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This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #17 (January, 1992).

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Sources of Fiber and Pulp

The main ingredient in papermaking, the cellulose fiber which binds together to form the paper is available to hand papermakers in a number of different forms. Cloth, raw fiber, partially-processed fiber, and pulp are all available from various sources. Most of these require some treatment before they are ready to be used for making paper. In addition to various visual and tactile properties, your selection of fiber for papermaking will depend on the kind of equipment you have and the effort you wish to put into preparing the pulp.

Making paper from cloth, which is the traditional source of fiber for Western papermaking, requires a fair amount of preparation because the individual cellulose fibers have been spun into thread and woven (or connected in some other way). The effect of these processes must be undone to separate the individual fibers, which are also held together by non-fibrous materials. Any natural fiber cloth, such as cotton, linen, or ramie, is suitable for making paper from. Traditional methods for breaking down cloth fiber include fermenting and beating, using either a stamper or a Hollander beater.

A large variety of raw fibers can be used for papermaking as well. These fall into three categories: bast or inner bark fibers (such as flax and kozo), leaf fibers (such as abaca and sisal), and grass fibers (such as bamboo and rice straw). Raw fibers often require cooking, retting or fermenting, and beating, which may be done by hand as an alternative to using a stamper or Hollander beater.

Papermakers may wish to work with partially-processed fiber. This category would include a wide range of products from cotton half-stuff (partially processed cotton from the textile industry, requiring a stamper or Hollander beater to successfully prepare it for papermaking) to sheets of cotton linter or abaca. The fiber in sheet form has been sufficiently treated to allow it to be used by papermakers with relatively simple preparation. This fiber can be turned into pulp through the use of a Whiz-mixer, a propeller on the end of a long, motor-powered shaft; a hydropulper, which churns fiber and water together; or a blender.

The final alternative for papermakers, which requires no equipment at all, is to purchase ready-made pulp from a mill or facility with a Hollander beater. Some facilities can accommodate custom orders for combinations of fibers, color matching, and the inclusion of additives. Some of them require pick-up of the pulp while others will ship pulp to papermakers.

Copyright 1992 Hand Papermaking, Inc.