Paper Making: Materials, Techniques & Processes

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  • 0:04 A Fresh Sheet of Paper
  • 0:39 Industrial Paper Making
  • 2:07 Handmade Paper
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, learn how to make paper. We'll discuss industrial processes as well as handmade paper techniques. Find out about materials you will need and different ways to make paper for yourself.

A Fresh Sheet of Paper

Admit it, there is a special feeling when you look at that fresh sheet of paper. It's pristine, crisp, and can become anything. That first line, claiming it as your own and shaping its future, is so satisfying.

Most of us, whether we think about it or not, love paper, but do we know how it's made? We know it comes from trees and is processed in paper mills, but does it have to be made from wood? Can we make paper for ourselves? We absolutely can make our own paper, though it's better as an artistic endeavor since the volume we'd need for daily use would have us working in a home paper mill from sunup to sundown.

A Fresh Sheet of Paper
blank page

Industrial Paper Making

Let's start with looking at the industrial production of making paper so we have a point of reference when discussing the process for handmade paper.

Industrial Paper
industrial paper

Most industrially made paper comes from wood fiber. Sometimes this is scrap fiber from sawmills, but it mostly comes from trees cut specifically to make paper. A growing trend is to use a percentage of recycled paper or cloth. The common factor of all these materials is cellulose fibers, long strands of strong fiber found in all plants, but with a higher concentration in woody stems.

Here are the main steps:

  1. Making pulp is the first step in papermaking, whether industrial or by hand. In industrial processes, logs are debarked and ground to a pulp between two revolving metal or stone slabs. A chemical alternative is to cook wood chips in a solution of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide.
  2. The pulp is beaten into a malleable substance where the fibers are intact, yet flexible. This involves high pressure and repeated pounding. In this step, fillers are also added, if needed.
  3. The beaten pulp is then rolled and dried. It's fed into a machine that spreads it on a mesh-screen belt that sends it through a series of rollers. Then the paper moves over heated cylinders to steam off any remaining water.
  4. The dry paper is then sent through another set of rollers, called calendars, to give it a final texture.
  5. The finished paper is cut into sheets.

Handmade Paper

Making paper by hand still involves making pulp, beating it, pressing it, and drying and finishing it. There are two different ways to make pulp at home: using recycled paper and using plant materials. We'll describe both. You will need a piece of equipment called a mold and deckle, which is basically a framed screen with a top piece. You can buy this or make your own.

Making Paper
making paper

To make pulp from recycled paper, you want to use non-glossy pages. You will cut these into 1-inch squares and soak them until they're soft and pulpy. To make pulp from plants, harvest and dry plants with high cellulose fiber content, like stems and the inner bark of branches. When dry, cut them into small pieces and boil them, preferably outdoors, with caustic additives like soda ash.

Next, blend the pulpy product with water. Drop a handful or two into a blender and top up with water. Do not use your good kitchen blender! Once blended, pour the contents into a plastic tub and repeat until you get the tub about half full. Then, add more water and stir. Thinner mixtures will produce thinner paper, so try different blends.

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