How to Make Bakelite Plastic

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Producing Bakelite plastic isn't a do-it-yourself project. However, understanding the process can help you appreciate the history of the material and distinguish it from imitation Bakelite, known as "fakelite." Working in his chemical lab, Leo Hendrik Baekeland accidentally discovered the formula for the first synthetic plastic while trying to invent an alternative to shellac. He had intended to create a domestic source for shellac to provide insulation material for the new electrical industry. Like plastics of today, it is easily moulded and durable. It filled its marketing promise of, "the material of the thousand uses."

Mix the phenol and formaldehyde in a pressure vessel to form a resin.

Pour the resulting resin in a mould, either the shape of the finished item or a block of Bakelite that can be cut, carved and polished.

Harden the resin under high temperature and pressure, in excess of 71 degrees C Centigrade. Original Bakelike was formed in something called a Bakelizer which could produce the necessary high temperatures because, at lower temperatures, the result is soft and porous, essentially worthless.

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