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Rubrail
This page was last updated on 2 January 2004.


The mahogany toerail I added during the original restoration made a vast aesthetic and functional improvement to the boat, but from the onset I knew it wasn't finished.  The outer board, against the hull, looked decent, but it cried out for some trim at the bottom edge.  What it needed was an "official" rubrail, which would not only trim off the edge and make the toerail look finished, but would also help provide a modicum of protection against piers or other boats.

After putting off the project for some time, I procrastinated for another year or so before finally, with the benefit of having the boat warmly ensconced in the boat barn for the winter, attacking the visualization and construction of a rubrail.

I envisioned a rail capped with a bronze (or, as it turned out, brass) half oval strip, so my first step was to determine which size half oval I wanted to use.  I consulted catalogs and eventually decided that 3/8" half oval would be the correct size.  With that important, life-altering decision made, I moved on to conceive the ultimate rubrail shape.  Traditionally, these rubrails take on a trapezoidal shape, and I saw no reason to stray from this attractive and functional design.  Getting the shape and size just right, however, took several sketches and card board templates until I had the look I wanted.  With a successful cardboard template, I mocked up a short length of the rail with a piece of scrap mahogany, making the necessary cuts on my table saw.  (More on this later.)  I was pleased with how the profile looked in the wooden mockup, so I went ahead and milled the required pieces.


dustinthewind.jpg (40479 bytes)Milling was a several-step process, beginning with the thickness planer and a rough mahogany board about 12" wide and 1" thick.  I planed the board smooth, and then removed material with the planer till the board was 11/16" in thickness--the overall thickness of my rubrail.  This created huge piles of chips, of course.


rubrailstock.jpg (32254 bytes)Next, I straightened one edge of the board using a long straightedge and circular saw to cut it, and, with one smooth, straight edge, I moved to the table saw to cut blanks 1-3/8" in width, exactly the overall width I needed for the rubrail pieces.  Then, I made two cuts that had the effect of creating a rabbet on the back of the blanks.  The rabbet was designed to allow the rubrail to sit above and partially cover the existing exterior toerail board, thereby finishing off that lower edge nicely as well as keeping the rubrail up high enough so that it didn't add significantly to the width of the varnished rail trim.


rubrailmilled.jpg (46474 bytes)With the rabbet cut, I completed the millwork by making two angled cuts, which formed the top and bottom edges of the trapezoidal profile:  30 degrees at the top, and 45 degrees at the bottom.  This left me with a 5/8" wide flat section on the outer face, onto which my 3/8" brass half oval would eventually be secured.  Using a brand new thin kerf blade in my saw left very smooth cut lines, but I sanded all the pieces lightly with 120 (by machine) and 220 (by hand) to remove machine marks and to very slightly round the edges on the face of the pieces.  I ended up with 7 pieces of over 8' in length, plus several shorter pieces--more than enough to complete the job.


rubrailprofile.jpg (24722 bytes)
Here you can see the general profile of the new rubrail.  The rabbet, or L-shaped groove, on the right side is where the new piece is designed to rest upon and overlap the existing toerail edge.  The top edge is angled at 30 degrees for looks and to allow water runoff, while the 45 degree lower edge helps make a fine transition from the rubrail to the hull beneath, and also makes the lower portion of the rail visually disappear when the rail is viewed from a "normal" viewing height--from above, that is, rather then from the ground 6' below.  The flat outer face is 5/8" wide, which will leave about a 1/8" reveal on each side of the brass half oval trim.


I can hear you already:  brass?  OK, I'd love for it to be bronze.  But brass is what's available--I couldn't find a source for bronze half oval and don't even know if it exists--and, frankly, it doesn't matter a whit in this application, since it's a completely cosmetic and non-structural installation.  It will tarnish and weather in a manner similar to that of bronze, and will not interact with any other metals on board.  I'll even install the brass half oval with genuine (read:  soft 'n' lousy) brass screws.  Ordinarily, I'd never choose brass for onboard use.  In this instance, I have no choice--and it makes no difference.

Disclaimers aside, I think the brass will be sharp.  It should add that perfect classic touch to the rubrail trim.  I ordered several lengths from a local supplier.


rubrailmockup2.jpg (39525 bytes)With the rubrail pieces all milled, I decided to go ahead and apply a few coats of varnish while they were still off the boat--plus, I was waiting for bronze screws (with which to attach the wooden rubrail to the boat), mahogany 5200 (with which to seal the wooden rubrail to the boat), and the brass screws and half oval to arrive, so installation couldn't begin anyway.  After I got the first coat applied, I temporarily clamped one of the sections onto the boat so I could see how it would look.  Nice
!


rubrail1.jpg (47078 bytes)Once my needed supplies arrived, I got right to work.  I decided to begin installation at the bow end, since it would be easier to remove excess length at the transom end.  Beginning on the starboard side, I test fit one of the lengths of milled rail and, satisfied that the whole process was going to work as anticipated, continued as planned.  To create a more finished end at the stem termination, I cut a 45 degree angle on the forward end of the rubrail--and also at the after end, since I planned to create angled scarf joints between the pieces.  With the cuts made, I clamped the piece in place and prepared to install some screws.


rubrail3.jpg (39566 bytes)My plan was to dry fit the rail on both sides with screws, then to remove the pieces prior to final installation in a bed of mahogany-colored 5200.  Testing on a scrap piece of the rail, I set up a tapered drill bit and countersink to the appropriate depth for the #8 x1" silicon bronze square-drive, bugle head screws that I had purchased for the rail installation.  Because the screws would ultimately be covered with the brass half oval trim, I only planned to countersink the heads flush, with no need to create counterbores and wooden bungs.


rubrail2.jpg (26157 bytes)Beginning at the forward end, I predrilled and installed the screws every 12" on center; first, though, I marked where the screws holding the existing toerail in place were located, so that I wouldn't attempt to drill a new screwhole directly above one of the existing screws.  (This proved to be a valuable step, as in a few locations the 12" OC spacing ended up above the existing screws; knowing where they were located allowed me to adjust the spacing accordingly.)  


rubrail4.jpg (27332 bytes)In this manner, I proceeded down the length of the boat, clamping, predrilling, and screwing as I went.  At the joints between sections (each side required three 8' sections plus a shorter piece at the transom end), I refrained initially from installing a screw directly through the 45-degree joint, as I thought it would be better if I secured this joint only during final installation.  For each screw, I measured 12" from the last location, then marked the center of the flat outer face of the rail.  This ensured that the brass trim would be able to easily cover the screw heads, while remaining dead center as designed.  


rubrail5.jpg (29988 bytes)The dry fit proceeded smoothly for the most part, though in one location the drill/driver managed to twist the head of one of the screws apart, apparently because of defect in the screw casting, since this problem only occurred the one time.  The square head screws made power driving a breeze; standard Phillips head screws would surely have stripped out more frequently, and I don't even want to talk about slotted screws.  (Later removal of the damaged screw proved to be difficult and resulted in some damage to the rubrail...read on for more details.)


rubrail6.jpg (31179 bytes)At the transom, I ran the last piece of the rubrail wild past the transom end and, when it was secured, applied masking tape over the transom surface before using a thin pull saw to cut the end flush with and at the same angle as the transom.

 


rubrail7.jpg (38818 bytes)With one side complete, I duplicated the process on the other side.  Once all pieces had been dry fit, I began removing them in preparation for final installation in a bed of 5200 adhesive.  Before removing each section, I applied masking tape along the top and bottom edges of the rails, to help protect the hull and toerail during reinstallation later, and marked each screw location on the tape for future reference (if necessary).  Then, I carefully backed out the screws--the sure grip of the square drive sure made a difference here, though three or four of the screws around the boat broke off during removal.  Nothing is ever easy, despite one's best efforts to make it painless. 


oops1.jpg (41962 bytes)When I reached the screw with the twisted-off head on the starboard side, I pondered how to remove it.  Removal was necessary because I had to get the rail off so I could apply some 5200 behind.  I tried using vice grips on the remains of the head, but the remaining portion was already damaged and simply broke off under pressure.  There wasn't enough of the shank protruding to get a grip on--the screw had been nearly all the way home when the head disintegrated.  Fortunately, there was a slight divot in the top of the shank, which looked like the perfect size to cradle a drill bit for drilling out the screw.  At first, I did well, and drilled much of the screw out.  But a microsecond's distraction, and the drill bit slipped just off the metal screw--and into the wood around.  I stopped the drill instantly, but the damage was done.  Thunder crashed, livestock scattered, unsettled,  'round the corral, and for a moment (just a moment), the earth's rotation actually stopped upon hearing my cries of displeasure.  

Unlike Superman, however, I was unable to reverse the spin of the Earth--and thereby unable to reverse the stupidity of my earlier actions--so I was forced to come up with another way to deal with my damaged, brand-new rail without replacing the whole section--something that I suppose could have been possible, but was unsavory to say the least.  The screw was still firmly attached to the piece, so to get the section of rail off I was forced to gouge out a bit around the screw remains with a small chisel and a scratch awl, till the threads finally released their grip.  I set the section aside for a moment and removed the remaining rail sections from the starboard side.


tapedandready.jpg (34014 bytes)With the rail sections removed, I scuffed up the varnish in the area where the rubrails were to be reinstalled, to help the 5200 form its ever-tenacious bond.  I cleaned off the dust, and was ready for the next step.

 

oops2.jpg (37196 bytes)First, though, I wanted to address my damaged rail section.  Fortunately, most of the damaged area would eventually be covered by the half oval brass, but portions of the damage were beyond the extent of the trim, so I had to do something.  My first, logical, thought was to create a Dutchman to replace the damaged material.  As I started looking at the damage, I had the thought that perhaps I could simply bore out the damage using a 1/2" bit and install a large bung.  Unfortunately, the damaged areas was a bit too large for a single plug, but I thought that I could do it with two.  I started by boring a 1/2" hole (really a circular mortise, in this case) covering much of the damage, and installing a properly-sized bung in the opening with Resorcinol glue.  With the first bung installed, I bored a second hole--taking a bite out of the first bung in the process, as they overlapped--and glued in a second bung.  I left this arrangement to dry overnight before attempting to chisel the bungs flush with the rail.

oops3.jpg (40157 bytes)


rubrail10.jpg (34576 bytes)
The next day, I chiseled and sanded the bungs flush.  When the brass trim is installed, the repair will barely be noticeable.  The small voids around the center portions of the two bungs will be completely covered, leaving only the smooth, flush outer edges visible.


rubrail9.jpg (36811 bytes) Now came the fun part:  final installation.  I prepared my little section of rolling staging with all the tools and equipment I'd need:  rags, rags, paper towels, screws, drills, rags, paint thinner, and--oh yes--rags.  5200 is sticky, messy stuff, if nothing else.  Opening the first of  4 canisters of mahogany-colored 5200 I had on hand for the project, I applied heavy beads to the boat in way of the first rubrail section on the port side.  I carefully installed the first screw, while clamping the section in place a bit further down.  In this manner, I secured all the screws in the first section, drilling and installing two new screws near the stem to replace two that had broken when I removed them.  The additional screw holes will be covered with the brass trim later, so I wasn't worried about it.

rubrail8.jpg (36845 bytes)With the first section secured, I began the arduous cleanup process.  5200 resists all attempts at easy cleanup, so I used plenty of paper towels, rags, and paint thinner to remove most of the excess that had spilled out beneath the rail during installation, and to fill any voids on the underside of the rail.  When I finished the first section, I moved on down the side of the boat in a similar manner, one section at a time.  (There are 3.5 sections on each side of the boat.)   After the initial adhesive cleanup, I removed the masking tape and did a final cleanup, smoothing the exposed adhesive and ensuring that all areas were clean.  Ugh.  I hate this stuff.


Over part of an afternoon and most of the next morning, I completed the rubrail installation.  I used nearly all of four tubes of 5200, half a roll of paper towels, half a gallon of paint thinner, and several rags.  Fun stuff, this!  I was pleased with the rubrail, however.  It really finished off the appearance of the toerail trim and enhanced the overall appearance of the boat.


rubrail11.jpg (32014 bytes)With the major work complete, I waited several days for the 5200 to fully cure, and then spent a week or so (elapsed) time applying 4 additional coats of varnish to the toerails and new rubrail.  The final coats of varnish helped to integrate the new work with the old, making for a nearly seamless appearance.

 


brass1.jpg (32604 bytes)Once the varnish work was complete, I turned my attention to the final detail:  the brass half oval trim.  The material comes undrilled, so my first step was to drill screwholes and countersinks in the brass.  I intended to place the screws 6" on center, so the first thing I did was to physically check the spacing on the wooden rubrails to ensure that none of the new screws would end up spaced over the existing bronze screws securing the wood in place.  Once this was settled, I drilled the holes in the brass, which was easy enough--if tedious.  To speed the process, I marked several lines 6" apart on piece of scrap wood, onto which I laid the brass for milling.  When the pilot holes were drilled, I milled a countersink so that the screws would end up flush. I located the first screwhole 1" from the end; when I reached the far end, I cut the brass off 1" beyond the last hole, so that the holes would be symmetrical on each piece of the half oval.

brass2.jpg (29272 bytes)Getting each piece of brass  from the bench up to the rubrail and secured in place was a bit tricky at first.  The 3/8" half oval was floppy at best, but with the myriad holes drilled in it it became nearly unmanageable without bending or breaking the material.  Working alone, I figured out a way to temporarily secure it roughly in position with tape, just to get it up there and supported.  Once the whole length was supported, I could more easily adjust it to get it into the proper position before beginning to secure it in place.

brass3.jpg (34375 bytes)Beginning at the stern, I secured each section of brass with #4 x 3/4" brass oval head screws, predrilling the wooden rubrail for each screw and threading them in by hand.  In this manner I proceeded along the length of the boat.  Each side required two full lengths (12' each), plus a shorter section at the bow.  My small rolling staging was a Godsend for this project.

 


brass4.jpg (36194 bytes)I was pleased with how the brass turned out.  It added a nice accent to the varnished toerail and rubrail, and will also add a semblance of protection should the rail come up against another boat or a pier.  The rubrail project had the effect I had hoped for, and really added the needed finishing touch to the profile of the boat.  It's subtle, and doesn't overtly show up in these photos.  But trust me when I say that in person, it looks divine, and as if it had always been there.

Project complete.  If you're good, I'll post some additional photos when the boat is in the water.

  


Glissando, Pearson  Triton #381
www.triton381.com 

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