How To Test Bakelite With Baking Soda – Follow Up

So when I discovered that baking soda appears to be just as effective for testing Bakelite as Simichrome is, I never dreamed I would learn so much. This blog is meant to be more informational than entertaining, so please excuse the lack of bells and whistles. I promise to keep the typos to a minimum and not to destroy the English language too much.
Bakelite and Catalin are both phenol formaldehyde resin plastics.
Fillers and the molding process are the difference. Bakelite is opaque due to fillers, can stand up to compression molding and does not require polishing.

Where as Catalin is translucent, brittle due to the lack of fillers, cast molded and polished.
Now to complicate things:
Black Bakelite.

Sometimes it tests with substances, other times it does not. But can pass a smell test. I am still unclear as of why. I’ve read many opinions on this. Does it have something to do with the fillers? Does the formula of black sometimes require less formaldehyde? Does it have something to do with the 3 types of Bakelite ( A B C) and the year it was made? There is a comment section below, if you have something to contribute, please share! This topic could be a whole other blog!
To complicate things further:


There is another type of plastic that sometimes gets in the mix called Galalith aka French Bakelite. It is Casein-formaldehyde, made from milk protein. It is sometimes mistakenly bought and sold as Bakelite. Some say it has tested positive for Bakelite, others say it hasn’t. The smell test would likely be your best friend with this one. As it smells like burnt milk or wet wool with a heat test. I have not yet found a piece of this myself to know first hand, but know others that have. There will be facts and links below for this as well.

I am no expert, nor am I genius. As a matter of fact during research I found someone who mentioned baking soda in a forum 2 years ago. (See This Convo) A lot of what I am reading is like a foreign language to me. But this is what I gathered based on the research I did. None of this is meant to be misinformation. So please, if you find something in this blog that is wrong, point it out. The last thing I want to do is misinform anyone.

Always test in an inconspicuous area and rub gently.

Bakelite – Phenol formaldehyde resin Opaque

This photo and the one under Catalin were taken of dice that my Jason held onto from his Grandfather. Interesting story on how the dice were acquired. Maybe another blog, the story is quite funny. You are seeing Simichrome on your left and baking soda on your right. The pic is not fab, but the simi did turn yellow. Although it is easier to see with the baking soda, which makes me think it might have one up on simi there.
Fillers – Fillers were used to strengthen the phenol formaldehyde resin.
“The Achilles heel was color. The pure Bakelite resin was lovely amber, and it could take other colors as well. Unfortunately, it was quite brittle and had to be strengthened by “filling” with other substances, usually cellulose in the form of sawdust. After filling, all colors came out opaque at best and often dull and muddy. Ultimately, Bakelite was replaced by other plastics that shared its desirable qualities, but could also take bright colors.”  – American Chemical Society
 Baekeland considered the possibilities of using a wide variety of filling materials, including cotton, powdered bronze, and slate dust, but was most successful with wood and asbestos fibers.”Wikipedia

Pressure Molded – The material was strong enough to compress.

See one of the machines used by Bakelite here.

Uses – From what I understand, Bakelite was used for more utilitarian purposes but was used for some decor and jewelry.
Black Bakelite –

As mentioned above, sometimes it tests sometimes it doesn’t. Here are some photo examples from myself and others:
It seems like black tests easily if it is a utilitarian piece. I tested on a steel file box with Bakelite handles/sides and West Bend electric skillet knob.

                                                                 Photo by Angie of Bunny Finds Vintage

Lexi Lewis of My Gilded Magpie provided a test and photos of two napkin rings. There was a faint yellow tinge with both simi and baking soda, but the black seems to come with it as well. See photo below for her results.

Tonya Arnold of Tahoe Tonya’s tested this black bracelet and got a very faint result. Below are her results.

Catalin –  Phenol formaldehyde resin Transparent

Photo by Angie of Bunny Finds Vintage

Cast Molded – The plastic was cast, it could not hold up to compression without fillers.

No Fillers – No fillers were needed to cast. It is often translucent, transparent, mottled or solid.

Uses – Jewelry, game pieces and radios mostly, but was used for other items around the home.

Galalith – Casein-formaldehyde

                                                        Photo from The Ganoksin Project

Cannot be Molded – It was produced in sheets and tubes and worked by hand.

UsesCasein (milk protein) was made to imitate horn, marble and porcelain in the late 1800’s. It also has a ton of other uses.  Galalith also had various uses and was patented in 1906. It has a long interesting history worth reading that can be found here

Alias – You will likely see, or have already seen, Galalith referred to asFrench Bakelite”  I am not sure how it adopted this nickname but according to this article  it is not correct, and after reading how she puts it, I would say I agree.

More Results

Always test in an inconspicuous area and rub gently.

Here are more examples of the test being done with baking soda on Bakelite pieces. Some folks stumbled upon a treasure or two they did not know they had. I agree with those that say the smell and experience are the best tools. But not all of us have those 😉

Sara Peluso of Sfuso shared her experience testing her Philco radio on her awesome blog the stories behind the stuffs . If you have never visited her shop, you are missing out.

Niki of Past To Pretty also shared her tests and results on her very entertaining, blog Hey That’s Awesome!

Again from Lexi Lewis. She was so awesome to test several pieces for us. Tortoise and Apple Juice, she even tested the eye on her AJ piece. 🙂 She used Simichrome and Baking Soda to test.

Tonya Arnold tested a bunch of  her Bakelite pieces! Tonya looks to her reference books, purchases from reputable dealers and has used 409 to test her pieces.

Other Plastics

Note just about all of us that contributed tested other plastics to be sure there was no reaction. So far no one has reported a color change on any other plastics.

Celluloid – Lexi Lewis

Various Plastics – Tonya Arnold

Various Plastics (again) – Me

Other known methods for testing Bakelite

Hot Pin Test – Not Recommended.  This method will cause damage. Please do not do this. There is no good reason to poke anything with a hot pin.
Regular 409 – Turns Yellow. I personally have never had consistent results with 409 and switched to Simichrome before discovering baking soda works. Pros – Readily available and works great on certain pieces. Cons- Not dependable for results.
Simichrome Polish – Turns Yellow. With the exception of black, Simichrome is pretty dependable. Pros – Is usually dependable for testing pieces and is a great polish to have on hand. Cons – Pricey, Not Readily Available for everyone.
Scrubbing Bubbles – Not Recommended. I never tried this method because I read it causes damage and is not dependable.
The smell test – If your sniffer works good, this is a great way to test. Bakelite contains Formaldehyde. You can smell it when the piece is run under hot water or rubbed with your finger to create friction. Pros – This test can be done on site, No substances are being used on the piece. Pieces that do not pass a substance test can pass the smell test.

Cons – If you do not have a good sense of smell, or if you cannot smell formaldehyde, this just won’t work.
Appearance and Sound – If you handled a lot of Bakelite in your time then this method is likely the one you would use most often.

Pros- You can just walk up to a piece with confidence and purchase it. No weird looks from strangers for rubbing a bracelet and smelling it or pulling out a “kit”.  Cons – Years of experience is necessary. For a seasoned Bakelite collector this is easy peasy.
Baking Soda – Turns Yellow. Seems to be just as good as Simichrome for testing. Pros – Cheap, Easily found, Yellow shows better Cons – Damage is unknown. No one has reported any damages using it. Use caution and do not rub hard, be sure to test, like with anything else, in an inconspicuous area.
Well that is all I have for now! If I missed any important details, feel free to include them in comments. I will edit this blog crediting those who provide valid information.

Thanks to those who contributed, and to those that take the time to write informational articles. I am hoping this blog helps clear somethings up for some of you or at least is a helpful start!

Angie, Child Of The 80’s

Please note this blog is a follow up to this one.


One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s