Bakelite vs. Catalin
Plastic radio cabinets



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First of all let's make sure we all know the difference between "Bakelite" and "Catalin". Bakelite, although the word is used generically, is really the trade name of the "Bakelite Corporation". Likewise "Catalin" was the trade name of the "Catalin Corporation". These type plastics were also was made by other companies such as the "Marblelette Corporation".

Bakelite is very common, it's opaque and usually comes in the colors of brown, black or is painted. Commonly used in electrical insulators, pot & skillet handles, door handles, radio & TV cabinets. Another company that made theses plastics was "Fiberloid".

Catalin on the other hand is quite beautiful, usually translucent and it comes in a beautiful array of colors. Many of these colors are very vivid, usually marbled with one or more other colors giving it Gem or Onyx quality in appearance. These plastics were used in jewelry, some kitchen and table utensils and radio cabinets.

Bakelite is the trade name for a pressure molded thermoset plastic made by the Bakelite, Fiberloid or one of several other smaller companies. The raw materials are phenol and formaldehyde. Bakelite is opaque, usually brown or black and often painted when used as a radio cabinet. The glossy finish on the non painted sets is a product of the heat and high pressure used during the molding process and can be damaged when cleaned with alkali & ammonia cleaners. It is impossible to restore the original gloss to Bakelite once this finish is destroyed. One reason for this is the fillers used; which were usually fiberglass, sawdust or asbestos. These are just under the surface finish and when the finish is gone, these fuzzy particles make the finish dull.

Bakelite cabinet radio

Catalin  is the trade name for cast thermoset plastic made by the Catalin, or Marblette corp. These plastics come in a wide variety of colors and when polished and shined "Catalin" has a gem like quality.

Catalin is a very hard plastic, it does not easily melt or burn and and almost always translucent. Dealers of jewelry made of this type of plastic usually mistakenly refer to it as Bakelite. Often when you find a radio or something made of "Catalin" the apparent color will be different than when originally manufactured. The color transformation takes place over a period of time and some colors are more prone to change than others. Red seems to be the most stable. Originally the yellow hues were "Alabaster", a white color that when well marbled, resembles a piece of marble. Some of the blue colors will appear green or even brown if heavily oxidized. Often it takes the work of an expert to restore a beautiful piece of Catalin to it's original color. The Alabaster color however will revert back to it's yellow color fairly quickly. I have taken a yellow "Catalin radio cabinet all the way back to Alabaster (white) only to have it fade back to yellow within a year or so.

The raw materials (phenol & formaldehyde) are the same as use in "Bakelite" except there are no fibrous fillers in Catalin.

Catalin cabinet radio

Other types of hard plastics are:
Beetle, Plaskon & Urea. More on these later.

more plastic/Bakelite info> Radiolaguy's tech tips

© C.E. Clutter


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