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Building a flat file paper storage cabinet - Part 1 (planning and construction)

Can't see the floor or the desk for the paintings and papers covering every surface? Is your art consuming too many rooms of the house? Need somewhere to store all that paper and the paintings safely? Found that commercial flat files or paper storage cabinets are just too expensive? Maybe you need to build one yourself!

It's been a very long time since my last blog post, and for that I heartily apologise! To be fair, I did have a reasonable excuse - I needed to finish my PhD thesis without interruption, and everything else in my life got put on hold for about 6 months while I finished writing up. But now that's done, I'm excited to get back to painting and writing blog posts!

One thing that had become a bit of a problem in the last few months were the endless piles and loose sheets of paper that I had spread all over my office. These weren't just your ordinary papers - not A4 copy paper and not even A3 size. These were pieces of sanded pastel paper roughly 75 x 55 cm (29 x 21 inches), and what's more, many of them had either finished or unfinished pastel paintings on them, so were essentially unable to be stacked in case the pastel rubs off (as I don't use fixative because it dulls the colours). I had a big problem!

So I started looking around for a way to store my big pastel papers and paintings, and discovered what are called "Flat files", or paper storage cabinets. And to my horror, the commercial flat files (with the dimensions I needed for my paper) were about $1,400 to buy at a minimum! No way!

So I decided that I needed to build something to suit my needs myself (or should I say, with the invaluable help of my partner Pete, the carpenter - Fix-it Pete!). So here's a photo of all my newly purchased materials (see Fig. 1). Altogether they came to a fraction of the price of the commercial cabinets (around $200).

I spent a good couple of hours in Bunnings designing the flat file paper storage cabinet and collecting all the materials - I'm sure all the staff thought I was crazy going around with a measuring tape, ruler, pen and paper and comparing everything in great detail!

When designing the cabinet, I had a spot in my office/art studio set aside for it - I wanted it to fit underneath my large painting desk. The bottom of the desk is 60 cm from the ground and the legs roughly 1 m apart - so I had my maximum dimensions sorted!

I decided I didn't need proper drawers (with runners or expensive drawer slides) because there wasn't going to be a huge amount of weight on them, and since I was just storing paper, there wasn't much risk of things going over the sides. Furthermore, I wanted more shelves, closer together (often the commercial flat files have drawers or shelves that are 18 cm [7 inches] high), because I certainly wasn't planning to stack thousands of paintings one on top of each other - that would be too risky for the paintings.

So I decided on 7 mm thick flat plywood shelves, with some front and back bracing (pine mouldings) to prevent bowing over time. The shelves would fit into rails on the sides of the cabinet, and would be designed to stay flat even with weight on them when they were pulled out (I didn't want them tipping all my precious paintings on the floor!). Here is Pete screwing the rails (made of 4 cm pine mouldings) into the sides of the cabinet before it is put together (see Fig. 2).

Once we'd measured all the sides of the cabinet itself (with 18 mm thick ply for the sides and base, and 12 mm ply for the top and back), we (Pete mostly - I just wiped away the excess glue) constructed the cabinet itself (see Fig. 3).

With my hastily-designed cabinet plan, however, we ended up with some unsightly end-grain plywood and pine mouldings at the front face of the cabinet (see Fig. 4).

Being the fine carpenter that he is, Pete couldn't just leave it like this - so instead he created a series of facing boards to cover the end-grain, and specially cut them to fit around the shelf supports. Here's the work in progress cabinet with the facing added to one side, and not yet the other (see Fig. 5).

Constructing the cabinet to this point was all a surprisingly rapid process - Pete is a whirlwind when it comes to getting things done well yet quickly. It's definitely handy having a carpenter in the house! We also added castor wheels to the bottom of the cabinet to make moving it much easier.

Next post I'll show you the finished cabinet! (you can find Part 2 here)

Have you been looking for a way to store your papers and paintings? Or have you already found a good solution? Maybe you have suggestions for how to improve the current design? Please feel free to share your ideas or comments below!

#flatfile #paperstorage #cabinet #largepaper #doityourself #DIY #plywood #pine #building #carpenter #FixitPete #finishedpaintings #storing #mar15

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Laura is a visual artist, veterinarian, conservationist and disease ecology Research Fellow trying to juggle a multitude of passions - and she's too stubborn to drop any of them! She is particularly fond of bush walking, rogaining, camping (especially with her mother, Jenny), bird watching and photography. She lives with her partner Pete in sunny Brisbane, Australia, and dreams of having an art studio in the rainforest!

All images, graphics, and content on these pages are ©2015 Laura Grogan all rights reserved.

For permission to use artwork, please contact Laura.