As discussed in our other blog post, there are two main types of drawer slides; roller slides and ball-bearing slides. But which type of drawer slide should you choose? Which one is the best? This blog is aimed to help you choose which drawer slide is best for you and show you why. To learn more about the basics of drawer slides, check out our Drawer Slides 101 blog.
Roller slides consists of two members with each member having their own roller, usually made of plastic. Each roller will fit into the groove found on the other member and will be at opposite ends of the mechanism when fully retracted. As the mechanism extends, the front roller allows the top member to move outwards and the back roller follows in the groove of the bottom member until the two rollers meet. You’ll typically see roller drawer slides used in household applications like desk drawers where you expect fairly lightweight loads and a horizontal configuration.
Ball-bearing slides make use of ball bearings instead of rollers to allow for the telescopic motion. They consist of three members and two sets of ball bearings that interface between each member. As the mechanism extends, the ball bearings allow each member to slide pass each other until fully extended. You will see ball-bearing slides used in a wide range of applications from household functions, like dresser drawers, to industrial machinery. You can also find heavy duty versions of ball-bearing slides that are design for harsher and heavier applications.
Below are a few factors you would consider when selecting different drawer slides. To determine which type is best, we’ll compare their designs and what is typically available for each type of drawer slide.
Load rating or load capacity is the maximum allowable load or weight the drawer slide can handle before failure. The ball-bearing design of the ball-bearing slides allow them to carry much larger loads compared to roller slides. You will typically see roller slides having a load rating less then 100lbs, while our cabinet ball-bearing slides are rated for 400lbs and our heavy duty slides are rated for 500lbs.
Guide Rail Length
The guide rail length is how far the drawer slide will extend from fully retracted to fully extended and is also called stroke length. You will typically see roller slides having a guide rail length around 20”, while our cabinet ball-bearing slides have a maximum guide rail length of 50” and the heavy duty ball-bearing slide have a maximum guide rail length of 60”. Ball-bearing slides can have a longer guide rail length due to their design as it gives the slides a larger contact area between each member. This gives the ball-bearing slides greater stability when fully extended compared to the two contract points of the roller design.
Generally, the stainless steel ball-bearings of the ball-bearing slides will be more durable than the plastic rollers of the roller slides. This is simply due to the material properties of the two rolling elements. As stainless steel has a greater material hardness compare to plastic, it would wear less and last longer for a given load.
Due to their design, it is not recommended to use roller slides in any other configuration than horizontal and should only be mounted to the side of a drawer. This is because the rollers are not fixed into the grooves of each member, so if their orientation was to change, the rollers could pop out. For ball-bearing slides, you can have more flexibility in their orientation compared to roller slides as the ball-bearings are fixed within the grooves of each member. This allows ball-bearing slides to be used in both horizontal and vertical configurations. Some ball-bearing slides can even be mounted to the bottom of the drawer, but you’ll need to check the manufacture’s specifications to ensure you can do so and how bottom mounting effect other specifications like load rating.
Ball-bearing slides will give you greater flexibility and longer life expectancy compared to roller slides. While roller slides are good option for household applications where there are fairly lightweight loads and low frequency of use, ball-bearing slides can perform similarly for little to no downside. The much higher load rating, longer available extensions, and greater durability make ball-bearing slides a safe and reliable choice for any application. Plus, their flexibility in orientation makes them ideal for home automation projects like hidden drawers or drop down TVs.