Here’s How to Make Handmade Paper from Recycled Materials

how to make paper from recycled scraps - DIY handmade paperMaking paper by hand at home can be a pretty simple process. It’s also a fantastic way to use up your old receipts, scrap papers, junk mail, and copy paper that you were about to throw in the recycling bin, and instead create a thing of glorious handmade beauty.

Have those recycled papers hanging around? Some sort of plastic storage tub, and a kitchen blender? With a few supplies and these basic instructions, you’re well on your way to making handmade paper and being ridiculously friendly to the environment.

Keep reading for the tutorial!

Supplies for Making Paper

  • Water
  • Scrap Papers
  • Plastic storage tub or vat
  • Kitchen blender – get one from the thrift store
  • Mould & Deckle (a screen attached to a frame) How-to make a mould & deckle >
  • Wood boards OR sponge & rolling pin
  • Towels, wool blankets, cloth, pellon, Sham-wows, or other absorbent material

STEP 1: CUT UP PAPER

  • Cut or rip up your paper into about 1 inch squares.
  • Soak your paper for a few hours or overnight.

Drawing, printmaking, and watercolor papers are best because they are generally made from stronger fibers (cloth rag and not chemically treated tree fiber).

However, experiment with junk mail, office paper, paper grocery bags, the yellow pages, rejection letters, and more. No plastic, people.

Also, experiment with different color combinations.

making handmade paper with a blender

STEP 2: BLEND IT & MAKE A VAT OF PULP

Fill up a kitchen blender with water. Throw in a good handful or two of the cut up scrap papers (not too much more, or you’ll burn the blender motor out). Blend. Keep blending until it’s a pulp.

Don’t make your smoothies with that blender anymore.

Have a storage tub hanging around? Those concrete mixing vats from the hardware store also work. Fill up the tub with your blended pulp, about 1/3 to 1/2 way. Add more water to the vat. The more pulp to water, the thicker your paper will be.

diy paper making instructions

STEP 3: PULL SOME SHEETS

For this, you’ll need a mould and deckle. It’s basically two frames that are the same size, one with screen attached.

Learn how to make your own, the cheap & quick way! Click here for the DIY mould & deckle tutorial >

There’s also a list of papermaking suppliers who sell mould & deckles on our Paperlinks page. Or, check the Paperslurry Classifieds page for used equipment.

Now, for sheet formation:

  • Stir your vat of pulp.
  • Hold the mould screen side up, and place the deckle evenly on top.
  • Holding them together at a 45 degree angle, dip the mould and deckle to the bottom of the vat and scoop up, holding the mould and deckle horizontally.
  • As you lift it out of the slurry, give it a quick shake back and forth, and left to right to align the fibers and make a more uniform sheet. Stop shaking before the sheet is fully drained.
  • Let the water drain to a drip.

how to make paper by hand at home

STEP 4: COUCHING (**Pronounced coo-ching. For real.)

‘Couching’ means to transfer the wet sheet from the mould to a flat, absorbent surface. Wool felts are ideal, but there are many other options: wool blankets, smoother towels, paper towels, thicker non-fusible interfacing or pellon, sham-wows, or bed sheets. Set up your felt with a board underneath.

  • Remove the deckle from the mould.
  • Place a long edge of the mould on the felt.
  • In one smooth motion, place the mold face down, press down, and lift from that initial edge. Think of this like a close the door, open the door, motion.

diy paper making

STEP 5: PRESSING

Option 1: Hand Pressing

Place pellon or paper towel on top of your freshly couched sheet. With a sponge, press gently at first, then press firmly with as much pressure as possible. Have a rolling pin or old paint roller? Use that to press your paper even more.

handmade paper making instructions

Option 2: Board Pressing

Place another felt on top of your freshly couched sheet. Continue to couch another sheet, layer another felt, and repeat. Layer one final felt and another wood board when you’ve made a stack. Take the post outside to a concrete or stone surface. Stand on it!

hand papermaking - board drying

STEP 6: DRYING

Option 1: Surface Drying (that’s this picture here)

  • Find a flat, non-porous surface. Smooth wood boards, plexiglass, windows, and formica surfaces work well.
  • Take your wet sheet and gently press onto the flat surface. Make sure the edges are pressed down well.
  • Let the paper dry (1-3 days depending on humidity levels and thickness of the paper).
  • Peel it off.

 

Option 2: Exchange Drying

  • Get some blotters, towels, or other absorbent, dry, flat material.
  • Layer the material and then your wet handmade paper on top.
  • Repeat. Create a stack.
  • When you’re done, place a wood board or a book on top. Weigh it down with more books or something heavy.
  • Check it once every day and exchange the damp material with dry material until your handmade paper is dry.

 

Option 3: No Restraint Drying

This one’s easy. Take your wet sheet and throw it on a shelf, table, counter…and let it dry. It’ll be wild, wrinkly, and textured, but sometimes wild and free is good.

 

Option 4: Dry on Pellon or Cloth

After pressing, peel and hang up the cloth or pellon (with the wet paper still stuck to it) that you’ve couched onto, and hang on a clothesline with the top edge of the pellon.

Because you’ve pressed the paper to the pellon, the pellon will restrain the paper as it dries.

Once the paper is dry (1-2 days), peel it from the pellon. The paper will be slightly wavy.

how to make handmade paper

We dried this paper on smooth plywood.

Also, if you have left over pulp in the tub, you can save it. Take a mesh paint strainer bag, or a fine mesh pasta strainer to drain out all the water. A condensed version of the pulp will be left. Squeeze that into a ball, and let it dry. To reuse down the road, simply soak overnight, rip apart, and blend again.

Thank-you Liz Wikstrom for helping make this tutorial happen, and for making paper!

Do you make paper from scraps? Did you find this tutorial helpful? Have other tips and tricks? Comment on this blog post and share with us all!

 

47 thoughts on “Here’s How to Make Handmade Paper from Recycled Materials

  1. Thanks for a wonderful tutorial. Very informative & easy to understand. Good for beginners to get started.
    I have a big bag of red Netflix envelopes from my daughter. “Breaking Bad” paper is my next project.

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  3. One question: when you press a stack of papers, how do you prevent them from… uh… creating lines on eachother? (not native English! Sorry!)

    I tried stacking them as precisely on eachother as I could, putting more cloths between the seperate sheets, but it doesn’t work. You can still see the edge of the bottom paper pressed into the top paper, if that makes any sense.

    • Hmm…as you couch each sheet, try to line up each sheet the best you can.

      Your sheets sound thick – try adding more water to the vat, and less pulp, to make thinner sheets that won’t show the lines as much.

      Also, after you press the stack, and after you dry the paper on boards, it should flatten out and be a lot less noticeable.

      I hope that helps! And thanks for visiting Paperslurry!

      – May

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  6. Hello! Great tutorial, I can’t wait to have the space to try out a mould and deckle myself, since I’ve been making paper in a much more improvised way… Do you know of any ways to change the texture or strength of the paper with simple additives (cornstarch), or what an ideal mesh size is (is finer better)? Thank you for this site!

    • Hi Rendon, thanks for stopping by! Yes, I believe that corn starch can be used as a type of sizing (makes the paper more water-resistant).

      To add strength, a common additive to the pulp is methyl cellulose, a type of water-based adhesive. The texture depends on your fiber type, mesh, way of pressing, and how you dry it.

      For mesh, window screening is pretty big, and very small fibers might slip through if you’re trying to make a very thin sheet. But, for recycled paper fibers, it’s a good almost-free choice. Too fine of a mesh, and drainage may be slow. Carriage House Paper sells polypropylene screening that works great.

  7. i’ve been making my own paper for my christmas cards nearly every year…..my favorites were made with orange & brown construction paper for the base materials….and then i added ground cloves, nutmeg and ginger……and painted a gingerbread man on the front of the cards (used a cookie cutter dipped in brown paint)…..smelled great!….you can also add flower petals to scent…or small evergreen needles…or very small seeds, then the card can be planted by the recipient….the homemade paper makes a great mulch!

  8. OMG!!! I had no idea that it is possible to make my own paper! This is nice way to recycle my newspapers. My daughter loves drawing and I will make some paper sheets for her! Thank you!

  9. If I make my paper thin and press very flat, can I use a fountain pen on it?

    I love your instructions and videos.

    Thanks.

    Victoria

  10. super excited to make this!!! I’m going to make tags for my handmade items. I’m going to stamp and print on it. I can’t wait, Thank you so much for akll the huge tips and detailed instructions.

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  12. Thank you I have enjoyed the instructions and people’s comments and your advice. I am new to paper making and am very interested in making my own books and binding them. The only piece that I have not been able to figure out is how to make my own book board and good quality water color paper. Please, I could use any tips you may have. Thank you.

    • Hi Jeanne, thank you for the kind words! To make a stiff & thick book board, be sure to charge your vat with a lot of pulp to water. You’ll need to couch several layers (4, maybe?) right on top of each other to get a super thick sheet. Also, try adding a methyl cellulose (a type of glue) to the vat of pulp for strength.

      For really good watercolor paper, I would recommend using cotton rag, or cotton linters, and to use a Hollander Beater to process the fibre (see if there’s a paper studio near you with a beater: http://paperslurry.com/2015/06/12/a-map-for-hand-papermaking/ ). Also, be sure to use sizing (internal with the pulp—I use a ketene dimer); or else the watery-colors will bleed. Think of paper towels (no sizing) vs. a good watercolor paper (color stays on top longer).

      Carriage House and Twinrocker carry these supplies: http://carriagehousepaper.com & http://www.twinrocker.com

      Hope that helps, and thanks for stopping by!

      – May

      • Dear May, thank you so much for your timely advice on making book board and watercolor paper. I will let you know if I succeed or not. Sincerely Jeanne V.

  13. Thank you for this great tutorial! I am a bookbinder and I’m wondering if these papers would be strong enough to be bound in a book? How do they hold up when folded?

    • Hi Alexandra, thanks for commenting! The strength of your handmade paper made from recycled papers depends of the type material you are processing. I’ve bound books with sheets made from the yellow pages (chemically-treated wood fibers), and it holds up fine. If you’re looking for tougher sheets, choose leftover drawing, printmaking, or watercolor papers; they’re more likely to use cloth rag (or strong asian fibers like kozo) as the fiber.

  14. Thank you for the wonderful tutorial and photos! I’ve dried some paper on glass windows, which is extremely convenient and space saving. I love the smooth surface glass creates on one side of the paper I’ve hit a problem, though. It seems that the first few sheets release pretty easily from the glass once dry, but later sheets adhere too strongly to the glass to be removed without ruining them. When I try to peel the sheets off they rip no matter how carefully I lift the edges. I can’t figure out what I’m doing differently to create this unwanted result. Could it be that I’m putting too much pressure on the later sheets by pushing at them too hard with my sponge while putting them on the windows? Do wet windows make the paper stick to them harder than dry windows? Is there a layer of dirt on the windows which is helping them let go of the paper when dry which isn’t present on subsequent tries?
    If you could offer me any advice, I’d really appreciate it. I want to dry more sheets on the windows in the future.

    • Hey Steve! Thanks for stopping by!

      I don’t think it’s the pressure, or the wetness. Here are some factors to think about:
      – Random non-cellulose materials in your pulp would make your paper to stick to the glass like glue.
      – Weaker, short fibers (like recycled papers which are mostly wood, or those that have been processed over and over again) make papers that aren’t strong (compared to rag, flax fibers, etc.); perhaps this is another reason for them ripping.
      – Teenie fibers might be left on the glass, making the second batch stick.

      Possible solutions?
      – Clean the glass really well before putting a sheet on there to dry.
      – Use a paint scraper (the ones with the flat razor blades) and really scrape off all the teenie sticky fibers, that are left after peeling a sheet off.
      – Another option is to buff some vegetable oil on to the glass to prevent the paper from sticking.
      – Once the paper is dry, peel it off right away (don’t let it sit on there for days).

      Plexiglass is a great surface to dry on if you’re looking for a super-smooth surface, and the paper won’t stick.

      Hope that helps, and happy papermaking!
      – May

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    • Yes, through an inkjet home printer; just make sure the edges aren’t too frilly (or else they’ll get caught), and that the width isn’t too large. Hope that helps Rebecca, and thanks for stopping by Paperslurry! – May

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  18. this has been so amazingly helpful I don’t know where to start. thank you so much for your hard work and knowledge!! I will be using this information to make my own paper in the future xx

  19. hi, Thank you for sharing very clear. I was wonderinf if it was possible to make sturdy paper like carboard using a similar process. Any ideas ?

    • Hi Nathalie! Yes, one way you can make a sturdier paper is through layering. When you are couching your wet sheets, simple layer several times, right on top of each other. Hope that helps! – May

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