Another Bakelite Article

Douglas Broome / / September 17, 2004

view the Bakelite Cleaning article
view the Bakelite History page

In greater or lesser amounts Bakelite is found in most Mercedes-Benz Pontons: window surrounds, dashboards, knobs, etc. Questions have often arisen about how to repair broken pieces and clean good ones. Hobby shops report that the common "superglue" is good for mending broken Bakelite pieces.

Cleaning is another story. With permission from the editor of Skinned Knuckles 1, I am providing a write-up that appeared on page 14 of the September 2004 issue:

"A correspondent from New Mexico [name] has passed along a report on restoration of Bakelite items that appeared in the July 2004 issue of a news letter from the British Motorcar Club of Southern New Mexico. The note was authored by Curt Arndt, Carlsbad, California. 

"Bakelite is the trade name for the first practical thermosetting plastic invented in 1908 by Leo Baekeland and widely used for a multitude of uses, mainly for electrical insulation material. Bakelite is a polymer material formed from phenol and formaldehyde that in most cases is made with a filler material, often wood flour (fine sawdust). Parts made of Bakelite are formed by molding using heat and pressure.

"The author reports that he learned his technique from an elderly gentleman who used the methods for repairing for repairing old radio parts such as knobs and insulators. Pieces to be restored are cleaned first with warm soapy water and a toothbrush to remove dirt, grease, and grime. If the surface is rough, as it will be if exposed for a long time to the elements, the surface will need to be smoothed. He starts with #0000 steel wool (equivalent to 600 grit sandpaper) and then working through 1000 and then 1500 wet sandpaper.

"At this time you may notice that the piece has a speckled brown/golden tinge due to the filler specks (fine sawdust) that have bleached out due to the years of exposure. The next step is to re-moisturize the piece. He normally uses plain black Kiwi Shoe Polish, hand buffed until no residue is left. Other folks prefer to use Neatsfoot oil, mink oil, or plain mineral oil. Finally a good grade of Carnauba wax is applied. The results are usually spectacular and far superior to just painting the piece."

1 Previously given as a general permission. Editor Bill Cannon generously said that items in SK are intended to help all old car owners and are therefore not restricted.

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