Introduction: How to Re-Engineer Paper Back Into Wood

Picture of How to Re-Engineer Paper Back Into Wood

Recycling vs Upcycling.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average person produces about 4.38 pounds of waste per day. Multiply that by the 300 million consumers in the US and we're left with about 250 million tons of waste every year, and only about a third of that gets thrown into the blue bin.

But let's face it, the recycling system in the United States is not perfect. While recycling paper saves money and energy, it also creates a dastardly new substance. Paper inks, cleaning chemicals, adhesives, clays, and dyes are filtered out of the paper fibers and collected into one giant pudding known as paper sludge. Few commercially viable uses exist for this sludge, so companies find loopholes and slip the poisonous substance back into the landfill.

After paper is used, it can be stored and then laminated into Paperwood. This new product can be milled and used as building material for another life. Once it is finished, It can be recycled again into paper because it was laminated with water-based adhesive. This cycle continues outside of the landfill and is a self sustaining material that can be made from the stuff we throw away everyday.

So let's turn that pile of paper into something beautiful....

What you'll need:

- Lots of paper

- Wooden dowel

- Water based adhesive

- Paint tray

- Roller brush

- Bandsaw

Step 1: Gather Your Paper

Picture of Gather Your Paper

Try to find paper of the same dimensions because as you start to laminate your paper-log, you don't want random pieces of papers sticking out of your roll.

Look for paper with colors, images, text, and anything interesting in order to add beautiful grain lines to your Paperwood. I used sketches, drawings, diagrams, and renderings from my old architecture projects. Architecture studios create a ton of paper waste.

You can use lined paper, graphed paper, magazines, news paper and packaging. You can even select a specific set of papers to tell a story with your upcycled Paperwood, like I did with my architectural drawings.

Step 2: Laminate Your Paper-Log

Picture of Laminate Your Paper-Log

This is the most important step (and the most tedious).

I used 8.5"x11" and 11"x17" sheets. The common dimension of 11" was the length of the paper-log.

It is best to find a wooden dowel with a large radius. It is harder to laminate papers around a tighter circle.

Let's begin.

- Prepare a work station (this could get messy).

- Pour a few ounces of your adhesive into the paint tray. I used Palmetto's water based LamiBond

- Start by attaching one edge of your first sheet to the dowel (in my case, this was the 11"). Make sure that the edge is perfectly straight, or else the paper will roll at an angle and create future problems.

- Coat one side of the paper with adhesive (doesn't matter which side) using the roller brush.

- Slowly roll the paper tightly around the dowel, making sure it is straight. Use your fingers to press out and air bubbles and pockets of adhesive build-up.

- Continue this process in 10-20 page intervals. The adhesive must dry so that the layers don't shift when you apply pressure.

This will take a while. I am currently designing a machine that will make the laminating process go much quicker, but for now you must do it by hand.

Step 3: Milling Your Paper-Log

Picture of Milling Your Paper-Log

Now that you have your paper-log, it's time to transform it into usable material.

Start by making straight cuts on either side of the dowel, getting as close as possible. Cut your log into sections, and square off the edges.

You should now have several usable pieces of Paperwood. I even used the scraps to make small chips showcasing that beautiful Paperwood grain.

You can cut it, sand it, and finish it; just like natural wood.

Step 4: Create Something New

Picture of Create Something New

There are countless way for you to show off your new material.

I cut and welded steel from an old desk, cut glass out of an old window from a demolished house, and upcycled my way to a beautiful new nightstand. This project was entered in the Vellum Furniture Design Competition in San Luis Obispo in 2015.

What will you do with your Paperwood?


NappingCat (author)2017-11-16

Awesome! thanks i just had this question if you could make wood out of paper like plywood and decided to google it. Found exactly what i wanted to know. I'll be trying this for sure! :)

1up Living made it! (author)2017-06-22

I love this! I turned my junk mail into a bit of wall art and some coasters.

Mad Props (author)2017-04-06

Congrats on the first prize in the paper contest. Well deserved.

ippylern (author)2017-04-05

Ingenious! Excellent idea. The finished tabletop is beautiful.

I am thinking of making a coffee table with this method. Is the paperwood strong enough to use as the frame and legs of a table?

Sschmaltz (author)2017-03-31

Wow, this is the most exciting thing I have learned in a long time. Will have to give it a try. Great job!

docman100 (author)2017-03-15

it would have been nice if there was a vid, I am a little confused on this.

LynneL11 (author)2017-03-15

JohnC430, oh how you make it sound so easy. Once upon a time I could have done the work myself, but alas I am in a wheelchair now and no one to help. I have to hire someone to fix what I can no longer manage. I know the $400 was way too much but I did get the rest of the sheet of board that he charged me for. Haven't called him again and never will. Thanks for your help though. Have a nice day.

LynneL11 (author)2017-02-28

Is there anyone on here who can help me solve this? I have a problem with my wooden floor in my trailer. When I had to remove part of my carpet due to mold I noticed that the floor underneath is made of what looks like sawdust and glue pressed into sheets of wood. Well this so called flooring is disintegrating. There are piles of sawdust coming out of it like little anthills. Does anyone know if there is a way to stop this process or am I going to have to replace all the flooring?

jason.burr.946 (author)LynneL112017-03-05

Unfortunately the "ant hills" might be a sign of termites which could I am sorry to say be a bigger issue than just bad flooring if not addressed. Regarding the flooring you probably can't save particle board but you should be able to just replace it no? Good luck I feel for you as I know exactly how you feel with things stacking up.

LynneL11 (author)jason.burr.9462017-03-05

Thanks Jason. No termites, had 3 different companies check. Everyone please never use Terminex, guy told me I had them, put a lot of pressure on me to sign up and even showed me pics of wood supposedly falling from my floor, under the trailer. Wood can't fall through plastic without it tearing, and wasn't any plastic in the pic. Wasn't even a trailer, it was a house and wood was in a very neat pile with nice clean cuts from a saw. He was here all of 10 min.

Next two guys took an hour to check everything and no signs anywhere. Boy was I glad.

It will cost a fortune to replace this floor. Had a small section 2'x3' repaired a few years ago and I had to pay over $4oo. We're talking about a master bedroom, bath and large closet.

JohnC430 (author)LynneL112017-03-15

First off... $400 to replace a piece of 2'x3' is a complete rip-off. you can cut out the defective parts with a saw and replace it with fresh waterproof plywood. just place the 4x8 plywood sheet (from your local lumber yard) on the floor and cut around it. Rip out of dig out the old defective layer and place the new sheet in its place then do the next one. the waterproof plywood may not be cheap but will certainly cost less than $400.for the whole area

ClayOgre (author)LynneL112017-02-28

Sounds like particle board. I don't think you have much of a choice, you'll have to replace it.

LynneL11 (author)ClayOgre2017-02-28

Thanks ClayOgre. I think I am going to cry, insurance won't cover it. This stuff looks like sawdust, no big pieces of wood chips or shavings. I was hoping I could just spray something on it to hold it together a few more years. Who ever said bad luck comes in threes was soooooo wrong. Mine has been coming for months, one thing after another. Thanks again!

9998566383 (author)2017-03-12

WOW ! Never in all my days would I have thought that was possible !

JosiahC12 (author)2017-03-08

This is dope dawg! Nice project, for a challenge, try building something complex, like a Pine box Rasberry Pi computer out of "PaperWood" Dawg.

Pernickety Jon (author)2017-03-06

The 'wood grain' effect looks very attractive. Discussions in other comments about structural strength made me think of paper maché which can be very strong for it's weight but it doesn't produce those intriguing patterns.

How much weight does your dried glue add? The traditional flour/starch glue of paper maché, once dry, is very light.

Some of the sample photos have irregular shapes that don't appear to have originated from a paper 'log' being cross-cut. How did you come up with them?

I'm going to have to try this out. Thanks.

BTW, What are all the curious white sculptures in the office from? They don't appear 'architectural'.

Augustny (author)2017-03-05

Thank you for sharing!

jason.burr.946 (author)2017-02-26

So I saw your instructable and it inspired me. I wood turner and I thought the layers might look cool so quickly made one to test it out. Instead of cutting into it I just wrapped the layers on the tube and then turned it. Very dramatic (doesn't look like wood but that is actually a good thing in this instance). Anyway thought you might like to see the resulting test.

Some examples.

Oncer (author)jason.burr.9462017-02-27

Reminds me of Fordite!

jason.burr.946 (author) Oncer2017-03-05

Yea Oncer someone else mentioned that and I thought the same. I am thinking I may experiment with it some with solid color paper (think spectraply but with the color radially instead of vertically). Anyway back burner project as I have a lot of casting to do in the short term but the quick experiment was certainly encouraging having grabbed the closest piece of newsprint I had at hand and a small tube of CA lol.

RobinJ66 (author)jason.burr.9462017-02-27

This is great, thanks for sharing!

docman100 (author)2017-03-04

this looks so awesome!

pos3mus (author)2017-03-04

take a look at this machine for paper wood... ^_^

cepterbi (author)2017-03-02

It looks great. I will make something of paperwaste in the future for sure now. Thanks for sharing this great idea. At first i thought you took a picture of wood to make your point (for the title) but after this instructable i understand that it was a paperlog.

I'm really impressed.

Englishbydesign99 (author)2017-03-02

Great Idea and instructable Robin!

This is a great discussion, but I think some of the folks are missing the point a little. Robin has taken paper, a none structural waste material and rather than send it of to the land fill or to some processing plant that often uses more energy to process and in turn creates more waste, he has created or re-created this waste into a functional and beautiful material. How many ways this none structural material could be used is extensive, trying to make it into a product "like" a product that already exists is not the point at all. There are many structural products out there already. The idea here is to take waste paper and make it useful again, which in my view Robin has done with bells on.

How many millions of products are being produced from "virgin" resources right this minute that are just being used for aesthetic only purposes? Robins paper wood reminds me of barn boards and frankly I would use it as a flooring without a second thought.

Good luck with the machine you are building Robin, my suggestion would be to look at old printing presses. The print industry has been deserted over the last 5 years and I can only imagine how many presses are sitting idle right now. processing this material would be very easy indeed once you start thinking about it. A printing press has gluing stations, rollers and even heated drying.

I also find the irony of putting the paper back into the press very appealing.

This is how we solve some of our most "pressing" global problems well done Robin.

Jerry66 (author)2017-02-28

There is a product called Micarta that uses paper, cloth, burlap, denim, etc. that is essentially made the same way, but with epoxies and resins. It is pressed flat between steel plates and left to cure. It is very popular for use as knife scales (handles). It can be very beautiful. It is very strong and can be machined and sanded to a desired shape. Easy to do at home. It is not an inexpensive product to purchase!

Yonatan24 (author)2017-02-26

4x300Million per day = 250 million per year?

RobinJ66 (author)Yonatan242017-02-26

(4.38 pounds/day) x (300,000,000 people) x (365days/year) = 479,610,000,000 pounds/year = 239,805,000 tons/year

Yonatan24 (author)RobinJ662017-02-26


Pounds ≠ tons!

ThomasG187 (author)Yonatan242017-02-27

Haha! I had to read through it a couple of times before I noticed the "tons". Glad I wasn't the only one. It's funny how one little 4-letter word can have a such a large impact!

Oncer (author)2017-02-27


This reminds me of the beginnings of French papier mache. Playbills would be pasted over each other continuously until quite a thick layer was built up. Some bright spark realised that the resulting "slab" could be worked and went on to produce jewellry boxes and so on.

Which begs the question couldn't this be done flat with a simple press? Two pieces of board and some weight is your press. Line the bottom board with plastic - grocery bags, cling film/saran wrap. Slap on your first piece of paper, roller on your adhesive, add second layer and continue for several sheets. Put on top board - insulated with plastic for release - weight and allow to dry for 48 hours and then add more layers if needed.

Because we are working on a flat surface air bubbles can be rollered out and pressing will be a big help. This won't give as nice a grain as Robin got but will give a usable "board" as opposed to a log. Surface area could be as big as a sheet of newsprint.

joen (author)2017-02-25

Is it as strong as "real" wood? A simple straight forward idea. I wonder why it hasn't been thought of before!

EMCguy (author)joen2017-02-26

Really can't be. No long, continuous fibers. Strength would be closer to particle board or masonite.

Neowizard (author)EMCguy2017-02-26

I'd think it would be closer to plywood.

AndrewA189 (author)Neowizard2017-02-26

Plywood is made in a process akin to "peeling" a log into a long flat sheet, hence preserving the long fibers (which are then cross-wise laminated).

Particle board, chipboard, and other similar manufactured wood sheet materials are instead made using much smaller particles of wood (sawdust and woodchips).

Oriented Strand Board (OSB) falls somewhere in the middle, composed of flakes of wood that are larger (maybe an average of 5 x 5 cm?) that are laminated together in a random order.

The differences in length of the fibers in these products help to determine their strength (and cost) - it goes roughly something like plywood > OSB > particleboard/MDF/chipboard.

This "paperwood" product would fall at the very low end, because while the sheets of individual paper would be fairly strong, overall the paper is composed (originally) of wood pulp - that is, wood which has been ground up into very fine particles, macerated and generally turned into something with very little form of "fibrous" content. The fibers have been chopped and diced and chewed in such a manner that they almost no longer exist. Any strength this product would have would mainly come from the glue involved, not from the paper.

That isn't to say it isn't useful, beautiful, or interesting! I think this kind of "wood" would be fun to experiment with, if it wasn't so arduous to prepare. I would bet stain and other wood surface prep would take well to it, and produce a beautiful result. If the production of it could be automated or made quicker (perhaps by heat and forced air drying), that would make it more convenient to prepare and use. Of course, milling it into usable pieces is another question (most people don't have the tools to do this - I certainly don't!).

Just don't expect to use this for anything structural meant to support great amounts of weight. While it is possible to engineer a paper product to support immense loads (I recall back in the 1980s reading an article about a "bridge" constructed of corrugated cardboard that could hold up an automobile, for instance), this recycled product likely wouldn't be strong enough (except maybe in "log" form).

EMCguy (author)AndrewA1892017-02-26

Excellent and very much more detailed than my terse reply (we agree). You do the community a service for your input!

joweeks (author)2017-02-26

this is is cool. I would suggest you make a video though. I like to see how the person did it.

GordieGii (author)2017-02-26

With so many questions about strength, I wonder whether adding a layer of thin cloth (like old cotton bed sheets) every few layers would improve the strength.

clazman (author)2017-02-26

most window glass is not tempered nor is it safety glass, so caution is a must

john harland (author)clazman2017-02-26

You can make it safer by applying a sheet of adhesive plastic film that holds the shards together if it is broken.

john harland (author)2017-02-26

My experience with laminating paper is that you can dilute the glue a lot with water. It is not certain that the product will be stronger with full-strength glue because the excess will be harder to squeeze out as you roll the log.

Dilution may also allow dipping of the pieces in glue, rather than painting the glue on, and this is sometimes more convenient..

Ideally you want the paper, not the glue, providing the strength. Not only does the paper have more tensile strength than the glue, it is the paper we are trying to reuse, not the glue.

I usually use PVA now although have used gelatin and starch glues in the past. PVA is more resistant to fungal and bacterial attack but the others are easier to make from reused material.

If you have smaller pieces of paper you can glue a few layers of them out onto a bigger sheet before rolling the whole thing - with glue still wet - around your growing log. Generally easier than layering the little pieces around the log directly.

OneBirdieMa (author)2017-02-26

Question: in lieu of a large dowel, how about an old rolling pin? Then the layers could be rolled flatter and flatter . . . . If it could be done, would it be OK to slip the laminated layers off the dowel/rolling pin so it exists to serve another day?

bones65 (author)2017-02-26

I have a different perspective on the strength question. From where I sit, "paper wood's" weakest link is the glue. It's more like a very thick cardboard than it is comparable to OSB, "flakeboard," "chipboard," "hardboard," plywood and other like products.

All of those sheet products are referred to as "engineered wood products." The formulas, materials and manufacturing techniques are scientifically determined and deliberately followed and used to create a final product with a consistent, measurable strength.

For example, there is nothing random about OSB (aka flakeboard). OSB means Oriented Strand Board, i.e., the layers of "chips" have directional characteristics. OSB typically is used as exterior sheathing, subroofing and subflooring in new construction. Therefore, the sheets must have a uniformity in strength to each other as set by industry standards to meet building codes.

This is not to say paper cannot be used as the basis of a strong product. Like wood, paper sheets have a grain. To demonstrate, tear one 8-1/2" x 11" piece of paper lengthwise, and an identical piece crosswise. One of them will be a relatively straight tear. The other will be uncontrollable.

So if sheets of paper are alternatively oriented and a stronger binder is used, it can be extremely strong and durable. Some laboratory countertops and other products like Richlite are manufactured in just this way using layers of craft paper.

I think it would be interesting to experiment with different papers and binders to see what happens.

clazman (author)2017-02-26

window glass is not tempered nor is it safety glass, so caution is a must.

OutofPatience (author)2017-02-26

Nice crafting possibilities...and I love the small table you produced from it!

Time_and_Turning (author)2017-02-26

I'm thinking I will try this at some, but as I have a large supply
of quarter-usletter paper, I will try making it flat in a press.

the original cellulose has been broken, but like particleboard,
chipboard, flakeboard and other manufactured materials, the product will
be mostly glue. Since my intention is to make turning stock, I will
probably use a water resistant glue, so the final object can be washed,
if not immersed.

It would probably turn pretty nicely! What other materials have you tried? So far I've managed lathe projects with stacked (glued) pencils, and a pinecone set in resin...

The vast majority so far has been wood: hardwoods and softwoods, seasoned or green. I did some experiments on tagua nuts (vegetable ivory), and a chunk of beef bone I filched from my ex's dog.

I have a banksia pod that was given to me a long time ago. Every so often I pick it up, shake my head, and put it down again. It's time will come, though. 'Real Soon Now' I will start some experiments with acrylic blanks, and I'm making some contacts with suppliers of fordite.

AndrewA189 (author)2017-02-26

This is an interesting instructable, and points to a way to recycle unwanted paper (like junk mail) into a useful and beautiful product. However, it seems very difficult to prepare - not only the manufacture of the paper "log", but also the milling of the log into "boards" for practical use. Most people simply don't have the tools.

Also, while I understand the idea and sentiment behind the product, the fact is that in all recycled materials (except metals and glasses) there is only so many times such material can be re-recycled before it loses the properties needed to re-make it into a new product.

Paper is composed of a natural polymer called cellulose; as a polymer, it originally has a long-chain fibrous structure, which is what gives wood its strength. By the time the wood cellulose is turned into wood pulp to be made into paper, those long chains have been thoroughly destroyed. This must be done to make paper flexible, thin, and useful. After turning the paper into "paperwood", the resulting product at best can be ground up, washed, and perhaps turned into some recycled paper product, or maybe added to mulch (?), but nothing further can be done with it (except maybe burning it to extract energy). The fibers are too destroyed for it to be reconstituted into something strong enough for practical usage.

This happens with recycled plastic as well, which is why for both recycled plastic and cardboard you will typically see some kind of label saying "made with 80% recycled and 20% virgin materials" - that extra "new" polymer that is added is there to give the final product better strength and other qualities for manufacture. For instance, compare a sheet of recycled paper (made with a percentage of recycled vs virgin cellulose) to a 100% sheet of recycled paper; you will find the quality to be vastly different.

If you really want to change the world (and I am sure there are material science researchers all over working on it), figure out how to recompose those "chopped up" short chains of polymer back into a longer chain, so that the resulting product can be made closer to that of virgin material. That would be an ultimate form of recycling this stuff!

About This Instructable




Bio: Architecture and Environmental Design Student at California Polytechnic State University
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