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The Simple Off-Grid Guide To Making Paper

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According to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), of the 251 million tons of solid waste generated by Americans in 2012, more than 27 percent was paper. That was about 68 million tons and of that amount, 35 percent ended up in a landfill.

Making your own paper can help reduce your footprint and give you a unique product for your own use or to sell as a homestead craft. It’s simply a great skill to have. Making paper isn’t as difficult as some would believe, although it can be somewhat time-consuming.

It’s messy, but so much fun! So, let’s get started.

Equipment you’ll need:

  • A mold
  • A basin that will allow the mold to fit flat on the bottom with a few inches on each side
  • A second basin to use for washing pulp
  • Your choice of paper to be recycled
  • Blender or mortar & pestle
  • Felt or flannel fabric
  • Scissors
  • Spray bottle of water
  • Construction stapler (a desk stapler isn’t strong enough)
  • Hammer
  • Acrylic or plexiglass sheet that fits your mold (DO NOT use glass)
  • Something to use as a weight
  • Sponges (without the scrubbing side)
  • Mesh strainer
  • Bleach (optional)
  • Corn starch or liquid fabric starch (optional)
  • Additives to make your paper pretty (glitter, yarn shreds, flower petals, seeds, etc.)

Many types of paper can be recycled into handmade paper, depending on the weight of paper you want or the use you will put it to. Be sure not to use glossy paper as the treatment used to make the paper glossy cannot be broken down without harsh chemicals. These chemicals can damage your skin as well as the environment without proper disposal.

Materials you can use for paper making:

  • Newspapers
  • Computer paper (non-glossy)
  • Cardboard egg cartons
  • Index cards
  • Toilet paper
  • Construction paper
  • Tissue paper
  • Napkins
  • Non-waxed cardboard boxes

The paper you make will be thicker than the paper you can buy at the store. However, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are reducing your footprint and that your paper is unique to your particular way of making it.

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The first thing you need to do is to make your mold. This will be used to scoop up the pulp from the basin. Most likely you will not find one already made, but making one is quite simple.

Making your mold:

  1. A frame is needed. You can use a pair of picture frames or make your own frame by stapling or nailing lengths of 1/2-inch x 1-inch wood into a square or rectangle a little larger than you want your sheets of paper.
  2. You also will need fiberglass netting or mesh like what is used in screen doors. You can find this at nearly any hardware store. It is sold by the roll or by the linear foot.
  3. Carefully staple the mesh to the flat side of the picture frame. Work carefully so that the mesh is taut and smooth. Wrinkles will cause problems with your paper coming off cleanly from the mold.
  4. When the mesh is in place, hammer down the staples so that they are flush with the frame.
  5. Put the second picture frame or wooden frame, flat sides together, and nail firmly in place.

Now that you have your frame you are almost ready to start making paper. Next, cut your flannel or felt into pieces that will just fit inside your mold. You will need several of these so that you can turn out more than one piece of paper in a day. Once you have your fabric cut, you are ready to begin the adventure into making your own paper. If you choose to do this in your kitchen, make sure that you protect your work surfaces from dripping water .

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Making Paper Pulp:

    1. Shred your paper. You can do this by hand or use a commercial shredder. The smaller the better so that you don’t burn out the motor of your blender.
    2. Fill one basin with hot water.
    3. Allow your shredded paper to soak in the water about an hour. Overnight is best to allow the paper fibers to break down. Toss out the water the shredded paper soaked in.
    4. Add a loose handful or two of the shredded paper to the canister of your blender.
    5. Fill the canister about half- to two-thirds-full with warm water. Use lots of water with a little paper.
    6. Blend at high speed for a minute or two. When no more large clumps of paper remain, you are ready to strain as much water as possible off the resulting pulp. Place the pulp in the empty basin. ** If using clean paper, skip to step nine.
    7. If you are using paper that was previously printed on and want a whiter sheet of paper you will need to wash your pulp. Regular dish soap is not strong enough to remove the ink from the paper so you will need to use dishwasher detergent or laundry detergent. For each gallon of water, you will only need about a tablespoon of the detergent. Let the pulp soak in the soapy water for 20 to 30 minutes before straining. After each washing, strain your pulp and repeat this washing as many times as you wish. When you have washed your pulp as much as you desire, rinse it the last time.
    8. At this point, you can bleach the pulp if you want a much whiter paper than unwashed pulp will offer. Use about one-half gallon of warm water and a good amount (two to four cups) of bleach. Mix it well so all the clumps are broken up. Allow it to soak for an hour or so, stirring occasionally so the pulp doesn’t settle too much. Strain and rinse just like when you were washing away the excess ink.
    9. Place about three cups of pulp in your clean basin and add water to cover the pulp by about two inches. Add one tablespoon of liquid fabric starch or two tablespoons of cornstarch for “sizing.” This will allow you to write on the paper without your ink bleeding. Stir the contents of the basin to break up any clumps.
    10. Lower the mold into the basin and move it gently from side to side to allow the pulp to settle on the mesh. Once the layer of pulp on the screen is as thick as you want it, lift it straight up to prevent ripples or thin spots in the resulting sheet. Allow the mold to drip over the basin until most of the water has drained away.
    11. Set the mold to one side and dampen the felt or flannel with the spray bottle. Place the fabric, damp side down, over the pulp. Lay the acrylic or plexiglass sheet over the fabric. Carefully turn the mold over so that the mesh is on top. Set your mold down on your draining surface. Moisten the sponge and gently dab the mesh to allow the pulp to release from the screen. Lift away your mold and you are ready to repeat step 10 until all the pulp in your basin is used.
    12. Repeat steps nine, 10 and 11 until all the pulp you blended has been used.

When you have used all of the pulp you prepared at the beginning of this adventure, you can stack the fabric-backed pieces of pulp three or four pieces high. Dampen one additional piece of fabric to place on the top of the stack. Place a second sheet of acrylic or plexiglass on the top and weigh it down to press out the rest of the water.

Allow your paper to sit beneath the weights for one to two hours so that as much water as possible is pressed out. Carefully remove the weight and acrylic or plexiglass sheet and set aside. Gently pull up the top layer of fabric. At this point, your paper will still be damp so be careful pulling the fabric off the paper. Continue pulling the fabric up from the paper beneath it and set each fabric-backed sheet out individually. Allow those sheets to air-dry at least eight hours on newspapers to wick away the excess moisture.

Voila, you have just made paper! Congratulations!

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