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Painted Beadboard

This past summer we painted our farm kitchen, which is wooden bead board wainscot and above that, horizontally laid bead board strips. Now that that winter is here and the kitchen is being heated, there are significant gaps showing up between most of these boards. Can anyone recommend a product that will mend these gaps and give and take with these type of seasonal changes and can be painted over? — Susan

The solution to your problem will not be found in a product. Instead consider function, design and method.

Beadboard functions by expanding and shrinking due to changes in moisture content from season to season, with a Tongue & Groove joint to account for the change. The tongues slide within the groves as the width of the boards changes. It is specifically designed with a bead to decorate the joint so the gap at the shoulder of the joint will still look good. Unless your beadboards have shrunk so much that the tongues have pulled all the way out of the grooves, your beadboard is probably working and looking the way it should. So, gaps at joints are part of the function and aesthetic of beadboard.

Filling gaps with any kind of caulk, sealant or filler now when the boards are narrowest and the gaps widest will probably cause problems next summer when the boards swell up and the gaps narrow, squeezing out any filler or buckling the boards.

I suspect a big part of your seeing the gaps as a problem is that stripes of unpainted wood are exposed to view. If this is correct, then the method of recovery is to just paint the unpainted stripes. Thin down the same top coat paint and apply it with a narrow “stripping” brush. Do this right at the end of the heating season when the gaps and stripes are widest. You want to thin the paint so you applying just a little color, and don’t get a heavy buildup of paint inside the tongue & groove joint that can “glue” the joints together and split the boards when they expand and shrink in the future.

To keep this from happening in the future, paint your existing beadboard when it is dry and the joints are widest. If you are installing beadboard, brush a little of the top coat finish on the tongues before they go up.

John Leeke is a preservation consultant who helps homeowners, contractors and architects understand and maintain their historic buildings. You can contact him at 26 Higgins St., Portland, Maine, 04103; or by E-mail:; or log onto his website at:

© John Leeke

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