Intro: Homemade Clay / Clayper Plate / Papercrete
Clay. I love it. The best part is it's free if you're willing to do a little work. Having had enough of wimpy regular paper plates dropping my pizza on the ground, I decided it was time for something better. Enter the clayper plate.
Clayper is basically the same as papercrete,
but without any cement.
Step 1: Dig a Hole to Get the Clay
In the ground, underneath the topsoil, there is clay. It's raw clay, mixed with gravel and small rocks. Appropriate for large scale constructions such as a clay wall. The clay can be refined to a solid commercial quality clay of high plasticity. That takes a lot of effort though. Making clayper is way easier.
So dig a hole in your backyard. How deep? I don't know. Some peoples yards are almost pure clay, others have a lot of topsoil. The clay where I dug was about two feet down. You'll know when you get to the clay layer because the clay clings to the shovel, it's probably a different color than the topsoil, it's not crumbly, and when you squeeze it it stays together like clay. The bigger and deeper of a hole you dig, the better pockets of clay you will find and the less problem you'll have with dirt and surface debris falling back into it. Also, try not to dig near a tree because there are roots. For digging a really big hole, like underground dwelling size, a shovel is going to be inadequate. In that case I can't recommend highly enough a manual log splitter such as the one pictured. For a simple batch of clayper though it won't be necessary.
Step 2: Add Water, Strain
Now that you have some raw clay in a bucket, add water and use your hand to break up the clay chunks into the water, making clay soup. Think chocolate milk. That's what you're going for. Like you're a kid and your mom is not even watching and you can make your chocolate milk as chocolatey as you want.
Then once you've got it all mixed up, use a screen and strain out the sticks and rocks, keeping the liquid.
Step 3: Add Paper
Ideally here you would have paper pulp. From either cardboard or paper. The more you can turn your paper back into paper pulp, the more your final clayper will act like normal clay, allowing you to get fine detail and make thinly walled, delicate constructions. I was lazy. I just added single sheets of newspaper into the liquid and mixed it using stabbing motions with a kitchen stick blender. I wasnt able to get the newspaper as broken down as I wanted to that way. Some printed letters are still visible in the final clayper plate, so definitely the newspaper did not get turned all the way back to paper pulp. Really there is not a lot of clay in the clayper at all. The liquid clay pretty much just acts as a binder for the paper pulp. Just a small amount of clay though adds a lot of strength.
Step 4: Let the Clayper Dry Some
Now that I had my clay liquid paper gloop mixed up, I put it out flat on a piece of plywood to let some of the water evaporate. Had I have been using shredded paper instead of large sheets of newspaper I probably would have been able to get it to the right moisture content just by adding shredded paper and wouldnt have had to do this step. My kitchen stick blender struggled to chop up the newspaper sheets so I didnt want to go for the right level of dryness just by adding newspaper. My dad suggested that a morter mixer for a drill would have worked better.
Step 5: Get to Pattying
Now that youve got your clayper to the right moisture content where its like dough or clay, dry enough to hold its shape, then you take a ball of clayper and make it into a flat patty. Use your hands, a spatula, a roller.
Here is where the size of your paper pulp makes a difference. Think about making a hamburger patty. How finely ground the hamburger is is going to determine how thin of a patty you can make without it breaking apart. If the paper pieces are bigger it's going to take more pressure to get them to hold together. I probably could have not pulped the newspaper up at all, just left the sheets whole if I could have compressed the clayper hard enough. I dont know though. I speculate...
Step 6: Your Clayper Plate Drys
Here you can use the sun and patience or you can use a heat gun. Once dry your clayper plate is dry it is rigid and strong, vastly superior to a regular plate in some ways. Not in the 'being a good plate' way. But some ways.