Toe Rail Layout

Toe rail, rub rail, and hardware mockup at the stem.


(to start of project)

There are more posts to do on Guatemalan boats, but in the meantime we’ve got our own boats to attend to.

Time for Toe Rails. This is a good example of how to take something simple and make it complicated. Or maybe things that look simple are more complicated than they seem.

Chapelle’s scantlings for the Toe Rails are 3/4” x 1 3/8”. Barto specs them a little thinner at 1/2”. I’ve seen Melonseeds done with big thick rails, no rails, and everything in between. Frankly, they all look good. I made some mockups to try different sizes out.

Chapelle’s 19th century models got a lot of abuse as hunting boats, so beefy rails probably lasted longer, but a full 3/4” thick rail looks chunky and oversized to me on these more delicate versions. A half inch looks about right, though it might be hard to countersink and drive long screws through their width without splitting something, or weakening the wood so much it snaps when bent. After a few mockups, I ended up liking 3/4” at the base tapering from the outside face to a rounded over 1/2”. This makes them a little stronger, with a wide base, but minimizes the chunky look.



The decks are cambered, of course, so the base has to be angled slightly or the rails get canted outward. I think it looks better if they continue the curved line of the hull. The rails mount flush along the edge of the deck, and the ends merge into both the stem and the transom, so you have to figure out ahead of time how to do the joints and angles on all the pieces involved.

Also, some of the nice shiny doo-dads I got as gifts get incorporated into the rails. They’re bronze bow chocks, made specifically for a Herreshoff 12 1/2. They almost exactly match the curve of the Melonseed bow, so the stem shape and rail joint will have to be finessed ever so slightly to get a good fit. I also have bow rings for a painter, but think I’ll try first just using the deck cleat. The chocks will prevent wear from docking, anchoring and trailering, so if a painter works here, too, all the better.

What all this means, though, is the stems have to be almost finished, and their final shape determined, before the rails can go on. So those little chunks of Ash that have been bumping around the shop for two years, cut away from the very first pieces of wood made for these boats, the laminated stems, finally get attached. In a few days they’ll get cleaned up, shaped and sanded, though they’ll be left tall until everything else is done.





Size and spacing of the scuppers in the rails is normally rather arbitrary. You just plan your screw holes so they don’t strike others already in the sheer clamp. We passed normal a long time ago.

After using his Melonseed a bit, Tony Thatcher mentioned it would be nice if the scuppers were a little bigger. Between routine maintenance, and a natural need for grab-holds when docking or moving the boat, he noticed it would be convenient to be able to slip your fingers through. I agree. So planning for bigger scuppers, I increased the height dimension 1/8” to allow for a bigger opening without weakening the wood too much.

I tried sketches with the scuppers all spaced evenly, which seemed simple and logical. This is where my eye gets me in trouble. Nothing on these boats is evenly spaced like a picket fence – it’s all curves and angles and everything is unique. I altered the spacing so they get farther apart, slightly, toward the ends of the boat, and for some reason this looks better to me, even though no one else will notice. Seems it creates a subtle optical illusion that makes the boat look longer, or more curvy, or something – I can’t really put my finger on it.

OK, larger scuppers, custom spacing, odd dimensions – any other weird factors?

Oh yeah. I don’t want oarlock risers on the decks. They just look out of place. It’s like you just set a piece of wood there, forgot it, and it got stuck. They interrupt the flow of that lovely sheer. They foul lines and catch the mainsheet when you least want them to. They protrude right where you would otherwise sit comfortably up on the side deck. You stub your toes on them. And you almost never use them. Things like this drive me crazy, obviously.

So I’m incorporating the oarlock risers into the Toe Rails. This sets them wider apart, which is actually better for rowing (I’ve already made slightly longer oars), but that means I’ll likely need to custom make, or buy at a very dear price, taller oarlocks. And, I have to make sure I lay out the scuppers so the oarlock socket is in the right place, and there’s enough room to reinforce it properly. Yes, seems I’ve had a complication with my complication.

If anyone had any doubts that I’ve gone completely round the bend, this should clear things up considerably.



While the stems take shape I’m teaching the Toe Rails to bend. Hopefully, they’ll remember what they learned when it comes time to mount them. One set, for Caesura, is made of Spanish Cedar. I had one board left, and it was plenty long. The other is Ash, but I had to scarf those to get pieces long enough. Somehow I missed photos of that adventure.




melonseed skiff, mellonseed skiff, melon seed, mellon seed   

3 Replies to “Toe Rail Layout”

  1. Barry, to get an oarlock that rides higher (assuming you will be using an oarlock with a shaft diameter of 1/2″):
    Get some oarlocks with a 5/8″ diameter shaft and grind down the lower 1 1/2″ to a 1/2″ diameter. I use oarlocks designed for Northwest drift boats, which are heavy bronze and have a lager diameter saddle to accommodate the thick looms I prefer.
    Leave a nice hard edged shoulder where the shaft diameter reduces, to ride on the oarlock base.
    I got this idea from a WWII Navy set of oarlocks which were originally cast as adaptable to 1/2″ or 5/8″.

    Saturday, April 23, 2011 – 02:14 AM

  2. I know the ones you mean, Michael, used for drift boats and rafts. That’s a great idea. Bet a friend with a machine shop would them turned on a lathe for a few bucks. I won’t know how tall to make them until I try it, though, so I’ll probably have to rig something first to figure that out. If you have a source for those oarlocks, do tell. The ones I finde are about $100 a pair.

    Sunday, April 24, 2011 – 10:35 AM

  3. $100 seems about par for good oarlocks. Definitely overkill for a little ‘seed, but what you need when plowing hard down a class 4 rapid and needing to avoid the gaping hydraulics at the bottom. Nothing worse than popping an oar out of the locks becuase you bent them!

    Monday, April 25, 2011 – 01:56 PM

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