Making our own recycled paper

by threegirlpileup

Making paper is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time now, and our recent science experiment on recycling included a papermaking activity. Of course, I couldn’t just follow the directions that came with the science kit. I had to google “making paper” and read seven or eight tutorials on the topic. What resulted was a hybrid of the many instructions I read plus the ones that came with the kit. And a little winging it, as my computer was down on the morning of the activity so I couldn’t double-check how to do it.

We started by gathering paper from our recycling bin. I tried to avoid paper with a lot of black print, so that our product wouldn’t be too gray. I also read somewhere that envelopes were good for papermaking (something about long fiber length), so we used a lot of those. First, we attacked our pile with scissors..

….but realized quickly that this was going to take a LONG time. So instead we pulled out a favorite appliance in our house: the paper shredder. Before long we had a big bucket full of paper shreds.

Yes, that is a big bucket full of paper bits. Probably the only thing we did “wrong” on this first effort was to use entirely too much raw material. That was the downside of the quick work of the shredder.

Next, Anna used one of her favorite tools–the sprayer on the sink–to fill the bucket with water.

The directions on how long to leave the paper to soak vary. We left ours for about two hours.

The next task was grinding up the paper. Most instructions I read suggested using a blender or possibly a food processor. We are currently blender-less, and the thought of grinding up batch after batch of paper mush in my Cuisinart was not appealing. Instead, we decided to give the immersion blender a try, and it worked like a charm. As a bonus, it was easy to plug it in outside and keep the whole thing out on the deck.

Next, we filled a dishpan halfway with water, and then added paper pulp. The amount was very inexact; I was aiming for three blender-fulls. Whatever that means. The night before, I had made molds from very simple wood frames that I happened to have on hand; the science kit came with screening that easily stapled over the opening. To make the paper, we immersed the mold in the dishpan and then lifted it out, leaving paper in the mold. You can adjust the amount of paper pulp in the water if your paper is too thick or too thin.

We then use a piece of fabric (cotton flannel) to help squeeze the water out of the pulp.

Once it was squeezed out enough to hold its shape, we carefully inverted it onto a cookie sheet. It was little tricky to get the paper out, but if we tapped the screen it would usually pop out.

We also had fun pulling out some flowers that we dried and pressed this fall, and adding them to the paper.

This part of the process proved to be very doable by both Maggie and Anna. Maggie really enjoyed it, and made a lot of sheets. Soon, though, Anna was more interested in doing some of her own mixing and molding with the paper pulp. Fortunately, we had more than enough to spare! The drained paper pulp has a very satisfying feel in the hands, and it seems like there are a lot of possibilities for projects starting with this material.

Next came the big squeeze. I put a folded bath towel on an additional cookie sheet, and inverted our piles of paper onto that, removing the cookie sheet. I placed another towel on top, and then put the cookie sheet on top of the pile. The girls enjoyed trying different methods for compressing the stack.

Drying was a little tricky to figure out. First, we tried hanging them with clothespins on a drying rack, but they were a little fragile for that. We tried balancing them across the top, but they seemed a bit precarious. In the end, we settled on laying some across a metal cooling rack, and others out on a cookie sheet.

They definitely dried more quickly on the rack, but ended up a little rippled from the uneven surface. The best technique seemed to be to try them partway on the cookie sheet, and then transfer them to the rack to finish drying.

We had a great time doing this, and Maggie in particular was excited about actually making her own paper. I think we all found the process to be much simpler than we expected. One caveat if you’re thinking about trying this…I’m really glad we did it on the deck. Clean-up was fairly easy, but it did involve a hose!