Trash-to-Treasure Papermaking by Arnold Grummer - Read Online
Trash-to-Treasure Papermaking
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Transform junk mail, newspapers, and old phone books into beautiful handmade paper in just minutes! With a simple technique that requires only a blender and some water, Trash-to-Treasure Papermaking shows you how to create unique sheets in a variety of shapes, colors, textures, and sizes. Learn how to incorporate your handmade paper into diverse projects that include invitations, bound books, paper bowls, and ornaments. Let your creativity shine as you explore the fun and simple art of papermaking. 

Published: Storey Publishing an imprint of Workman eBooks on
ISBN: 9781603427593
List price: $15.95
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Trash-to-Treasure Papermaking - Arnold Grummer

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Chapter 1 Fiber Art

Where does paper come from? As you read these words, it appears as though the paper they’re printed on is a fairly solid, unchanging object. But if you look more closely at the paper, through a magnifying glass or microscope, you may be able to see that this thin sheet of paper is actually made up of multiple layers of tiny fibers that have bonded together naturally. In the process of making paper, batches of single fibers are laid down into a thin, even mat.

So, you are holding a batch of little fibers. Across the fibers’ backs, we have put ink in certain patterns. Behold, you and I can communicate!

The Nature of Plant Fibers

Paper fibers are cellulose. They are produced by everything that grows, from mighty trees to fungus and algae. Some people believe they are the most abundant thing on the face of the earth. The fibers used in papermaking are tiny: If you have very fine hair and were to cut off a ⅛ piece, you would have something like a paper-making fiber.

Even though it’s tiny, a cellulose fiber is hollow, like a drinking straw. If the cut surface of a tree stump were magnified a hundred times, you would be able to see all the little open-ended fibers lying side-by-side. Most fibers flatten out when made into paper, but some retain the hollow center.

Starting from Scratch

The first thing a commercial papermaker needs is processed fibers. In a process called pulping, all the cellulose fibers are forced loose from each other. Separating fibers is not easy. They hang together very strongly and must be separated using a grindstone, chemicals, or both.

In this magnified photo, you can see the many layers of fibers that make up one thin sheet of paper.

Once the fibers have been separated, they are floated in water. This way, the papermaker can control where the fibers go and what they do. The fibers will go where the water goes. The papermaker keeps them separated in water and then pours the water onto a sieve with a rim around it. The rim channels water onto the sieve so it doesn’t run off the sides. As water runs through the sieve, the single fibers are caught on the surface. That is how a paper-maker lays down millions of little fibers in a thin, even mat.

The cellulose fibers that make up a sheet of paper are held together by a natural bond that happens when fibers touch each other in water. Very weak when formed, the bond grows stronger as water is taken away. The more water that is taken away, the stronger the bond becomes. When totally dry, the fibers are joined in a new sheet of paper.

Pulping Fibers

In the early days of papermaking, fibers were often ripped apart by stamping or grinding plants while wet. Sometimes the plants were soaked first in lime pits or water in which ashes had been soaked. Early grinding was done with a mortar and pestle. Later, machinery was developed. Today, your newspaper is made with fibers ripped apart by forcing a length of log against a grindstone. The fibers are then called groundwood pulp. Also, fibers can be obtained from trees and other plants by the use of chemicals or a combination of chemicals and grinding.

Using Recycled Fibers

To make new paper from old, like we do in this book, a papermaker simply reverses the papermaking process. Dry paper is put into water, and the natural bond is weakened. The more water that is absorbed, the weaker the bond gets. It gets so weak that when the water is agitated (as in a blender), the fibers will let go of each other, once again becoming single fibers in water. This is called pulp. When pulp is poured onto a sieve and made into paper, it finishes a complete cycle: from new fibers to paper, from paper back to individual fibers, then those fibers are made into new paper. That is recycling.

A Bit of History

Paper was first recorded as an invention in 105 ad, in China. This was linked to a man named Ts’ai Lun, an official in the Emperor’s court. Many believed that Ts’ai Lun was the inventor of paper, but paper was probably being made before him.

Dard Hunter, master paper historian (see He Saved Paper’s History on the next page), believed the first paper was made by floating a hand mold on the surface of calm water. The mold was likely made from a piece of fabric stretched on a bamboo frame. Pulp was poured onto the fabric, and the mold was lifted from the water. The water drained, leaving a layer of fibers on the fabric. When the fiber layer dried, it was paper. Because pulp was poured into the hand mold, the method became known as the pour method.

Later on, a different method was developed: A large batch of pulp was put into a vat, and sheets were formed by dipping a hand mold into the vat. This became known as the dip method. The dip method began to replace the pour method in Asia, early in paper’s history. Making similar sheets rapidly is the main advantage of the dip method, so the dip hand mold came into greater use as demand for paper grew. Most papermakers used the dip method, including all hand papermakers in Europe and the United States. But some papermakers in Siam, Tibet, and other places kept on using the pour method.

This book deals mainly with the pour method. The equipment is easier to make, and a better piece of paper is made with less practice and experience. Also, a lot of pulp does not have to be prepared to make just one sheet. Regardless of what method you use, when you make a sheet of paper, you join a long continuous line of paper-makers stretching back unbroken over 20 centuries. Exciting!

Hand Mold

The papermaker’s chief tool has always been the hand mold. A hand mold is made of a sieve material, surrounded on its top edges by a fixed or movable rim, called a deckle. In the past, the hand mold has been made of different things and in different ways. After the first cloth/bamboo mold, changes were made. In Asia, the sieves became woven mats of reeds, grasses, or finely cut bamboo strips. The mats rested on wooden ribs in a frame. After the mold was dipped into a vat, the mat could be lifted from the frame for the next paper-making steps.

When wire was invented in Europe, in the middle of the fourteenth century, it was used instead of the reeds, grasses, and bamboo strips. Strung in strands from one side of a frame to the other, it became known as the screen. Around 1750, paper-makers began to use woven wire for their molds. Instead of strands running in one direction, it was like the screen you now use to make your sheet (like the screen in a window). Papermakers changed to woven wire because they believed it gave paper a smoother surface for printing. Paper made on molds with wires running in just one direction is called laid; often you can see the impression of lines running across its surface. Paper made on molds with woven wire is called wove.

He Saved Paper’s History

Much of what we know about the history of papermaking is due to a man named Dard Hunter. During a visit to a London museum, young Hunter became fascinated with hand papermaking. A scholar and graphic artist, Hunter felt a great desire to know more about the history of paper, its production tools, the people who invented it, and its geographical trails. His interest became a lifelong study.

In travels prior to World War II, he scoured China, Japan, Korea, and all of Asia, sites of the earliest papermaking. Then he turned to Europe. In each place, he collected paper samples and implements. He also noted methods of manufacture. Everything Hunter found, he recorded in books. He made paper by hand, designed his own font, and hand-printed the books he wrote. Between these rare handmade books, several trade books, and his museum, Hunter cataloged 18 centuries of papermaking.

His museum was first housed at MIT and later at the Institute of Paper Chemistry (where I had the honor of serving as its curator for six years). It is now at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, housed in the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking.

Dard Hunter (on the right) with the author in 1964.

Early papermakers in the United States used both laid and wove molds. At first, they were all imported from Europe. Just before the Revolutionary War, Isaac Langle and Nathan Sellers started making them in the United States. Molds began to lose out when a Frenchman, Nicholas-Louis Robert invented a paper machine in 1798. It made paper faster than workers could do it by hand. Soon hand papermakers and mold makers alike had less and less work. Papermakers and mold makers in Europe dwindled to just a handful. In the United States, they disappeared altogether. But for more than 1,500 years, every bit of paper used in the world was made by hand. Someone bent his or her back to dip every sheet. (To see what a modern hand mold looks like, see page 53.)


The raised edge around the sieve of a mold, which keeps the water and fibers from running off the sides, is called the deckle. It is a part of every hand mold. In tin can papermaking (see page 42), the deckle is the small can you put on top of the screen. It not only keeps the water from running all over, it also determines the size and shape of the sheet. In methods using a standard mold and deckle, the finished sheet is rectangular. Want a different shape or size of paper? Use a different deckle.

In the pour method, the deckle can be quite high. In the dip method, deckles are shallow and may not rise more than ¼″ around the edges of the sieve. Whenever we speak of a hand mold, we are talking about some type of a sieve or screen material with a deckle around it. (For information on a modern deckle, see page