Make Your Own Paper
Did you know you can reuse used paper by turning it into new paper? This three-part project will show you how.
Part 1: Collect Paper Scraps
For this project, you will need lots of scraps of paper that have already been used. Ask your family to start saving pieces of paper that they would normally throw away, like junk mail, newspaper, old notes, scraps from art projects, wrapping paper, tissue paper, or thin cardboard. Paper scraps that don't have much writing on them make the nicest paper, but you can reuse whatever you have. If you want your paper to be a certain color, collect scraps that are mostly that color.
What You Do:
- Look at each of the different types of paper you've collected with a magnifying glass. Do you see the little hairy-looking pieces on the surface of the paper? Those are called fibers. Do they all look the same? Are some longer or fatter than others?
- Tear up the scraps of paper into small pieces. They should be about 1" squares.
- As you tear them, look at the torn edges of each type of paper with the magnifier. What do you notice about the fibers of thick paper compared to the fibers of regular paper or tissue paper?
Fibers are the hairy-looking things you see on the edges of paper when you tear it. Most paper is made from wood, which contains fibers called cellulose. All green plants (that includes trees) have cellulose inside their stems. What else is made from fibers? Take a look at your clothes - see the little fuzzy and stringy looking pieces on your shirt or pants? Those are fibers, too! Thin, smooth paper has small, narrow fibers and thicker paper with a rougher texture has much bigger fibers. That's why you can see the bigger fibers on the surface of some types of paper, like construction paper and cardboard. When you looked at the fibers of your torn paper scraps up close with a magnifying glass, what did you notice? Can you tell what's holding the fibers together? You'll find out when you make your own paper in Part 3!
Part 2: Make a Drying Frame
You will need an 8"x10" wooden picture frame (make sure it's one that no one needs anymore since it won't be useable as a picture frame when you're done) and a piece of screen or some sturdy netting with very small holes. The piece of screen should be a little bigger than the picture frame. You will also need a stapler and staples or else some thumbtacks with flat tops, scissors, and an adult to help you.
(A note to parents about supplies: $1 stores are a great place to buy inexpensive wooden picture frames. A small piece of screen can be bought from a hardware store, or ask if they have any scrap pieces they will give you. If you don't want to purchase these items to make your own drying frame, you can buy a papermaking kit instead.)
What You Do:
- Lay the screen flat on the table.
- Remove the back and the glass from the picture frame and set them aside. You will not need them. Set the frame on top of the screen so that the back of the frame is touching it.
- Have an adult help you staple or tack the edges of the screen onto the picture frame. Make sure you stretch the screen tightly as you go, or you will have a very hard time making a smooth sheet of paper.
- Use scissors to trim any extra parts of the screen off.
You will use this frame as a mold to make sheets of paper in the next part of the project.
Part 3: Make It Into Paper!
What You Need:
- Scraps of paper from Part 1
- Drying frame from Part 2
- Plastic tub (large enough for the frame to fit in)
- Two smooth rags
- Stack of newspapers or a folded towel
- An adult to help
What You Do:
- Lay a stack of newspapers on the table and cover them with a rag.
- Fill the blender jar half full with torn paper pieces.
- Fill the rest of the blender jar with water and put the lid on. Have an adult turn the blender on for a minute or two until all of the paper pieces are shredded and chopped up into a pulp.
- Pour the paper pulp into the plastic tub then refill the blender jar with warm water and pour it in the tub, too. Use your hands to mix it all together.
- Dip your frame into the tub. The screen side should be resting on the bottom of the tub. Use your hands to cover it with the pulp and spread it out evenly over the screen.
- Hold on to the frame with both hands and pull it straight up out of the tub. Shake it very gently so the extra water drips back into the tub.
- Ask someone to use a sponge to soak up even more water from under the screen while you keep holding the frame flat.
- Set the frame on the stack of newspapers and rag, then press another rag over the top of your sheet of paper and carefully peel the paper off. Don't worry if some of the edges of the paper stick to the frame. Your paper probably won't be a perfect rectangle, but it will be a piece of artwork.
- Lay the rag with the sheet of paper on it flat on the counter to dry. When it is completely dry, you can easily peel it off of the rag.
- If you have some paper pulp left in the tub, you can follow steps 5-10 using dry rags to make another sheet of paper!
Note: If your new sheet of paper rolls up when it dries, you can have an adult help you iron it flat using the iron's lowest heat setting.
You may be wondering how those little scraps of paper stuck together again to make a whole new sheet of paper. As you learned in Part 1, paper is made of fibers that come from wood. Cellulosefibers are slightly sticky, so they help paper hold together. In fact, cellulose is used to make some kinds of glue! You "recycled" old paper by blending it up into tiny pieces. Those pieces of paper were made of cellulose fibers. The warm water you added made the cellulose sticky again and then when you pressed your new sheet of paper with the sponge, the fibers got matted down and tangled together, then they stuck to each other as they dried into a new sheet of paper.
To learn more about recycling, check out our Learn About Recycling page.