1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: The Mahogany Toe Rail

With shiny paint on the hardtop and the cabin top longboarded, I thought Awl Grip 545 on the cabin top was the next step, followed by more shiny paint. So I was surprised when my painter told me that the next step was to get the mahogany toe rail installed. Since my painter’s day job involves making Weaver Boatworks’ multi-million dollar sportfishermen beautiful, I tend not to challenge his judgement. But putting the toe rail on before the paint just seemed…wrong.

It turns out that at Weaver they don’t use bedding compounds to seal their teak toe rails to the deck. Instead, they make them on the shop floor with long scarf joints that are epoxied together. For an 80 foot boat, that’s a lot of toe rail. Once the rails (one for each side) are done, they coat the bottom side with epoxy twice and allow it to soak in. Then, 15-20 employees lift in unison and hoist the rails onto the boat. In preparation for installation, they also apply a coat of epoxy thickened with wood flour as a bonding agent to the deck where the toe rail will be installed. They lower the rails onto the epoxy adhesive, then use hundreds of clamps to press the rails to the deck. Here’s why this is a slick approach:

  • There are no fasteners penetrating either the rail or the deck.
  • No fasteners means no bungs, which new boat owners apparently think are unsightly.
  • Unlike bedding compounds and sealants, epoxy is forever.
  • If you ever needed to replace a section of the rail, just cut it out with a saw, chisel and grinder rather than wrestling with rubbery goo.

Since our Roamer is an aluminum boat, we’re not concerned about deck cores rotting out from water intrusion. But a lot of corrosion can happen in the joint between the toe rail and the deck. In fact, the worst corrosion on this boat back when we found it was under the toe rail. I decided the epoxy approach was good, so we’ll use it. But unlike Weaver’s customers, I think bungs in mahogany are a necessity on a proper classic Chris Craft.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

First, I dug the original toe rails out of the wood shop and laid them in position.

I used 2×4 scraps to keep the rails off the deck, since the underside was still coated with the original butyl tape caulking Chris Craft used and that stuff makes a sticky mess.

The rails were rotted out completely where there used to be teak side decks.

When the joint between the old teak side decks failed, water would wick down and destroy cabinetry inside the boat as well as the toe rail on the outside. Our new aluminum plate side decks should keep that from ever happening again.

Fortunately, all of the pieces were there and they still fit very well.

All of the screw holes still line up.

These old pieces will make great patterns.

Again on the starboard side, the rot was worst toward the aft section of the boat where the teak side decks used to be.

Another weak spot in the original execution: unsealed vent holes.

I like the stainless steel scoop vents that Chris Craft installed over these holes, but they could have done a better job sealing the wood after cutting them in the mahogany.

After test fitting all of the old pieces, next I pulled the African mahogany planks out from under the boat

Reserved 4 cap, indeed.

14-inch wide 8/4 mahogany boards are required, especially at the bow where the rails take a turn.

With the originals as patterns, cutting the rails didn’t take long.

Chris Craft used a 1:1 (45*) vertical scarf between the rail pieces and the joints tended to fail because the joint was less than two inches long. They also didn’t use epoxy for glue. This would let water inside the seam, where it would rot the wood and cause corrosion in the aluminum under the rail. We’re doing it the Weaver way, with long diagonal scarfs in the horizontal plane of the rail.

In no time, the rails were rough cut.

First one, then another…

…and another, then another…

…all the way around…

…to the other side…

And with that, all of the rail pieces were rough cut. But they were still 8/4 boards, which are about 2-1/8 inches thick. The originals were 1-1/2 inches thick from the factory. I plan on never replacing these again, so I decided 1-3/4 inches is a good final thickness. We took them over to the shop and resawed the rails down to the final thickness, plus a bit for final sanding.

The toe rails are cut, shaped and resawn.

They’ll sit under the boat until we prime the decks, which has to happen before the rails can be epoxied in place.

Next up in our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Prepping the Aft Enclosure for Primer.


7 comments on “1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: The Mahogany Toe Rail

  1. Fabulous work – as we have all come to expect from none other than “Super Roamer”.
    As for the bungs – dont do it/not necessary with the epoxy method, eh? They really do come undone, unless of course you are going to encase the toe rails in Awlbrite, or something like that, aren’t ‘ca?
    Oh well, I did get a new SS Kobalt toolbox for my Roamer yesterday.

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      Thanks, E!

      I’ve heard that bungs glued in with modern epoxy don’t leak or pop out like they might have with varnish or older epoxy’s for glue. Sealing the wood on all sides is the real key, I think. We’ll give it a try and see.

      As far as the finish for the toe rail, I’ve got a gallon of Imron MS1 ready to go. Weaver uses it on their boats, and it’s apparently a four-year finish that DuPont specifically formulated for the marine brightwork market. Four years between recoats sounds pretty good to me. I could do with a bit of a break in maintenance once this thing’s done, even if the materials are (relatively speaking) extremely expensive. If I recall, the MS1 is $110/gal, but the activator is something like $200. Still, if you do the math on six coats of varnish every spring, it kinda starts to make a lot of sense.

      Back at it…

  2. John Ulrich says:

    You are starting to make this look…easy, Great work!

  3. Craig Lindberg says:

    Man! Another lesson to remember and credit to you for thinking it through to do it better. I’m awed at the scale of this project relative to my 23 Lancer Overnighter which also gives me a great appreciation for what you are doing. Good show!

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      Thanks, Craig! The credit for this approach to the toe rail really does go to Weaver Boatworks, since its his moonlighting fairing crew and woodworker who brought it up with me.
      Good luck on that Lancer. Do you have a blog about it to document what you’re doing?

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