Installing the Toe Rails took all weekend. It’s a job that needs a lot of planning, preparation, and either a lot of hands or a lot of clamps.
Given the way they’re attached, once on, there’s no easy way to take the rails back off for repairs or to fix mistakes, even if you don’t glue them down. But since Ash is prone to rot, it needs to be sealed in epoxy, and it seemed pretty clear the best plan is to seal everything up tight during installation, on both sets, so no water seeps into seams or screw holes later. Maybe doing that will delay repairs a bit longer. Working with epoxy, though, means a limited window of time for the whole process, start to finish. Everything has to go right.
I did several test fittings, and fine tuned a few bevels. The Spanish Cedar is more flexible and bent true. The Ash, however, is so stiff I could tell it was going to bend more at the scuppers than between, making a bumpy curve. So I left the wood above the scuppers as thick as possible, and will sand them back after the glue sets.
The bronze screws for this are 2” long. They have to go through the rail, the deck, and into the sheer clamp, in countersunk pilot holes. Testing on scraps, it was evident the pilot hole on a standard combination countersink bit was too small. The bronze is so soft the heads strip out before they can be driven home. So I had to carefully drill each hole twice – once for the pilot hole and once for the countersink. The countersinks have to be small enough to fit within the width of the rail, too, making the hole the same size as the screw head, so there’s no margin for error. If the pilot hole is off center a tiny bit you’ll have a real mess, and won’t know it until it’s too late. I spent a lot of time setting up a jig on the drill press, and that part went fine. No way to know how the rest will go until you’re knee deep in it.
With everything ready – clamps on hand, screws laid out, epoxy on the bottoms of the rails, and a thickened bead along the deck – I took a deep breath and dove in. I started the first screw, then held the piece down with one hand while driving it in with the other. The first one went fine. The second screw stripped out part way in. Worse, it stopped just below the surface of the countersink – too deep to grab it, and too shallow for a plug to hide it.
And there was a gap between the rail and the deck.
I had visions of destroying weeks of work trying to get the dad-blamed thing off again. Meanwhile, the epoxy was starting to kick off.
I got a step ladder so I could stand above it, and with all my weight on the drill, slowly tried to back the screw out. It stripped out again in a quarter turn, but that was enough to get the head flush with the surface. I pulled out some special needle-nose pliers to do emergency surgery, got a tenuous grip on the head, and slowly twisted in tiny increments. Fifteen minutes later the blasphemous thing was out, and no damage done that couldn’t be sanded off.
Whew! Close call.
Obviously, trying to manage the drill with one hand wasn’t going work. Deploying straps and clamps to hold the rail in place, I pulled out a second drill and chucked in the pilot bit. Positioning the rail exactly, I drilled a pilot hole through the deck and sheer clamp, just before inserting each screw. From then on, I’d start the screw until it just caught, then stand on the step ladder above it and press down with both hands to drive them home. No more stripped screws.
Terri got some pictures after the cursing was over.
Aside from cleanup, and some extra clamping, the rest went fine. Another hour of work and it was all done. In a few days the rest of the clamps can come off for sanding and sealing.
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