I get questions from time to time asking how I get my Bakelite radio cabinets so highly polished. The inquirers are familiar with how most such cabinets as found today present a rather dull appearance. I use two techniques.
Warning! Caution! Hazard! Some people claim that asbestos was used as a filler in some Bakelite formulations. Since asbestos is a known carcinogen, buffing or polishing or otherwise working with early plastics as described above could be hazardous. Even if no asbestos is present, Bakelite is made of phenol and formaldehyde, either of which may be toxic, I'm told. Therefore I recommend that no one undertake such operations as polishing, grinding, rubbing, cutting, filing, wiping, etc., on Bakelite, Plaskon, Beetle or Catalin. Just admire the shiny radios here on my Web site and let me take all the risks.
- For cabinets that are not too far gone to begin with, I get good success using a compound called Plastics Polish for Bakelite Objects, but unfortunately it is no longer available. The former supplier asked me to remove his name and e-mail link, and I have complied. It's too bad, as I found no other polish or compound to be its equal.
- Some cabinets are too dull and dried out to respond adequately to the Plastics Polish. These need to be polished using a special polishing compound on a motorized buffer, using a six- or eight-inch sewn fabric buffing wheel. I have a collector friend who has built a polishing apparatus using an old 1/3-HP, 1725-rpm washing-machine motor, a stand, and a pulley, belt, arbor and spindles. When I need to polish a cabinet using this technique I go over to his house. The polishing compound I've found that's best is made by Dico (Divine Brothers Co., Utica, NY), is their type "PBC," and is available at large hardware stores in my area. I use nice 3/4-inch-wide fabric buffs that I get from a local furniture care supplier that caters to the professional furniture trade; the ones I've found in some hardware stores are too narrow. This buffing method works so well that on some cabinets one can bring up a mirror shine that's better than the gloss the cabinet had when new.