Make Recycled Paper

Making Recycled Paper

Making recycled paper is more of a labor of love and a learning experience than a great way to recycle bulk quantities paper. It can be time consuming to collect paper fiber and prepare the paper. But it can be a lot of fun and a form of art. I have had successful paper making parties with children as young as five years old. With adults, you can make the experience more creative by putting colorful items in the paper such as pressed flowers or threads.

While this is a fun project, the best way to ensure paper gets recycled is to use your paper recycling program in your community. Buy paper with a high post-consumer content. And try to use both sides of a piece of paper.

Step 1: Collect fiber.
Fiber comes from lots of sources. Here are some pros and cons of some sources:


  • They are often made from high quality paper.
  • They have less ink on them than regular paper.
  • They come in lots of attractive colors.


  • Paper with glue on it makes a mess, so you'll need to cut off all the glue, leaving a relatively small amount of paper.
  • It can take weeks or months to collect colorful envelopes.




  • They are often made from high quality paper.
  • They have less ink on them than regular paper.
  • They come in lots of attractive colors.


  • Paper with glue on it makes a mess, so you'll need to cut off all the glue, leaving a relatively small amount of paper.
  • It can take weeks or months to collect colorful envelopes.




  • It's easy to find in large quantity.
  • You can collect it all at one time.
  • It makes multi-colored paper.


  • Magazine paper is heavy with ink. Ink can be messy and bad for your health.
  • You probably could not write on this paper because it would be so colorful

Tissue paper is nice to add to other types of paper to make something that looks like "parchment" but it's not strong enough to be your only source of fiber. Adding brown paper bag paper gives other papers a more organic look.

For people who get more involved with paper making, they will add other materials to make the paper nicer quality. For example, adding shredded cotton rags helps make the paper stronger. Others will cook down just about any plant material to make paper with amazing textures.


Step 2: Prepare fiber.

This is great by the TV or while chatting with someone, because it can be dull. Snip or rip off any parts of your fiber sources with glue or ink on them. Recycle those parts as you would normally recycle paper. You can save stamps and mail them to an organization or artist. Where could I send the stamps?

Once you have removed ink, glue and stamps, it's best to rip the fibers. Scissor-cut fibers will work in some cases, but the thinking behind ripping the fibers is that it helps the fibers start to break down.

You can make paper that is all one color or a mixture of colors. If you want paper that is all one color, store colors separately.


Step 3: Make a paper-making screen.
You'll need:

  • Two picture frames or canvas stretcher bars the size of the paper you want to make
  • Polyeurethane varnish, water based
  • Sponge brush
  • Screening like you find with a screen door
  • Staple gun
  • Duct tape

The official names for the parts of a paper-making screen are "mould and deckle." The mould is a screened frame that catches pulp and forms a sheet of paper. The deckle is a frame that sits on top of the mould, that defines the edge of the paper.

To make a mould and deckle, varnish the frames a couple of times to help them last longer. Since they are put into water, it helps preserve the wood.

To make the mould, cut a piece of screening a bit bigger than the frame. Staple it one of the frames. Then put duct tape all around the make the edges smooth.

To make paper with children, I purchased a set of frames that were about $2 for a pack of three. They make a piece of paper that is about three by five inches. The frames are easy for kids to handle.


Step 4: Make a presser.
A presser squeezes out the water once you have made paper. Make a presser from a sheet of plywood. You'll also need four long bolts (three to four inches long) with matching wingnuts and washers. Some people use C-clamps instead - either work well.

Cut your plywood in half to make the top and bottom of the presser. My presser is about one foot by two feet in size. Similar to the mould and deckle, I varnished my presser a few times to give it a longer life.

If using bolts, drill four holes in the four corners of the presser that are slightly bigger than your bolts. Then put your bolts through the holes, attach the washers and wingnuts and you have a presser!


Step 5: Collect other supplies.
Besides presser, fiber, mould and deckle, the other supplies are:

  • A waterproof container that is larger that the width of your mould and deckle
  • Another waterproof container for holding your soaking fibers
  • Re-usable thin kitchen cloths - you'll need one for each piece of paper that you make, so I purchased 20 and cut them in half
  • A blender that you will not use for food ever again - maybe bought at a yard sale
  • A large sieve that you will not use for food again
  • Towels
  • Large sheets of cardboard or large amounts of newspaper where you can dry the paper
  • Rubber or latex gloves (optional)
  • Sponge (optional)
  • A small piece of polyester organdy, which is like the fabric used in sheer curtains (optional)
  • If you are at a paper-making party and the participants want to know which piece of paper they made, get them to make name tags with a waterproof marker on a slip of paper for each piece of paper they plan to make.

Step 6: Soak fiber.
Advice varies on how long to soak your fibers. I have soaked it for as little as 10 minutes and the fibers still broke down in the blender. The longer you soak the fibers, the easier it will be for your blender to break them down. If you want to make very fine paper, you'll want to soak your fibers overnight or longer.


Blending fibers

Step 7: Blend fiber.

Put a cup of soaked fibers into a blender with two cups water. Blend in short bursts to avoid breaking the blender. Pour the pulp into your large container. Keep blending until all the fiber is pulp.


Step 8: Set up your work area.
On a large table, put down towels to protect the table surface because paper making is a wet process. To your left, put your pulp container. To your right, put the bottom layer of your presser. At the top, stack your kitchen cloths. Make sure that your workspace is close to both a source of water and a place where you can squeeze out water, such as a sink, bath tub or outdoors.


Soaking Paper

Step 9: Make a test piece of paper.

It's time to test whether your pulp is the right consistency. Hold the mould and deckle in two hands and turn it so that the front end goes into the pulp first, as if it is diving into the pulp. Once you get the bottom of the pulp, flatten it out. Then gently pull up through the pulp. Gently move the mould and deckle side to side as you exit the pulp to get even coverage. Your pulp is the right consistency if it is about a quarter of an inch thick or less and not lumpy. The more water you put in the pulp, the finer your paper will be. Add more water if your pulp seems too thick. Don't worry about over-watering the pulp. You can always sieve off water later.


Lifting to drain water 

Step 10: Let paper drip.
Once your pulp is thin enough, and you have pulled up a nice piece of paper with the mould and deckle, hold it for about a minute above the pulp to let water drain off. Do not touch the pulp or your paper will have lumps. Move the mould and deckle to the towel in front of you. Gently lift off the deckle and put it aside.


Laying cloth over the pulp

Step 11: Move paper to presser.

Take a kitchen cloth and lay it over the pulp so that there are no wrinkles. It will immediately start soaking up water from the pulp. Grip the cloth and the mould on each side tightly. Pick it up off the towel and flip it in the air so that the pulp side is down. As you are flipping it, lay it down on the presser.






Step 12: Removing the pulp from the mould.
At this stage, your mould is on top of your first piece of paper. You want to remove it so you can make another piece of paper. This can be tricky. Pick up the edge of the mould and tease it slowly from the pulp. Tap the screen with your finger gently until the pulp releases from it. A sponge can soak up water and help the pulp release. Continue to lift the mould gently off. If a chunk of the pulp sticks to the screen, swish the cloth back into your pulp container to start over. If you are at a paper-making party, now is the time for people to put their name tags on the cloth but not on top of their paper.



Step 13: Make lots more paper.
Continue steps 9-11 until your stack is as tall as the bolts or c-clamps of your presser. Stack each piece of paper on top of each other on the presser. Ideally the edges of stacked paper will line up but it's not crucial.




Step 14: Press the pulp.
Wrap towels around the edge of the presser board to catch dripping water. Carry it to the place where you plan to press the paper. Lay the top pressing board on the stack of papers and screw the bolts tighter and tighter. As you do this, water will come gushing out. Keep squeezing the papers until the board starts to bend around the stack.



Step 15: Dry the paper.

In a large room, lay out your cardboard or newspaper on the floor. Unscrew the presser and gently lift off each piece of paper. If your kitchen cloths are all used up and you want to keep going, gently flip the paper off the cloths on to the cardboard or newspaper. In dry climates, thin paper can dry in a day, but in humid weather it can take a few days. It's best to avoid drying paper outside because it blows away. Sometimes the paper will curl during drying so you'll have to press it between heavy objects once you are done.


Step 16: Clean-up and storage of pulp.
Pulp can keep in a cool place for a few weeks, so if you plan to make more paper later, you can leave it in its wet consistency. But if you will not make paper again soon, or live in a warm place, it's best to take the water out of the pulp and dry it or it will actually go bad and smell. It is very easy to reconstitute dry pulp for a future project.

Put a large sieve in a sink or bathtub and slowly pour the pulp through it. To avoid clogging your pipes with dried pulp, you can also put polyester organdy in the sieve, or drain the pulp in a couple of different places to avoid build up. Each time that the sieve fills, press out as much water as you can. Remove the pulp and squeeze it into a ball.

You can also make modeling clay with sieved pulp by adding white glue. You can make sculptures or jewelry.

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