Introduction: Coffee Cup Papermaking

Making very cool paper can be actually quite easy. This instructable shows a method I have found to work very well, even for young children or people who have never done anything like making paper.

If you happen to be on Kauai, come by Art Night in Hanapepe. Every Friday night I run a free community art project there, making paper out of all natural fibers collected from the area. You can learn more about that at

Since not everyone has a hau bush or banana plants in their backyard, we'll make our paper using a disposable paper coffee cup as source material.

You'll need the following:

Paper coffee cup
Two plastic tubs with relatively flush bottoms (dish tubs work well)
Chicken wire or metal mesh,
Window screen, the non-metal kind
Waterproof foil tape, or duct tape in a pinch
two pieces of felt, or a towel or sheet

Utility Knife
Metal Snips

Step 1: Fiberize Your Cup

Get a nice sized pot of water heating up. Tear your coffee cup into little bits--the littler the better, but don't use scissors, you want a nice rough edge to soak up the water. I used the cardboard ring and all, to add a little color to my paper.

Let that boil away until all the paper is good and juicy, at least half an hour or so. Alternatively, save energy and let the bits soak overnight instead of boiling.

While that's going, it's time to make our paper mold!

Step 2: Build the Mold

In the normal hand paper making process we would use a tub of water, a screened frame called a mold, and an un-screened frame called a deckle. The mold is held screened-side up, the deckle placed on top of it and the two together are dipped into the tub, which is filled with water and fiber. The mold and deckle are then pulled out slowly, allowing the water to drain through the screen, which captures the fibers. The deckle is then pulled away, giving you clean edges, and the sheet of paper is carefully removed from the screen. 'Carefully removed' often doesn't happen, and it might take a few tries before you get a sheet without wrinkles or tears.

The system I use is quite a bit simpler, and, in my opinion, offers a few advantages over the traditional system.

I'll describe it here--look at the photos and it should make sense. This system uses two nested tubs. The upper tub has a square cut out from its bottom, with wire mesh taped to the underside. A loose piece of screen is placed inside the tub, over the mesh. The water and fiber are added and agitated, and then the upper tub is lifted out of the lower one. The liquid drains through the opening, leaving a nice collection of fiber. The screen is then lifted from the tub and a piece of cloth is placed over it. The fabric-paper-screen sandwich is then flipped over and the screen is peeled away, leaving a beautiful piece of paper with no wrinkles or tears.

To build your plastic tub mold-and-deckle, in the bottom of one tub cut a hole the size and shape of the sheet you'd like to make. It needn't be an 8.5"x11" rectangle, you could get creative and cut out a heart or any other shape.

Now use your metal snips to cut the wire mesh down to size. I was using 1/4" mesh, so to make sure I had adequate overlap I left room for three squares on all sides, giving me 3/4" to tape over. Tape it down to the outside bottom of the tub.

Now to cut our window screen. I like to cut my screens a little long so they will lay flat inside the tub but curl up on the edges, as you can see in the photo. This will make it easier to lift the paper sheet out, when the time comes.

All done! If you've ever built a traditional mold and deckle, smile at how much more simple this was.

Step 3: Fiberizing Part Two: THE BLENDING

How's that fiber looking, nice and gloopy? Good! Time to blend it. I use a paint stirring drill bit instead of a traditional blender, less pouring of hot liquids. But either works well!

Real paper makers use something called a Hollander Beater. Those cost thousands, so I rigged something up with a thrift shop garbage disposal. You don't need one to make nice recycled paper, but if you want to make your paper from plants in your backyard you'll want something better than just a regular blender or drill. I'll do an instructable on that if there's any interest.

Step 4: Forming Your Sheet

First place the two tubs together and then fill with water, until there's at least an inch of water in the upper tub. Now add the fibers. How much fiber you use will depend on the size of your sheet and the thickness you want. I boiled two large coffee cups and used about a third of the mash to make my sheet.

Once the fibers are in the water, submerge your hands and agitate the liquid. The goal is to get it somewhat homogenous without moving the screen much.

Now lift the upper tub out. As you lift you'll want to slowly rock it back and forth, allowing the fibers to evenly disperse and fill all the holes, insuring a nice solid evenly-thick piece of paper.

Step 5: Couch It

Now it's time to couch your paper! Couching (pronounced more like anatomy than furniture) is the process of peeling the sheet off the screen. I use a rectangle of felt, but a towel or sheet will work. Felt is really cheap in the fabric section, just a couple bucks a yard. You'll want a good chunk of it if you're going to do lots of paper making. And why not, it's easy now that you have the tools! Think how much you'll save on greeting cards.

Carefully remove the screen from the tub. Clean up the edges of the sheet using your fingers--I like to pull fiber off instead of pushing it or folding it over, so the paper stays uniformly thick. Now lay the fabric over the sheet, and press down to smooth the fibers and absorb some water. Turn the whole stack over and then peel away the screen. Woohoo! Paper.

You'll notice my paper has some blue in it. That's fiber I made from old jeans, the last thing through my garbage-disposal-cum-hollander-beater. Make sure you clean your stuff if you don't want fiber cross contamination. I like it, personally!

Step 6: Finish Up

All that's left to do is watch your paper dry!

I like to flip my paper back and forth between a few felts, pressing each time to absorb water. Once that stops working I'll put the felt sandwich between two sheets of plexiglass and stand on them, pressing more water out. Finally I'll use two more felts and put the sandwich in my bottle jack press, then let it dry overnight. In a pinch you can use a heat gun or oven to dry it quickly, but that can make it stiff and wrinkly.

And there you have it! You've rescued a piece of trash and turned it into art. Make 20 sheets if you like and bind them into a journal, like the one shown here. 

Aloha, a hui ho!

Coffee Cup Challenge

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