DIY Projects

April 17, 2012

DIY Nautical Rope Railing

Here’s a little inside scoop on the story “Know the Ropes,” produced by Joel Bray from our May 2012 issue. Most of the story (except for page 143) was shot on location at my house in Tweed, Ontario and our back stairs play a pivotal role.

When the realtor first showed us the house, the back stairs were a feature I fell for instantly. I’ve always thought there was something fun and secret about back stairs. When it came time to renovate the kitchen several years ago, I decided to give the back stairs a mini makeover, too. Along with ripping up the carpet and painting the wood stairs in Farrow & Ball floor paint in Pointing (2003), I decided to add the rope handrail. I bought all the supplies at a marine supply store, Genco Marine in Toronto, and enlisted my Dad’s help with the install. He’s a former naval reservist who actually does “know the ropes” when it comes to knots and splicing. Here’s a little more about how we created the rope rail.

This is what the rope rail looks like from downstairs in the kitchen. (That’s my French bulldog Lulu perched on the stairs waiting for me to get a treat out of the treat jar in the pantry cupboard.)

Here’s a close-up view of the loop at the bottom of the stairs. My Dad used a technique called the 3-strand tuck splice, which involves partly unraveling the rope and then weaving it back into itself. You can find step-by-step instructions at the Machovec website here.

The splice is then wrapped in jute twine, a technique called “whipping”.

At the top and bottom of the stairs — and every meter or so along the rail — the rope is held in place with wall brackets and shackles. I chose shackles just big enough for the rope to fit through so that it wouldn’t slip through easily when gripped. I used butterfly anchors in the wall to hold all the brackets securely. Have a peek at these shackle sizes and ratings here if you need shackles that are made from the best possible materials that give them a strength rating approximately 50% higher than a comparable-sized carbon shackle!

At the top of the stairs the rope finishes in a coil. I did this just because I thought it looked nice, but it is actually a nautical technique referred to as “faking”. To fake a rope, lay it down in individual coils (each called a fake) so that the rope will unravel evenly and cleanly without fouling (or kinking). The end of the rope, called the “bitter end,” is wrapped in more whipping so that it won’t unravel.

So why not give it a try yourself? Or get even more ideas for rope projects in our Online TV segment.

Photo credits:
1. House & Home May 2012 issue, photography by Angus Fergusson
2. Donna Griffith
3-6. Margot Austin