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Making Paper by Hand

Image: Paper Hand

Paper has been made by hand for hundreds of years and only relatively recently in paper's history has automation entered the picture. Paper is still made by hand(called handsheets) for standards purposes(e.g. tensile strength and optical property testing) and can be made by anyone with the knowledge of how to do so. There are many versions of how to make paper, all of which are generally very similar. Those methods will be combined here in order to show how paper can be made with fairly common household items.

First, the materials to be used:
  • Common household blender(is to be used only for papermaking)

  • Various types of paper from various sources(junk mail, newspapers, paper sacks, colored papers[sorted], typing paper, etc.) Do not use coated papers.

  • A window screen or similar netting material(for mould and deckle) with approximately 40 holes per inch, cut to desired paper length and width. A screen cut to 7.5 inches by 10.5 inches will fit into an invitation size envelope when folded. Larger screens can be made by building a wooden frame and stretching the screen material around it. Alternatively, one can use 2 small embroidery hoops for the screen frame.(See Materials Preparation)

  • A tub larger than the screen-frame(so that one can dip the frame easily into it)

  • Newspaper and clean paper towels(for blotting)

  • Old, reusable dishcloth or other felt-like material

  • Liquid Starch(optional, use if paper will be written on)

  • Heavy items, such as large books

  • Duct-tape

  • Sieve

Important: Only use these materials for papermaking. When finished, store the materials in a safe place where they will not me mistaken for cookware for food, etc. This is extremely important, as severe poisoning will result if food is prepared using this equipment(e.g. blender, pot for boiling paper, etc.) after it has been used to make paper. A separate set of equipment should be bought(or otherwise obtained) simply for the exclusive use of making paper.

Preparation of Materials and Equipment

Begin by tearing up the paper into small pieces(about 1 square inch) and segregating the colored scraps from the white paper. Remember that the paper must be torn and not cut, as tearing exposes more paper fibers to water when it is mixed to make pulp. Optionally, soak the paper in water overnight so that when pulp is ready to be made, fiber breakdown is done much faster than with paper that has not been re-soaked.

Now, prepare the screen mould and deckle as follows:
A simple screen can be made by taking a piece of screen 2 inches larger than an 8.5x11 inch paper and using duct-tape to tape around the edges up to the sheet of paper(laid down as a guide). An alternative screen that can be made is by using two embroidery hoops, which can be obtained at any hobby store. Cut the screen to two inches larger than one hoop. Separate one of the embroidery hoops and stretch the screen over the inner hoop and secure it with the other part as one would do with embroidering. The now screened hoop is the mould and the uncovered and non-separated hoop is now known as the deckle(See illustration below).

[Fig. 1: Mould and Deckle Illustration]

The couching cushion should now be prepared. The purpose of the couching cushion is to facilitate transference of the new paper to the surface on which it is to dry. The cushion is made from a damp pad of newspaper. A couching felt is put over the paper to prevent the new paper from sticking to the couching cushion. A damp dishcloth will be used as a couching felt. Place the newspaper on a flat surface and the dishcloth on the newspaper. This is to prepare for drying the new sheets of paper.

Pulp Preparation

After the equipment is made and prepared, pulp production can begin. Fill the blender approximately 75% full of water and some pieces of the torn paper(about 20-30 pieces per 4 cups of water). Paper types can be mixed, as long as the colors mix well. If the paper has been soaking overnight, as pointed out above, it will process much quicker. Put the top onto the blender and blend at high speed for between one and two minutes. Pour the first batch of paper pulp into the tub and repeat the blending process with more paper scraps and water, pouring each resultant batch into the tub until the tub is 50%-75% full of paper pulp. If the paper is to be written on, add the liquid starch at this stage. When a sufficient amount of pulp has been reached, a sheet of paper can now be made.

The sheet of paper is made by dipping the screen(the mould) with the deckle vertically into the tub of paper pulp, deckle pointed inward toward the paper pulp. Once under the water surface, turn the screen horizontally and pull the screen and deckle out of the water. It should now have paper pulp on the screen and the excess water should be allowed to drain from the "apparatus." If the duct-tape screen is being used, make sure that the pulp is pushed from the edges, as the pulp will stick. Shake it to ensure a fairly even distribution of paper fibers. After the water has mostly drained away, invert it onto the couching felt prepared earlier so that the new paper sheet will fall onto the couching felt. Blot off the extra water from the back of the screen, so that the paper will more easily dislodge from it onto the couching felt(i.e. the dishcloth). After the paper has been dislodged, press the new paper to get the rest of the moisture that is still trapped in the fiber matrix. Set aside and place a few heavy books on top of the paper to press more moisture out. Be sure to put paper towels between the books and the paper, as the paper will still be prone to adhere to the bottom book! Repeat the process to create more sheets. Optionally, the paper can be ironed(to give the paper a smooth finish) and allowed to air-dry.

Clean Up and Disposal

After as many sheets of paper as desired have been made, proper disposal and cleanup of papermaking equipment should be done. If paper pulp still remains in the tub, then it should be poured through a sieve down the drain in order to catch and reclaim as much of the paper pulp as possible. It might be necessary to rinse the tub out, again making sure the pulpy water is sieved to reclaim more pulp. When as much of the paper pulp has been reclaimed in the sieve as possible, remove it from the sieve and squeeze out the excess water, set it aside and allow it to air dry. Store it in a cool, dry place. It can be reconstituted when more paper is desired to be made by adding water and reprocessing it with the blender. Remember to store the papermaking equipment where it will not be mistaken for normal cookware.

To find out how paper is made in the paper industry, see the links below: