Restore Bakelite & Xylonite

Today I'll show you how to restore vintage plastics...well, bakelite and xylonite anyway. For those not familiar with the name, xylonite is the celluloid that is made to look like ivory. Celluloid is derived from cellulose nitrate, and was invented around 1876. Xylonite came into being not long afterwards but experienced the height of its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s.

I bought this Art Deco bakelite box for resale a little while ago, and while I was pretty happy with it, the top was dirty and dull but the interior still retained its original shine. (I'm very big on original shine with my vintage plastics).

The pic below was taken in full sun held at an angle, so you see how dull it was. (I think it's more noticeable in person though).

First step, to clean it thoroughly. I gave it a quick wipe over with Domestos on a soft sponge. You can use Domestos on most bakelite pieces, but you need to be *quick*. It releases the phenols and dulls the surface so it's a quick wipe and rinse only.

See the dark corner in the picture above? I was so quick that I missed a bit and had to re-do it. Better to do this than be too heavy handed though, as there's no going back.

The corner I missed at another angle. This pic was also taken in full sun- see how much the Domestos bites into the surface.

I then rub this polish in with a clean, soft cotton cloth, using circular motions. This only takes about 3 minutes; nice and quick!

Hey presto, restoration of original shine and completely even colour.

And this is what the interior of the box looks like, which I haven't touched. 

Next piece is a nice 1910s or 20s xylonite tie box. I thought I might be able to clean this up enough to put it on ebay this week, but that turned out not to be the case.

I'm pretty fussy with the vintage plastics I put on ebay now. With xylonite, I like to appeal to the big collectors, and they're getting fussy because they've already bought all the common pieces in average condition.

This view of the side of the box shows the original shine, and this is how the top of the box will look when I've finished with it.

With xylonite you sand back the surface by hand, with this fine steel wool. You need to use grade 0000 only. It comes in this sort of roll. Pull a chunk off and sand along the grain, as if it were timber. It takes quite a bit of work, as this steel wool is very fine and therefore not very strong, but the main thing is that it doesn't scratch into the celluloid.

I then applied the paste polish (above), to restore the shine. This is what I got it back to.

Not good photos as I took them at night, but the remaining spots are more obvious than you can see here.

Overall a great improvement, and if you have a piece thats just a bit stained/dirty this works really well.