UPDATE: I ended up repainting the monkey rail white later down the road, because it was white on the original ship. Just pretend this post, and all the photos it has of the rail show it as white. Thanks!
The monkey rail is a railing that runs around the quarter deck at the rear of the ship. It runs the entire length of the quarter deck, and wraps around the back. It is made up of two parts – the monkey board and the monkey rail. The Model Shipways Bluenose kit provides some detailed drawings to work from.
The monkey board is the ‘wall’ of the rail, and the monkey rail is the ‘top’ or ‘cap’.
The construction is fairly simple. The monkey board is placed first, just inside the outer edge of the main rail. It starts at the great beam, runs to the stern, around the back of the ship, and back up to the great beam on the other side.
The ends at the great beam are rounded.
The curves at the stern are pretty tight, and getting wood to bend that way could be tough. So, the kit provides a laser cut piece to fill in that part of the monkey board. Unfortunately, that won’t work for me. Since I had to make my own custom-sized stern piece for the main rail, the kit-provided piece won’t work. Even if it did, the piece is so thin and fragile, it broke in half as I was removing it from the sheet.
So, I need to get some wood bent to the right shape. I started by soaking the wood strips in water. I didn’t pay attention to how long – probably 20 or 30 minutes. While the wood was soaking, I printed off another copy of my main rail templates, as these give me an accurate drawing the curve I need to fit. I placed the drawing on a pin board and covered it with some wax paper.
Once the wood was good and soaked, I used a plank bending iron from Model Expo to heat the wood while I pressed it into a curved jig. I wasn’t trying to get the exact curve I needed, I just wanted the wood to get at least partway there.
Then I pinned the strips onto my pin board, and used a bunch of pins to hold the wood in place while it finished drying.
I decided to make the strips just round the curve. I didn’t try to make them meet up in the middle. I’ll fill in that gap later with a simple straight piece.
After the pieces fully dried, they were cut to size, sanded, and painted. I marked them on the bottom as port/starboard since they were each bent to a specific side of the ship. I used the same technique I’ve used previously for painting these small pieces – I taped them down to a board.
Once I had them primered and painted white, I glued them in place the ship. Getting these curved pieces in just the right spot will serve as a guide for where the remaining pieces go.
With those in place, I cut the small piece to fill in the gap at the stern.
Finally, I cut pieces of strip wood to make the longer runs down the sides of the ship. I rounded the ends, sanded, and painted. These were then glued to the ship.
As a final step I cleaned up the joints. I sanded them down, then applied some wood filler. After sanding the filler down to get a smooth joint, I touched up the paint with a fine brush.
With the monkey board complete, time to start in on the monkey rail.
The monkey rail is a little trickier. Not only do we need to deal with the curves of the stern, we also need to ensure the rail ‘bends’ down over the monkey board’s curved ends near the great beam.
I considered trying to actually bend the wood strips for those ends, but decided to follow the suggestion in the instructions. The curved pieces will be carved out of wood. I selected a piece of wood strip that had the right width, but was considerably thicker. I held this next to the monkey board and traced the curve onto the strip.
I used my Dremel to rough out the shape, then filed and sanded by hand until I had a good fit.
It is important that the thickness of this custom piece match exactly the thickness of the wood strip I’ll be using for the rail. To make this easier, I turned to my old friend – double sided tape. I stuck some tape on a small piece of wood, which held the end piece and wood strip in place so I could sand them evenly.
This was repeated for both sides, and the pieces were marked starboard and port to keep them straight.
Back at the stern, I needed to cut a piece to wrap around the back. The kit provides a laser cut piece for this, but once again, since I made my own stern piece for the main rail the kit-provided piece won’t fit. I’ll need to make my own.
I held a piece of wood in place, and traced the curve of the monkey board onto the wood. I then marked the thickness of the monkey board and drew in the outside edges for the rail.
I cut the piece out using my little scroll saw, then sanded and filed it down to even it out. I didn’t cut the scarf joints yet – I’ll do that after things are painted.
Once again. all the assorted pieces got stuck on a board using tape. I sanded them all down, applied a coat of primer, sanded more, then painted them all black.
One detail is that this rail will hang over the edge of the monkey board by a tiny amount. So after the pieces were painted, I flipped them over and painted just a tiny bit of the bottom out near the edges. I left the center of each piece’s bottom unpainted so the glue would get a better hold.
Next came installation. I started with the curved ends. These were quickly and easily glued in place.
Next I cut the scarf joints into the stern piece. I just eye-balled these. Once those were cut, I did the matching cuts in the long rail pieces. This is easier to do while both the long pieces and the stern piece are off the ship. Some filing and sanding was required to get a good fit.
Once the joints were cut, I installed the stern piece.
Now all that’s left is the long rail sections. I had made these a bit longer (1-2″) than I needed. This gives me some wiggle room to get a good fit. I held one piece on, with the scarf joint nicely aligned, and marked where it hit the curved end piece at the great beam. I cut the piece there (leaving just a little extra length on the strip), then sanded the end of the strip until I had a perfect fit.
I glued the pieces in using a combination of wood glue and CA glue. I used wood glue for most of the length, with small spots of CA glue every couple inches. Since CA glue dries fast, these spots would hold the piece in place while the wood glue dries.
Once both sides were in, I did some light sanding/filing at the joints to even things out. I added some wood filler and sanded that down. Then I finished it up with a some touch-up paint.
With the monkey rail installed, I’m now finished with the hull structure. Big milestone for me, as these last few steps (painting, rails) have taken way longer than I expected.
Now I’m back into that fun part where I can work on any number of things, and if something gives me trouble, I can simply work on something else.
Ideally, the next step would be what I’m calling ‘hull details’. This would include building the rudder, sealing the hull with a clear coat, adding the nameplates and artistic scroll work decorations, and mounting the hause pipe lips.