Heavy Metal...What's the Drawer? Museum Cabinet Checklist

Museum Cabinets Checklist

There are many things we use every day that, until such time as they give us a problem, we give little thought to. I can almost guarantee you haven’t spent too much time thinking about your archival storage cabinets this week? museum plan chestWhy would you? those heavy metal monoliths are generally one of the most ignored features of museum storage.

Here’s a brief eight-point checklist on what we think you should be looking out for:

1. Is it ‘Conservation Quality’?

The materials your cabinet is constructed from, or painted with, can have a negative effect on the enclosed contents. If your cabinets are painted, ensure that the paint that’s been used doesn’t ‘off-gas’. This could be potentially harmful to your valuable contents, especially when sealed in the microclimate of a drawer. Some coatings such as enamel are known to off-gas if not properly cured which could expose your items to acid migration. Wooden cabinets are not generally recommended for archival use for the same reason, acid migration, if you are using wood it’s important to line drawers with an acid free barrier material such as Marvelseal, or acid-free buffered tissue paper ensuring it is renewed regularly.

2. Drawers or doors that fit!

It sounds simple, but accurate close fitting draws and doors are important to exclude dust and pests. Poor quality cabinets can be manufactured with sub-standard engineering tolerances, which can cause gaps and awkward operation. Monitor your storage areas with an insect trap to minimise risk, pay attention to any gaps where the cabinet meets the floor.

3. Stack-ability

Ensure, should your storage requirements change, that you can utilise the existing space and stack your plan chest cabinets thereby maximising your storage space. Don’t assume cabinets can be stacked. If you’re planning to stack plan chest cabinets, don’t forget the top set of drawers may not be directly accessible due to their height.

drawer features

4. Can it take the load?

A full drawer, no matter what the contents, is a heavy drawer. Will they bow? Can the bearings or runners cope with the load? A smooth action is essential to avoid disturbing contents, overloaded drawers will fail, stick and generally become an expensive nuisance. If possible, weigh contents, or a sample, to ensure you specify the correct load capacity.

5. Is there a catch?

The very last thing you want from your museum cabinet’s drawer system is for the contents to become trapped in the runners, or at the rear where you cannot easily see if there is an issue. Most high-quality museum specification cabinets are fully accessible and have mechanisms in place to prevent such problems, but it’s worth checking. See image to the left showing a drawer with a rear 'curl' to prevent those types of issues.

fully opening drawer

6. Let’s be open…

To avoid issues when handling objects, a drawer which opens fully, without risk of tilting, gives you full visibility without needing to remove items. A smooth opening and full extension drawer is a ‘must’ with fragile items that need to be supported all around when being lifted in or out. Some items, such as fragile maps or textiles, would benefit from a ‘drop-front’ drawer allowing them to slide in or out without having to be lifted.

7. Horizontal or Vertical Storage?

vertical cabinet Hanging can be an effective method for storage of large paper items such as posters or maps, as long as they are properly supported and sleeved. Vertically stored items can be easier to view/remove without disturbing other items within the same cabinet. For more fragile documents a horizontal storage cabinet is usually a better solution, consider a support linen for backing posters and maps after flattening.

8. High enough?

Height is an essential specification for both horizontal and vertical storage. Remember to consider plastazote linings when specifying drawer heights to prevent objects fouling on the drawer or frame above. One of the most fundamental mistakes when using vertical cabinets is the suspension of documents that are too large once they have been enclosed and hung from a suspension tape, causing them to ‘drag’ on the base of the cabinet.

Our standard range of museum plan chest drawer cabinets are available in sizes up to 1750mm (5ft 7”) wide, with drawer load capacities of up to 100kg. Our vertical hanging cabinets are available up to 1610mm wide or 1390mm high.

Tried and tested in museums around the UK for over 35 years, our cabinets are precision engineered to the finest standards to meet all of the above requirements. You can also choose from a range of archival quality RAL colours to complement your space without compromising on conservation standards.

vertical cabinetWe took delivery of this colossal cabinet (pictured right with our MD, Sam) in 2017. The bespoke design and size was requested by the customer, we had it hand made to museum specification in the UK. The cabinet measures over 2.3 metres wide and 1.6 metres deep, however the drawers still extend to their full depth with the lightest of force.

For more information contact us or see our range of museum storage cabinets and racking here.

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