Dust Seal: Quaint or Mandatory?

Welcome! Forums Project Series Joiner’s Toolbox Project Dust Seal: Quaint or Mandatory?

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    Julius Rumpf

    Dear all,

    I am currently building Chris Schwarz’ ‘Anarchist’s Tool Chest’. (ATC) I have very limited access to quality lumber where I live, so I have to squeeze as much chest out of the materials at hand as possible.

    The ATC features a skirt at the top of the carcase and a dust seal that wraps around the lid on three sides. The upper skirt is glued on slightly below the rim of the carcase, while the dust seal overhangs the lid a bit. This creates a simple sort of labyrinth seal. This seems to be a very common design.

    Since I did not have sufficient lumber to build both the upper skirt and the dust seal, and my tool chest will be stored indoors in a relatively safe environment, I decided to forego the dust seal in favour of the upper skirt. The lid is rather heavy (around 6 lbs), so I figured that I could glue on some rubber/felt around the top rim of the caracase, which the lid would compress with its own weight and thus create a quite tight seal which dust cannot penetrate.

    Of course, after making the upper skirt, second thoughts have arisen. The dust seal design of the ATC seems to be nearly ubiquitous in old tool chests. And I suppose the old masters had access to thick felt, so maybe I have overlooked a fundamental flaw in my design.

    In hindsight, I could have just ditched the upper skirt and make the dust seal overlap a bit more – but it is too late for that, unfortunately.

    Your opinion would be much valued: can I carry through my original plan and build the chest without a dust seal on the lid?

    Many thanks in advance!



    Semi-Mandatory on Chris’s design, fully mandatory on a simple top like Paul’s. If you are making it for live indoors, I would run a slight rebate in the lid so that when it close it is just recess a bit into the trunk. This will help create the seal both for dusty and “climate control”. One of the reasons a trunk helps reduce rusting is the will fitted lid seal. It slows temperature change down enough in the chest to help prevent “sweating” on metal tools. This means less chance of the tools rusting.

    Tuscloosa, Alabama
    Lung T'an Hu Huesh Kung-fu Woodshop


    Another reason for a lip on the lid of a chest, in general, is that without the lip, if the top isn’t perfectly flat, you will see a waggling gap between the lid and top of the chest. In this chest, the top is a frame and panel, which helps, but even still, a lip will help. On many chests on which the top is pretty much just a board, the lipping becomes more important for hiding gaps over time and can be incorporated into a decorative moulding.

    My guess is that you can add this feature later when resources become available and can use the chest in the mean time.

    Julius Rumpf

    Many thanks for your replies and sorry for the slow response… life tends to get in the way of woodworking 🙂

    I like the rebate idea, this would also reduce the immense weight of the lid a tiny bit. Also, climate control and hiding any irregularities and gaps seem important functions of the dust seal.

    However, I wonder: would a thin layer of rubber or felt around the top not achieve the same? The overbuilt lid would compress the rubber/felt and thus create a pretty tight seal that would also hide any gaps (?). The chest would only live indoors.

    For various reasons, adding a dust seal later would either be very labour intensive and/or look ugly. Thus, I would prefer to bite the bullet now if it’s inevitable.

    I would much appreciate it if you have any further thoughts.

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