Novolaks (novolacs) are phenol-formaldehyde resins with a formaldehyde to phenol molar ratio of less than one. In place of phenol itself, they are often produced from cresols (methylphenols). The polymerization is brought to completion using acid-catalysis such as sulfuric acid, oxalic acid, hydrochloric acid and rarely, sulfonic acids. The phenolic units are mainly linked by methylene and/or ether groups. The molecular weights are in the low thousands, corresponding to about 10–20 phenol units. Obtained polymer is thermoplastic and require a curing agent or hardener to form a thermoset.
Hexamethylenetetramine is a hardener added to crosslink novolac. At a temperature greater than 90 °C, it forms methylene and dimethylene amino bridges. Resoles can also be used as a curing agent (hardener) for novolac resins. In either case, the curing agent is a source of formaldehyde which provides bridges between novolac chains, eventually completely crosslinking the system.
Novolacs have multiple uses as tire tackifier, high temperature resin, binder for carbon bonded refractories, carbon brakes, photoresists and as a curing agent for epoxy resins.