Phenolic plastics are derived from phenol-formaldehyde resins, which are made by reacting phenol, (carbolic acid) with formaldehyde, a product of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This group of resins may be broadly divided into a number of distinct categories, moulding resins, casting resins, adhesives, putties, laminating resins (used in the manufacture of plywood), and lacquers. Moulding resins, such as Bakelite, which are designed for compression or transfer moulding processes, require the addition of a reinforcing filler material, for example, asbestos, wood flour, cotton flock, paper pulp, diatomaceous earth, barites, gypsum or mica. This reinforcing filler is used to strengthen what would otherwise be a very brittle moulded product.
From 1902 onwards, after five years research, and in a masterpiece of chemical investigation, Baekeland succeeded in producing a synthetic resin which he called Bakelite, registering his ‘Heat and Pressure’ patent on July 13th 1907. Unfortunately this material did not prove itself to be easily mouldable and it is his patent of October 1908 that really covers what is now considered to be a mouldable Bakelite material. Cast phenolic resins lack the fillers that are mixed with the moulding resins used in the compression or transfer moulding processes and which make the typical Bakelite product brown and opaque. Phenolic resins made for casting are clear to pale yellow in colour and naturally translucent. Mixing pigments into these resins gives rich, vibrant colours, whilst mixing a number of colours together would give, for example, the variegated colour effects of quartz, onyx or jade, giving each piece great individuality.
Stylistically Bakerlite is not usually confused with jet, however as it is carved, a black item can due to the similar weight and lustre look convincingly like jet.