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How to make paper

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There are several Instructables about making paper from recycled fibres. That is a fine activity, and one which kept me gainfully employed for four years.

When I worked in a papermill, even though we were an entirely machine-made mill, most of the questions we got from local schools were about how to make paper by hand, or how to make recycled paper.

This Instructable however, will cover the manufacture of paper from virgin fibres, that is, from plant to paper with no recycling, using a mixture of vaguely-traditional techniques from the European and Japanese papermaking styles. The final paper will probably be best classified as a "craft paper", suitable for scrapbooking or for card making.

The plant in question: the common stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), so you have the added attraction of being able to use the left over leaves for brewing nettle beer, or making nettle tea or nettle soup.

You could also use similar processes to make paper from plants like flax, jute or hemp.
 
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Step 1: Raw materials

Picture of Raw materials
The fibre-bearing part of the nettle is the stem.

I collected a large carrier-bag full of nettles of a mixture of ages, from fresh growth to mature plants.

Long sleeves, gloves, even hat and eye-protection are all useful here, depending on how energetically you harvest the crop. The worst sting I got preparing this Instructable was through the knee of my jeans, but most parts of me got lightly stung, even through gloves.
makershaker052 months ago

This is really cool I enjoy your instructables. Thanks Kiteman.

Kiteman (author)  makershaker052 months ago
Thank you!
hardlec4 months ago

I have a ton of lemon grass and I woul like to try it for paper.

Will baking soda work, if so how much do I need?

Do you know how to make rope from nettles?

Kiteman (author)  hardlec4 months ago

I don't know - the best I can say is "not a vast amount".

Grasses have less lignin than plants like nettle, so just give it a go and see.

As for rope, I've never tried it, but there are plenty of resources online for that, just search for "nettle rope making" or "nettle cordage".

liz17415 months ago

Caustic Soda is NaOH - Lye (caustic means be careful!)
Baking Soda is NaHCo3 - stuff you cook with
Washing Soda is Na2Co3 - stuff you wash clothes with (many of the commercial varieties now have fragrance and other nasty stuff in them)

Kiteman (author)  liz17415 months ago

OK, my bad phrasing - they're all alkalis that will break down the lignin.

Kiteman (author)  liz17415 months ago

OK, my bad phrasing - they're all alkalis that will break down the lignin.

jnalundasan6 months ago

what chemical is used in this process? baking soda, caustic soda or washing soda?

Kiteman (author)  jnalundasan6 months ago

They're all the same thing.

fire9 months ago
Very well written article, it was a joy to read. I am curious, though, if using something such as pectinase would help with speeding up the process of breaking down the fibre without beating.

Pectinase is generally used in wine making to break down cellular membrane in fruit and is easily sourced from any wine making supply shop.
Kiteman (author)  fire9 months ago
I have no idea. Maybe you could try?
Thanks for you article, but it seems a tedious proses but its worth it. I am Denis from Kenya in the East African region. I was just wondering, is there a way I can make the paper pure white! and is it possible to make toilet roll through this method! Another thing can I use a plant like the water hyacinth, which is a menace in my lake, L.. Victoria and also can we use the rice husks (the remains from the rice when it is removed from the pod/cover not the stems)!
Solhawk1 year ago
Can you do this also with Wood? We have a wood shop and are thinking of reusing the sawdust for making paper. Would we use the same process? Do we need anything special like glue or anything like that?
Kiteman (author)  Solhawk1 year ago
Wood needs a lot more treatment than plants like nettles (which is why early paper makers did not use wood).

You will have to mechanically refine the sawdust, which requires seriously expensive equipment, or chemically digest the sawdust, which requires a lot of corrosive chemicals at high temperatures.

If you want to recycle sawdust, I would consider:

> Fuel. Mixed with a mess of papier mache and press into bricks. Leave them to dry for a few weeks, and sell as firewood replacements.
> Barbecue flavouring - sell packets of the dust of different woods for people to sprinkle on their BBQ coals and flavour the smoke.
> Filler. Mixed with PVA glue, it can make a reasonable filler for screw-holes etc.
> Compost.
> Throw it away.

Kiteman (author)  Solhawk1 year ago
Wood needs a lot more treatment than plants like nettles (which is why early paper makers did not use wood).

You will have to mechanically refine the sawdust, which requires seriously expensive equipment, or chemically digest the sawdust, which requires a lot of corrosive chemicals at high temperatures.

If you want to recycle sawdust, I would consider:

> Fuel. Mixed with a mess of papier mache and press into bricks. Leave them to dry for a few weeks, and sell as firewood replacements.
> Barbecue flavouring - sell packets of the dust of different woods for people to sprinkle on their BBQ coals and flavour the smoke.
> Filler. Mixed with PVA glue, it can make a reasonable filler for screw-holes etc.
> Compost.
> Throw it away.

Tansy32 years ago
Please see here for a book that might help a bit in making the process of cleaning up the nettles a bit easier:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sting-Spin-History-Nettle-Fibre/dp/0956569307
Kiteman (author)  Tansy32 years ago
Cool, thanks!

(Adds to Wish List)
oaxacamatt2 years ago
Great little video. I like to see even just a little clip to give some ideas of the process. The fact that the video is w/o sound is fine too. The subtitles are all you need. Good job.
Honus2 years ago
That is an incredibly informative and well written instructable! It definitely took me back to my art school days. I wonder if anyone has tried vacuum bagging instead of a press.
Kiteman (author)  Honus2 years ago
Vacuum bagging? The same as "clamping" glued wood?

(Scribbles note)
Honus Kiteman2 years ago
Yep- the same. I've used one for molding carbon fiber before. It basically works just like a press. Just out of curiosity I did a quick search and this turned up, where the author mentions the use of a vacuum table-
http://newsletter.handpapermaking.org/beginner/beg76.htm
Kiteman (author)  Honus2 years ago
Interesting, but my main concern at the moment is refining the fibres.

I've had thoughts, but they'd be messy, so I'm trying to refine the idea in my head first.
Honus Kiteman2 years ago
My immediate first thought was a power hammer rig using a cheap air hammer, but it would be incredibly messy- and noisy!
Kiteman (author)  Honus2 years ago
Back when most paper was made of rags, they used hammer mills - a water wheel turned a shaft with pegs that raised and dropped hammers into the pulp (kind of like a music box, but with tines made of six-inch-thick timbers).

I've been doing more research (I had to resort to actual books, not just the web), and it seems that hammering/stamping is the way to go.
Kryptonite2 years ago
Wow, that's genuinely incredible, kudos for the amazing and extensively written 'ible!

I'm curious as to what you plan to do with all this wonderful material now you've made up a batch...
Kiteman (author)  Kryptonite2 years ago
Ha, most of it is already binned - for day-to-day use, it's useless.

I have, however, exchanged emails with a chap from the University of Manchester School of Materials about ways of improving the process, and thus the finished material.
I believe if you could make the process a little easier to manage, you'd be VERY popular with art students.
Kiteman (author)  Kryptonite2 years ago
More research materials in the mail to me as I type.
Good! Keep us updated.
sunshiine2 years ago
Hey Kiteman! I came back to take a deeper look at this because I do want to make some paper. Do you think the blender method might have contributed to the results of the quality of the paper you made? Do you think a food processor with a dough hook might be a gentler way of dispersing fibres? We have a lot of yucca in my area, in your opinion would this be a good medium? Are you aware of any way to make this type of paper without all the work. My main focus is to resemble what you have from say . . . a paper bag. What would that process be called so I might look online? This project is very interesting. What appeals to me is the woody texture and natural appearance. Taking it to a different level would one be able to use evergreen to achieve a scented paper? I am not interested in nettles. I have a very unpleasant experience using plants such as this. I made cactus jelly 1x and will never! do it again. It is funny now , but at the time I was miserable. Thanks for a great ible! Sunshiine
Kiteman (author)  sunshiine2 years ago
It's not the stirring, it's the mechanical work performed upon each fibre.

The fibres need to be literally beaten between two resistance surfaces, either by a mallet, as the Japanese Washi makers do, or with one of the modern continuous-flow equivalents (see the links I gave to Hollander beaters).

The fibres need to be smashed and broken to make them more flexible, and to literally fray the outer layers of the fibres - this all means that each fibres contacts many others, forming a smoother, stronger sheet.

I have recently discovered that at least one professional papermaker has had success with a modified sink garbage disposal unit, but I'm also thinking of something like a rock tumbler or ball mill.
I will check out the links. I might make something out of your idea for the holidays.When I do this I will try adding a beet to give it a different color. It would be fun to add other things that would make it unique and interesting. I would like to make journals for my children and grandson from recycled stuff for Christmas. I am going to try using yucca and a coffee grinder.
scoochmaroo2 years ago
Fantastic! I've only ever made paper out of other paper now that I think about it. . .
Kiteman (author)  scoochmaroo2 years ago
Strange, isn't it - it's one of the few finished products that can also be seen as a raw material.
ChrysN2 years ago
Awesome Instructable!
sunshiine2 years ago
Awesome Kiteman! I have been wanting to make my own paper for a project. I am not sure when I will make it but when I do I will post a picture. Thanks for sharing!