How to Build a File Cabinet


Trying to build your own file cabinet using an empty drawer? Done right, the DIY-approach to making a filing cabinet provides both added cost savings and enhanced customization. The expert team of woodworking professionals at Woodworker’s Hardware offers some helpful guidelines for converting your unused drawer into a well-organized filing system. These simple tips below apply to different types of file cabinet systems including those requiring side mount, recessed, or drop-in unit installation methods.

Take Interior Measurements

One of the first steps to make a drawer into a file cabinet is measuring interior dimensions. To prevent files from dragging, your drawer should have at least 10” of interior height to allow for most hanging frame applications. There should also be about 1-1/4” of clearance above folder tabs placed in the drawer to prevent any snagging when opening and closing. Certain file cabinet rail installations, such as side mount, will require a drawer with about 12” of interior width.

Check Load Ratings

Another important step to make a drawer into a file cabinet is to check your load ratings. Be sure both the drawer box and drawer slides are rated to carry the extra paper load. Using equipment with the wrong load rating will potentially result in costly damage to your file cabinet hardware. Heavy-duty drawer slides, such as KV 8505, are ideal for converting drawers into durable file cabinets.

Choose the Rail Type

Another critical step to build your own file cabinet is selecting the type of hanging rails. You’ll need to decide how to install hanging file folder frames in your drawer as there are a variety of options available, with three of the most common file drawer choices listed below.

One of the easiest rail installations uses PVC hanging file rail components from trusted brands like Custom Accents. These PVC rail components come in multiple sizes to slide over the top of the drawer sides and can be easily cut down depending on your drawer depth.

For a customizable alternative to standard file rail systems, consider adjustable file brackets and bars from brands like Kinetron. These metal hanging rails can be positioned lower in the drawer or even below the top of the drawer (if it’s deep enough). Lateral brackets which slide over the file cabinet rail give you the ability to hang files from front to back, instead of side to side.

A drop-in file system is a fine option as well. These systems, such as Rev-A-Shelf’s RSRAS.SMFD.52, use metal rails that are cut to fit the file cabinet drawer’s dimensions. Next, the rails are assembled into a frame, dropped in place, and fastened to the front and back of the drawer. With drop-in components, both letter sized and legal sized file systems can be built. Plus, creating divided storage is simple.

Ask a Woodworking Professional

To recap, the important items to consider when building a DIY file cabinet are the drawer's interior dimensions, maximum load rating, and type of hanging rail system. These guidelines will ensure your file cabinet drawer system is sturdy, operates smoothly, and is properly organized. At Woodworker’s Hardware, you’ll find all of the file cabinet hardware to fit your application. If you have any questions about file cabinet components or installation methods, please fill out a brief contact form or give us a call at 800-383-0130.