VG Paper Blog


Small Scale Pulp Making

Making the Pulp
The easiest way to make pulp for the beginner papermaker is to use junk mail (or existing paper), water and a blender. Try and get a blender just for papermaking, because you do not want to use the blender for food after making pulp. (Hint: estate sales are great places to get great, workhorse blenders for very little money). To make a single batch of pulp, fill the blender container 2/3'rds with water. Shred (with a paper shredder, scissors, or by tearing) 6 sheets of paper, junk mail, bills, and/or letters. Try not to use coated or shiny paper or junk mail with really strong coloring. The coating is difficult to break down and the volume of pulp you are making will not dilute the color (but you may like that). Take a handful of the shredded paper and add it to the water in the blender. Let it soak for about 10 minutes (yet the longer the better. The longer it soaks the easier it is to process).

Start off pulsing the mixture on the lowest setting. Work your way up the speeds in short bursts. When you are one down from the top setting, let the blender run for about 3 or 4 minutes. If the blender starts to bog down or gets hot turn it off and let cool down. The pulp in the blender should be well blended and not clumpy. A test for "doneness" is:

  • 16 oz. of water in a mason jar or some sealable top.
  • 1 Tbs. of blended pulp.
  • Seal lid and shake vigorously. Hold the jar up to the light (or the sun) and look for large clumps. If there are large clumps, keep processing the pulp. Tiny flecks are OK.

Pulp Making, Method 2
Pulp can be made of other items that just recycled paper. It can be made with natural materials, cotton linters and/or pre-made pulp. Natural materials at this beginning level of paper making ends up being more like natural additions. Grasses, flowers, leaves and other natural materials use a long process to turn them into pulp by themselves. But these are lovely additions to recycled pulp and paper. Cotton linters, however, are the short seed hairs of the cotton plant, Gossypium sp. When cotton is ginned, the long staple cotton is removed from the seed and used in the textile industry to make cloth. Then the seed is further processed in a machine called a "linter", which removes the rest of the seed hairs (the closer to the seed, the shorter the fiber). The first pass of the seed through the linter machine results in 1st cut cotton linters; the next pass produces 2nd cut cotton linters. These are made into sheets that can be tore apart and soaked in water and blended like previous recycled scraps, yet much nicer and softer paper.

Pre-made pulp is fibers that have been beaten with water with a professional beating systems and the water drained off. To use, simply add more water, and disperse the pulp with a mixing blade (like a big paint mixer) attached to a drill. Usually comes in 5 gallon amounts. Bamboo, Abaca, Cotton Linters, and Flax fibers are available.

Pulp Making, Method 3
This is really a low tech, simple method that follows the basic pulp making methods. Tear up facial tissues into small pieces (tearing is better than cutting) and put them in a mixing bowl. Some people use facial tissue and toilet tissue (even the core of the toilet tissue. It would give a variation of color and texture). Cover the pieces with water and leave to soak. The paper should be fully soaked within a couple of hours, however, overnight or even for a day will help break down the paper to make pulp, more fully.

Use a plunge or hand blender to pulp the wet paper mix. Blend the paper pulp mix until all the pieces have been removed and there is a single mass of paper pulp. It is possible to do this without a hand blender. A potato masher, for instance, will give the same effect - but with a lot more effort! After the paper is thoroughly pulped, squeeze the pulp to remove some of the excess water if there is any. Now you could press this into a mold or form to create a simple sheet of paper. Use a towel to press firmly on the paper pulp to remove the water. The harder you press the more water will be removed and the firmer the end result. When the paper is firm and as much water as possible has been removed, turn the paper out of the mold onto a dry towel or cloth which has been placed on a flat surface. Use a dry towel to press more water from the paper. Place the paper in a warm and dry spot to dry or you could iron it with the steam setting turned off, which will help smooth the surface of the paper.

Sizing is a liquid added to pulp in order to make the finished paper less absorbent, so that ink or paint does not run or feather. Or added after the sheet is made. In simple paper pulp making, sizing is not usually added. But if you are doing calligraphy or other wet media on your paper, you should use some type of sizing. You can add sizing to the wet pulp while mixing (internal sizing). Or you can size the paper after the sheet is made (external sizing).

Internal sizing is added to the wet pulping process. Liquid laundry starch is a good sizing material. In the past ages, tapioca and rice starch was used. A solution of 0.2% of starch to water by volume is great for a medium sizing (1/4 cup to 7.5 gallons [120 cups]). Or a commercial sizing liquid alkyl succinic anhydride (ASA), alkyl ketene dimer (AKD) and rosin. AKD being the most versatile.

External sizing is mainly modified starches and sometimes other hydrocolloids, such as gelatin. The external sizing agent adheres to the fibers and forms a film, resulting in a smooth finish that tends to be water-repellent. Gelatin sizing is easy to make and apply depending on the strength of your paper. Simply one third packet of unflavored, uncolored gelatin (9 grams or about 1/3 oz) to 1 liter (approx. 1 qt.) of hot water. Put into a large, flat pan big enough to lay your paper flat. Dip each sheet of dry paper into the sizing, or immerse 5 or 6 sheets together, being sure to separate the sheets sufficiently in the gelatin bath so that all surfaces receive a coating of gelatin, let the excess gelatin drip back into the pan, and hang each sheet to dry. Alternatively, you can brush the gelatin on each sheet, rather than dipping the sheet, but is a little more difficult.

Warning: gelatin behaves like a glue at this point. Each sheet must be air dried separately. Do not put these sheets in a drying box at this point, or brush them onto another surface to dry. The sheets may dry in a few hours or longer, depending upon their thickness. However, it is a good idea to let the gelatin really harden properly in or on the paper. Wait at least 2 to 3 days before doing anything else to the paper. The paper will undoubtedly have cockled during the air drying.

To flatten the paper: moisten paper with a spray bottle and place them between damp (not wet) felts which allows the paper to relax. Wait several hours and remove them from felts to blotter sheets. You can press them or air dry between the blotters if you are exchanging the blotters and have some pressure added. After a few hours, the gelatin should have hardened sufficiently, so that the paper will not adhere to the blotters. You should do a test run, and be sure, so that you do not ruin your blotters or have blotters specifically for this purpose.

All sizing improves the surface strength, print ability, and water resistance of the paper or material to which it is applied.