Shortly after the Civil War and well into the first three decades of the 20th century beadboard was a popular finish in many homes. It was used as a full or partial wall covering in back hallways, pantries, kitchens, bathrooms, and many of us can remember it in our old classrooms at school. It also was used on porch ceilings, and as material for eave soffits. It reached the height of its popularity in homes built in the Victorian style and in summer homes and lake cottages built around the turn of the 20th century. It is still popular in lake and summer homes being built today. It is often called wainscoting because of its common use as a lower wall paneling. In some old carpentry texts it’s referred to as “ceiling” no doubt due to its use as porch ceiling and by 1900 it was known as “sheathing” in New England and some called it, “matched sheathing”, particularly in the Boston Area.¹ It was and still is a relatively inexpensive millwork product that comes in a wide ranges of styles and sizes. Bead board is noted for two distinguishing features. First, beadboard is edge-matched with a tongue on one side and a groove on the other so that the boards fit together. Second, it incorporates one or more half-round beads milled into the finished face of the board. Typically there’s at least one bead and a quirk(sharp recess) running along the tongue side of the board that helps disguise the joint between two boards and frequently there’s a center bead as well consisting of one, two, or even three beads.
So, with that bit of background information, we can take a look at this whimsical (def. “playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing or amusing way”) beading plane from the Stanley Model Shop. This plane found its way to auction in April of 2001 and has been one of my favorite Model Shop planes since then.² The base of the plane is 6 and 5/16ths inches long and 1 inch wide and is identical in shape to the base profile seen on Charles Miller’s tonguing and grooving plane I wrote about in a previous post entitled, “From the Stanley Model Shop – Charles Miller’s Tonguing and Grooving Planes”. The two cutters that form the tongue are held in place by two machine screws that when tightened bear down on a machined lever cap that bears down on the two cutters and holds them firmly in place. They are adjusted individually and would be set parallel to each other when cutting the tongue.(See Figure 2)
When the plane is used, the rear tote is held in the right hand and the left thumb is placed on the nicely shaped thumb rest and the palm portion of the left hand lies along the fence on the left side of the plane over the beading attachment.
The beading cutter is mounted over a slot cut into the left side of the fence of the plane.(See Figure 3) The beading cutter is held out of the way by means of a leaf spring and can be locked in this position by engaging the small locking lever on the bottom of the beading attachment.(See Figure 4)
The tongue portion is then cut to the proper depth on the piece of beadboard(1/4th of an inch). Once the tongue has been cut the small locking lever holding the beading cutter is disengaged and by applying pressure using the palm of the left hand to compress the leaf spring the beading cutter is pushed through the slot in the left hand side fence of the plane and the bead is cut along the length of the board. The cutter for the bead cuts a 1/8th inch wide and 1/8th inch deep bead.(See Figure 5)
The plane body is cast iron except for the beading cutter attachment which is made of nickel-plated brass. The diminutive lever cap and screw that hold the beading cutter it in place are a delight to the eye. Except for the three cutters and the lever cap which holds the two tongue cutters in place the remainder of the plane is heavily nickel-plated.. The nickel plating is in great shape and is a cut above the nickel plating I’m used to seeing come out of the Stanley factory during this time period.
So who made it and when was it made?. There are no Model Shop numbers anywhere on the plane and I have not been able to find any information that a patent was ever filed for this plane so we can’t be absolutely sure who made it. However the rear tote and the shape of the plane body are identical to those seen on Charles Miller’s tonguing and grooving planes and several other planes he produced while at Stanley. The craftsmanship and design are characteristic of Miller, so my inclination is to give him credit for this plane. Based on the tool’s characteristics, the years Charles Miller worked at Stanley and the rising popularity of beadboard in the 1870’s-1900, I would date it to the mid to late 1870’s. Typically there is no bead on the grooved side of bead board so we can assume that the groove on beadboard would have been cut using one of Mr. Miller’s tongue and groove planes such as the Stanley #48 or #49. Even though this visually appealing and functional plane was never put into production by Stanley, whoever made it incorporated wonderful design features and was proud enough of his work to take the time to give it a shiny nickel finish. More than 130 years later it still has plenty of appeal.
by Paul Van Pernis
¹Leeke, John, “Behind the Scenes with Beadboard”, The Old House Journal Online, Feb, 2006.
²18th International Antique Tool Auction, April 7, 2001
2 thoughts on “A Bit of Whimsy from the Model Shop”
Enjoyed the article on bead board as I have always liked the looks of it and have used it in finishing the walls in our basement as a wainscoting. My Mother in law has a story of her childhood. She lived on a farm in southern MN and they had bead board on the walls of the back entry and when her brothers would come in from the barn they would kick off their boots spaying the walls with manure. As the youngest child it was her job to scrub the walls and get all the manure out of grooves in the bead board. This was not an enjoyable job for a little girl.
Thanks Lee for the comment and the great story. I’m sure your mother didn’t look forward to that job!
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