Building a type cabinet

Anyone built a type cabinet from scratch? I’m thinking of giving it a shot and wanted to see if anyone had any advice. The basic box is easy enough, but I’m unsure of how to set the typecase supports. Any thoughts?

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Hi JonSel,

I am planning to build a couple of type cabinets. I was going use doubled-up 3/4” particle board (glued together with Gorilla glue making a 1-1/2” think piece of particle board) as the sides and using 1-1/4” screws to hold the angle-iron(?) (L-shaped metal strips with 3/4” on each flange) in place. Using a drill-press, drill holes for all the screws, about one every 4 inches, and then using a counter-sink to make the screws recessed when done.

In addition, using 2X4’s screwed in from the sides with 4” screws to prevent sway would be recommended in the rear (top and bottom), and the front (top and bottom). Possibly some 3/4” paneling in the rear to help keep the cabinet square - as I would think all the weight from the type could cause it to sway to it’s demise if provoked.

I’m wondering if this would be over-engineering or not enough?

I hadn’t thought about the metal strips. I’m not picturing how the countersinks would work and still provide support. My current plan is to make dado cuts into the sides and set in wood supports (which would be glued and screwed). Perhaps too much?

I was also going to use a hard wood like oak, not MDF or particle to build the sides, thinking it might be sturdier.

I chose particle board because it’s cheap and no one is going to see it, I think. The metal strips are basically a 1-1/2” piece, bent in half to a 90-degree angle - the side that rests against the side panels are screwed into the particle board, the countersinks allow the screws to be flush against metal, so the drawers slide without any problems. Originally, I was thinking of birch/maple plywood, and may still use it for the outside to provide a nice facade. Using wood as guides, versus metal would work, but I’m just concerned about the long term support of heavier drawers. The type cabinets I’ve seen all use metal guides.


The type cabinets I’ve seen all use metal guides.

After I posted my previous comment, I did a little googling of cabinets. I was hoping maybe I’d find some specs or something. No such luck. But you’re right, most of the cabinets I saw had metal supports. What about cutting a thin dado (with a regular table saw blade) and then hammering in a solid (unbent) strip of metal? Is that weaker or stronger than the 90-degree-bent strips?

I would think that as long as more sticks in the wood than sticking out. So if you have a 1” X 1/8” X 16-1/4” piece, 5/8” is into the wood, and 3/8” sticks out. That is assuming you’re going to be using 1-1/2” thick plywood. I would use doubled up plywood or particle board because of stability and strength. Obviously humidity could effect solid woods, but plywood is reasonably stable… particle board is another story.

I just saw on eBay a cabinet using 2X4’s to support the type cabinet. There is nothing wrong with this, but you would lose valuable case-space because of the thickness of the 2X4s.

That’s why using 1/8” thick steel would be a good choice.


At one time it was not that unusual to see type cabinets with wood runners. Kelsey sold a cabinet with wood runners. It was less expensive than the Hamilton style.

As a teenager-printer I did not have the money to buy a type cabinet, so I built one using the Kelsey catalog as a guide. I used 1/2 inch scrap plywood for the sides and nailed 1/2 inch quarter-round pine molding to the plywood for the runners. Note: The “finishing” nails were long, went through the plywood and were bent over on the outside of the plywood. On the outside covering these bentover nail protrusions, 2x4’s ran vertically at the corners. They also added support to the plywood to keep it from buckling. It worked very well and some of the cases were heavily loaded with type. Candle wax was used on the runners to reduce the wear factor. None of the type case runners ever failed.

Two disadvantages are wasted space and the drawers are less dustproof.

Woodworkers will tell you that the wood species for the runners should be a different species than the drawer bottom sliding edge. It could be birch and oak or maple and poplar. The runners should not be MDF or particle board because they cannot withstand much abrasion.

Here are a few words about type cabinet design with respect to mouse damage prevention. The older style of cabinet has wood runners and the cases are spaced far enough apart so that mice can get in between them and make nests. This makes a filthy mess, corrodes the type, and often results in chewed partitions. The newer style of cabinet is the so called dustproof design, where the runners are steel and the cases are designed to fit flush with one another. As well as having other advantages, this is a much better anti-mouse design.

If you use the dustproof design, you also need to make sure the cabinet is mouse proof on the top, bottom, back and sides.

The dustproof design will be most effective if you keep cases in every single slot of your cabinet. If you don’t, the open slots will provide a route for the mice to get into any open spaces which are between the cases and the cabinet’s inner walls. If you can’t avoid open slots, at least turn a case upside down and slide it in the open slot above the uppermost case, so the mice can’t make a nest in that case.

I’m new to printing and while putting together my shop this year was able to aquire two antique closed type cabinets and one open cabinet. While I was also fortunate in picking up a number of type cases with type I did end up with more than I had room in the cabinets for. I’m a cabinetmaker by trade so making something was not a problem but since space in my shop is at a premium as well as personal time I opted to make an open case that could sit on top of one of the others. You can see this case as well as other recently posted photos of my shop here:

I hope it may help and I’d be glad to answer any questions.