf can be used

• Height of unit is lower if ceiling clearance is an issue


• Contents cannot be locked without addition of some kind of door (adds to expense)

• Dividers are stationary so efficient use of space on each shelf is reduced

• Records are visible

• Difficult to use with other media, shelf spacing cannot be changed

• Not as durable as L&T shelving (see below), more difficult to convert to movable

4: 4-Post Open Shelving (also called L&T Shelving)

This is my recommendation for an open shelving option. I have seen 20 year old units filled full with records that look as new as the day they were purchased. The tongue-in-groove and rolled steel construction contribute to excellent durability.

The example listed is a single sided unit. L&T shelving is also available in double sided units so the files can be accessed from both sides of the shelves (brings down the “per filing inch” cost).

Comparison Unit: One shelving unit measuring 36″W x 76″H x 12″D

-Floor space required 3.2′ (square feet):

-Total filing inches provided: 252″


• Efficient use of floor space over file drawers

• Type of construction of this shelving makes it extremely durable

• Meets seismic requirements

• Suitable for conversion to movable shelving units

• Shelves are adjustable on 1-1/2″ increments

• Accommodate different types of media

• Suitable for color-coding which helps spot misfiles

• Less expensive than units with drawers

• Easy to adjust shelves for use with other media

• Easy to access files

• Top usable shelf accessible

• Multiple people can access the files at the same time

• Reference shelf option

• Adjustable dividers for efficient use of shelf space

• Economical way to maximize filing inches

• Easy to assemble


• Contents cannot be locked without addition of some kind of door (adds to expense)

• Records are visible

• Cannot add to the height of the unit

The units described above all come in different widths, heights and colors along with various amounts of shelving/drawers per unit.  Also, this is a comparison of the most commonly used stationary methods for filing and is not all inclusive.

As I have illustrated, the amount of floor space required versus record capacity varies with each shelving type. You can now make your shelving purchase feeling confident your most important requirements have been met!

See my article “Movable Shelving for File Folders” for information on mobile shelving.

>Share what your experiences have been using stationary shelving.

5 Responses to “Stationary Shelving for File Folders”

  • Lateral File says:

    The comparisons are really portrayed in a very gentle way! I have a huge liking for the lateral file cabinets. However, I think L&T shelving is a nice option you have shared, although I do not have much experience about it but will definitely give a try. Thanks!

    • Teresa says:

      Thank you for your comment. L&T shelving is a great option for situations where durability, space, and price are the primary factors.

  • Great advice!I’ve been looking for information on the net.

  • Emil says:

    I agree with you that before buying the better we compare the goods so that we can get the goods that are needed. Your information is very helpful for anyone who wants to find a filing cabinet in accordance with needs. I really enjoyed reading your information. Thank you for the information.

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