Make a Screen

Build two frames out of wood. The interior dimensions should be a half inch to an inch larger in every dimension than the desired dimensions of the paper -- you're going to want a little room to trim if you don't like the tattered edges of the paper when it comes off the screen. Onto one frame, nail or staple a screen. The screen should be a relatively tight weave (mine has about 1/2 mm holes); my screen has a plastic mesh, but metal might work. Make sure the nails or staples are as flush as possible with the frame, since the two frames should come together with as small a gap as possible between them.

Prepare the Paper

I don't agree with the above writeup: I found newspaper-grade paper to work fine. I started two nights ago with an old phone book, a bunch of assembly programming assignments from last quarter on ultra white printer paper, a couple old Seattle Weeklies, and a pizza box (without the greasy liner). I tore everything up into chunks, separated all the colored pages out of the Weekly (and threw them into the recycle bin), and put them into a bucket. Filled the thing with water, put it the corner for a day or so, and went on to...

Gathering Materials

  • First, you'll need to find a blender that you do not care about. I found mine at Value Village for six bucks. Why a cheap junk blender? Two reasons.
    1. You're going to be putting paper, full of ink and (possibly) bleach and dyes, into this blender, getting pulp all over it, and generally making a complete mess out of it. While it's possible to clean all of this off, it's generally easiest to kind of clean it up and call it the "paper blender."
    2. You're going to torture the hell out of this thing. Leaving it on full bore for minutes at a time with little resistance on the blade is going to be a regular occurence. This tends to burn through motors, so buying cheap and torturing is a lot easier than buying new and being careful.

  • Second, you need at least one big tub for the pulp. Big meaning at least 4 inches on a side larger than your screen. You want a lot of room to maneuver your screen in and out.

  • Thirdly, find some neat stuff to put into your paper. String is nice, and helps strengthen the paper. Leaves, flowers, and feathers can go in, if you like that sort of thing. Interesting bits of paper can be cool. For the paper I made this afternoon, I used string, some spent tea leaves (which made the paper smell like Murchie's Japan Green Sencha ... very nice), and some stuff I had cut out of the old phone book. Anything that is as flat as the paper will probably work.

  • Fourth, get the following:
    • Pieces of felt slightly larger than your target paper size
    • Some cotton towels with as little pattern in the cloth as possible
    • An iron
    • A sponge

Making the Paper

The travels of one sheet...

  1. First, fill your blender half full of not-ice-cold water, drop some pieces of the soaked paper in (tear it up into little chunks first), and start it blending. When the mixture is smooth (hard to describe, but you'll get a feel for how long to blend it as you make more paper), you can dump it into your tub. If the mixture binds up in the blender and doesn't go down into the blades, add more water. Add between 3 and 4 times as much water as pulp to the tub (so about 2 to 2 and a half full blenders of water will do). Some pulp requires more, some requires less.

  2. At this point, you can add some of that "neat stuff" that you want integrated throughout the paper (like string or strips of paper).

  3. Fit your screen assembly together so the two frames sandwich the screen. Slide it into the pulp / water slurry with the non-screened frame up.

  4. Slowly draw the screen up out of the slurry, holding the frames tightly against each other. Once the frame is out of the liquid, gently shake it first to your left and right, then away and towards you. What you are doing in this motion is to knit the fibers together, like kneading bread. The key word here is gentle: you don't want to rip holes in the very delicate piece of paper / pulp. If you do, scrape the pulp off the screen and try again. Once this is done, hold the frame assembly at a slight angle so the excess water drains off.

  5. At this point, remove the non-screened frame. You should have a sheet of pulp a lot thicker than you'd like the paper to be. Don't worry, the iron will take care of this. You can add anything you'd like to appear on the surface of the paper right now.

  6. Lay a sheet of felt down on a table or counter, and in one motion flip the screen over onto the felt. Get a sponge, and press down on the screen, soaking up the excess water from the pulp. Now very gently pull one edge of the screen away from the counter. You should flick the screen with the other hand if the pulp sticks to the screen.

  7. Shazam. A very wet piece of paper. Lay a towel over it, set the iron to the highest setting, and iron the crap out of the thing until it stops steaming. (or at least stops steaming a whole lot) Use some moderate pressure, because you want to both get the water out of the paper and flatten it.

  8. Gently pull the towel off the paper. It may stick a little bit, so be very careful here. If it sticks a lot (like, doesn't come off the towel), put it back down and keep ironing.

  9. Once that's cooled off a bit, set it aside (perhaps on a towel in front of an open window, or hanging up or something). Do another piece.

Pitfalls and Other Info

  • My paper breaks to pieces when I do anything to it! You may have too much water in your slurry, making the paper very thin. Try making some more pulp and adding it to the tub.

  • My paper is curling and buckling as it dries! Sandwich the dry paper between damp (not sopping wet) towels, and iron it again.

  • I want my paper to be strong but thin! Experiment with different types of paper to make your pulp. Cardboard and grocery bags have very long fiber length in order to increase strength; these long fibers may aid you on your quest for stronger paper.

  • I want to dye my paper! Use your imagination. Vegetables and fruits can make dyes (use anything that stains your clothing); just be sure to strain them well or you might have seeds in your paper. On the non-natural tip, a few scraps of colored tissue paper like the stuff you find in gift bags work really well. Just add it to the pulp as you blend it.

  • This takes too damned long! Get a friend. One person working the screen while the other irons makes the whole process move a lot faster.