"The phone is a remarkably complex, simple device,
and very rarely ever needs repairs, once you fix them." - Dan/Panther

Main Menu

Cleaning and Polishing Ivory Bakelite

Started by cloyd, May 11, 2015, 12:51:42 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


I can't find any specific information here for cleaning and polishing Ivory Bakelite.  (I say bakelite; it is a 1950 WE302. Is that bakelite?)  Is the reason I can't find anything because it isn't any different than black or some other color?

It would be very helpful if someone made a video of using a power buffer on a bakelite phone.  I really can't picture holding both the buffer and the phone.  Couldn't you hold the buffer in a vice and then have both hands for holding the phone?

Thank you,
Tina Loyd
-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- 1885


Indeed it is a bit cumbersome to hold both the phone and the buffing tool. But it is doable though, depending on the kind of buffing tool you have. It is definitely preferable to use a stationary, table top or stand-mounted motor with wheel. This allows best results and reduces the danger of injury of either person or phone.

An ivory 302 housing is made from cellulose acetate plastic; Western Electric used the Tenite brand from Eastman Kodak, who was probably the first and definitely the most prominent of the early producers.  They called it Tenite Acetate, but also had slightly different varieties called Tenite Acetate Propionate and Tenite Acetate Butyrate, or simply Tenite Propionate and Tenite Butyrate.  These all are thermoplastic polymers and can be easily reshaped by heating, and at the right temperature become become totally liquid.  The butyrate variety was used for the 500-type telephones from 1950 to 1959.

Bakelite is a thermosetting polymer which can never be melted again and cannot be reshaped. It can be polished though to some extent, but this depends greatly on the exact process used to make it and the quality of the raw materials.

There is no such thing as ivory Bakelite, technically. Bakelite proper is a brown or reddish-brown resin and is too dark for coloring in light bright colors. The black variety used for telephones has carbon black or other black agents added.

After the Bakelite patents expired in the late 1920s, many companies experimented with new formulations and the original Bakelite process was adapted by replacing the wood-flour filler, resulting in clear or lightly colored resins, the best known of which probably was Catalin.  Most colored buttons and small decorative items that a lot of people collect, are made from this and not Bakelite, despite what people call it.

There are various topics posted in the Forum about polishing Bakelite, as well as polishing thermoplastics, such as the 302.  You probably just need to experiment a little with search terms and sift through all the knowledge amassed here.