The reasons to use tongue and groove paneling include traditional charm, quality, strength and durability. Tongue and groove paneling is the traditional means of installing wainscoting, but it can be used wherever paneling is suitable or desired.
As opposed to imitation paneling sheets which, although less expensive, are not made from real wood and look cheap, authentic tongue and groove board looks nicer and has the feeling of real beadboard.
Tongue and groove board is also known as beadboard. The reason is simple. Along one lengthwise edge of a piece is what is called a tongue, a protruding strip of wood centered on the short edge. It's carved out by equal router cuts on either side.
Along the opposite edge is a groove. The tongue of one piece fits into the groove of the adjacent piece and creates a bead. That is why it's called beadboard. Beadboard is about 2 1/2 inches wide, about 5/16 inches thick and is sold in 10-foot lengths.
1. Traditional Material
When wainscoting was first used, it was purely a practical way of increasing the life of interior walls. Very old homes had the problem of moisture seeping up from the ground and rotting the lower walls. Using slats of wood, this was prevented or at least disguised.
As wainscoting became an aesthetic feature, the use of tongue and groove boards were the way to do it. There was no such thing as prefabricated paneling. Today, even though it is more expensive, using tongue and groove boards as opposed to panel sheets maintains the traditional method of installing wainscoting.
Real tongue and groove board is of a higher quality than synthetic paneling. Although it could be argued that synthetic fibers are more water resistant than wood, authentic tongue and groove board emits an air of quality that imitation panel sheeting cannot match.
Because it is thicker than the imitation paneling, tongue and groove board has more natural resilience against breaking. Even stronger than real wood is the synthetic material MDF. Despite the fact that it is not wood, it is still manufactured in the same way as traditional tongue and groove board, only it is stronger.
Over time, wainscoting will be bumped, scratched, nicked and chipped. Real wood or MDF tongue and groove board will hold up as well if not better than imitation paneling. The imitation stuff is durable, but it is also cheap looking. While real tongue and groove board might sustain some dings, it will never lose its character.
The last and perhaps most important reason to use real tongue and groove board is its character. Its texture, outward appearance and natural grain all add to its charm and ability to turn a room into an traditionally elegant space.
If you have not decided between real tongue and groove board and imitation paneling, consider what they both have to offer. While imitation sheets will be less expensive, you will pay a price in authenticity and character. Real tongue and groove wainscoting and other paneling requires more precision when installing it, but it creates a nicer atmosphere.