Phenol, Phenolic Resin, And Phenolic Plywood
Phenolic plywood has some rather specialized uses. The main characteristics of this sheet product, are additional toughness, as compared to conventional plywood, and a smooth surface. This combination makes phenolic plywood a good choice for many workbench applications in a woodworking shop, such as router and table saw platforms. Phenolic plywood can even be used in making furniture, as the addition of the phenolic resin gives the material a greater screw-holding capability.
Advantages Of Phenolic Plywood - An advantage of using plywood in the first place is that it is stronger than most all woods in a sheet form. A sheet of wood will be susceptible to cracking or splitting depending on how pressure is applied with respect to the direction of the grain. With plywood, thin sheets of wood are sandwiched with the grain in each sheet pointing in a different direction. This makes it very much more difficult to break or splinter plywood that is the case with a similar thickness of regular wood. Thin sheets of plywood are also fairly flexible. Plywood made from sheets of hardwood will be much stronger than that made from softwood. Higher quality plywood if usually made from maple or birch, and even oak. Add a phenolic resin coating, and the result is phenolic plywood, which is even stronger.
The fact that the phenolic plywood you've purchased is smoother and stronger than regular plywood, and better looking as well may be all you need to know about it, or want to know about. If you start bragging about it however, someone is certain to ask a question about what phenolic plywood is. If you really haven't the foggiest idea, that puts you in somewhat of a bind. It's dangerous to brag about anything you now very little about. If you say there's been a phenolic resin added, that may get you off the hook. Or, the next question might be, what's a phenolic resin? And of course, the question after that - what's a phenol? If it gets that far, you can start citing chemical formulas, and that should end it, with you being considered quite an expert on phenolic plywood.
What's A Phenolic Resin? - One example of a phenolic resin is Bakelite, which has a very hard surface. If one takes either a sheet or fabric or paper, and impregnates it with a phenolic resin, the result is called an overlay. This overlay is placed on the plywood (it's usually self bonding) and cured under heat and pressure, the result being a very tough and smooth surface. The phenolic resin itself is obtained through a reaction of a phenol with an aldehyde, the chemical designation of which is HCHO. Formaldehyde is the aldehyde most commonly used. Formaldehyde has many uses, the most well known of which is as an embalming fluid. That leaves the remaining question to be answered. What is a phenol?
What's A Phenol? - The chemical makeup of phenol is C6H5OH, a molecule consisting of 6 atoms of carbon, 5 of hydrogen, with a hydroxyl group (-OH) added. C6H5OH is also known as carbolic acid. It exists as a crystal, is aromatic, and also very toxic. Still it is found, in minute quantities to be sure, in many processed food items, as well as cosmetics and antiseptics. Phenol has many other everyday uses include the manufacture of plastics.
Summary - So, working backwards, and starting with phenol, or carbolic acid, combine the phenol with an aldehyde to produce a phenolic resin, cover a sheet of paper or fabric with the resin and bond it to a sheet of plywood, and the result is phenolic plywood.
Now you know more than you probably wanted to about phenolic plywood, and probably more than your friends care to know as well. But they will still be impressed with your knowledge. One other bit of information. Phenolic plywood is more expensive than the standard plywood sheets, as one might expect. But the price isn't ridiculous, and given the uses phenolic plywood can be put to, really quite reasonable.