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Discovering Natural Fibres: Paper and Paper Making

History of paper Australian paper making Paper activities Investigating the properties of paper Recycling paper

Paper is made from bleached and matted cellulose fibres extracted from rags, plant stems and wood.

Paper - from How Products are Made

Paper History

The first paper was probably made in China. The story is that a court official, Cai Lun, about 100 AD, observed paper wasps and thought he had found a substitute for the expensive silk used as a writing surface, but cruder types of paper were used in China for wrapping before this.

The History of Papermaking from Reflex paper manufacturers, includes Timeline

History of Paper and Papermaking - from About.com: Inventors

Paper history - from paperOnline, includes timeline plus papr-making activities

Oriental Papermaking Fibres - from University of Melbourne

WASHI BASICS - Japanese papermaking from Awagami

Papermaking tools and equipments - from Awagami
Australian Paper Manufacturing

Pulp and Paper - from Technology in Australia, 1788 - 1988, from The University of Melbourne

Botanical Book Project - from Red Hot Fibre, community project in Queensland making use of local fibres, includes a list of native and exotic plants used for papermaking and images of fobre preparation process

Aussie Crafts - interview with an Australian papermaker

Paper Making Process - Euraba Paper Company, Aboriginal Handmade Papers

Web Gallery - Australian Paper Fibers - Scanning Laser Confocal Microscopy images from Paper Project

How much paper does your school use each year for stationery?
Find the weight of a ream of paper then multiply by the number of reams the school buys.
How much of this could be recycled?
Paper Activities

Paper making

Students could carry out microscopic investigations and measure the pH of solutions as they work, to add a science component to this work. Recording procedures as digital photographs with measurements would also add to the quality of the investigation.

Paper making - an introduction, simple diagrammatic instruction, from Info Stuff

More Complex Activities

Handmade Paper - a 10 page course outline in .pdf format (72.3kB)from Wisconsin Natural Resources, USA. The necessary materials are described, imperial measurements used. This unit of work includes references to environmental concerns.

Denise Fleming's Papermaking Instructions includes paper-mKing instructions and how to make abook from recycled material

Paper making - Teachers Guide from KESAB Litter, Waste and Recycling Education(pdf 134.2kB)

Papermaking - from Preservation Education and Awareness, University of San diego California, includes a link to instructions for making a mold and deckle and photographic instructions for making a sheet of paper

Paper Making Kits

How to make paper kit - from Red Hot Fibre

Paper making Kits - from Paper-Go-Round


Investigating Paper Technology

The Technology of paper: Concept Storyline - a single .pdf page(28.2kB) offers a summary of eighteen lessons

IPSE Paper Activities - from Internships in Public Science Education, Pennsylvania State University

Fun with Science: Science activities using paper - from The Paper University

Types of paper

Paper Selection Guidelines - WA Government

Paper Types - from Bilt Ideas in Paper

Types of paper - from IndiaBizClub


Investigating Paper : Some suggested activities
  1. Paper types
  2. Properties of paper
Activity 1
  1. Have students do a brainstorming session about the different papers they know and use eg:
    • Absorbent papers: hand towels, toilet papers, tissues, disposable nappies, hygiene products
    • Packaging papers: brown, gift wrap, bags, cartons
    • Filter papers: Coffee, tea bags, chemistry
    • Artists' Papers
    • Printing and writing: newsprint, books, notepaper, clay-coated magazine paper
  2. Examine torn edges of dry paper and pulped paper under the microscope.
    • Tabulate and summarise results.
    • Prepare classroom displays.

See Subconcepts 1 and 2 of The Technology of Paper(pdf 28.2kB)

Activity 2: Properties of paper

Students will have an opportunity to construct their own simple tests equipment.

Paper Testing Methods Lectures - from Georgia Institute of Science and Technology, detailed information at an advanced level about the standard tests and methods used in the paper industry.

The following suggestions have been based on these lectures but are greatly simplified.

Opacity: An opaque object does not let light through.

Use a standard daylight fluorescent tube in a reading light and a light meter for the tests.
  1. Design a way of holding the paper in position. Decide on the size of paper to be used eg. 10cm2
  2. Decide where to place the light meter. Make a diagram of your arrangement.
  3. Test 10 different paper samples you have collected. They should be about the same thickness. Why?
  4. Test 10 sheets of copy paper and tissue paper stacked together and then remove the sheets one by one. Graph and explain your results.


The paper fibres may stick up and cause roughness. While an artist may like this, printing may not produce good results.

Design a printer test page or use the one that comes with the printer and print on several types of paper.
  1. Use a hand lens or microscope to examine the results.
  2. Design a rating scale for the results.
  3. Write a report.
  4. Include small labeled samples of the printing.

Microscopy of Inkjet Printing: A closeup look at the process and its results - from Micrographia

Water absorbency
  1. Rig up a small plastic syringe at a standard height. Fill the syringe with water and dye.
  2. Cut 10 standard size pieces of paper to fit in a half Petri dish and put a piece of paper in the dish under the syringe. Add one ml of dyed water to the paper and use a stopwatch to measure one minute. Measure the diameter of the dye spot. Repeat nine more times. Why?
  3. Tabulate results, make a diagram and write a report.

Diapers -The Inside Story - an investigation on disposable nappies, from the American Chemical Society(pdf 129.8kB)

Which Diaper is the Most Absorbent - a Science Project, from Vanessa, Selah Intermedate School

Which Brand of Paper Towel Will Absorb the Most Water? - a Science Project, from Samantha, Selah Intermedate School

Paper Towel Strength and Absorbency - practical investigation from Internships in Public Science Education, Pennsylvania State University(word doc 33.5kB)

Tear resistance
  1. Use a paper shredder to make 10 standard sized strips of paper or cut them with a guillotine.
  2. Put a small nick in the same place on one long edge of the strips. What is this for?
  3. Use a spring clip to clamp a strip of paper. Hang it by this end.
  4. Add another spring clip at the other end making sure it is at the same distance for every strip.
  5. Add weights to this end until the paper tears. After a trial run, design a table to record your results.
  6. Compare several different brands of copy paper.
Writing quality
  1. Using different types of paper, compare the results of writing a standard pattern eg the letter U with fountain pen, different sizes of ball point and other pens you may have.
  2. Describe some of the different effects you notice.
  3. Now try to investigate the effect of smoothing the paper.
  4. Use a steam iron and a dry iron to iron the papers and repeat your tests. Decide how to standardize this process.
  5. Report on your results.

Artists' papers are sold as hot pressed, cold pressed and not pressed.

How To Choose a Watercolor Paper - from About.com:Painting

Paper Strength
Paper Towel Testing - an Activity from Paper University
Recycling paper

Preparing paper for Recycling

Paper looks better if the ink is removed before it is recycled.

Read this paragraph from
Earth Works: Living with Less Waste - participants' notes, published by the NSW Government (caution 188 pages, 733kB)

In the de inking process the ink is removed from printed paper before the paper is recycled. This is done to improve the brightness of the recycled paper. The paper must first be shredded and mixed with water to form a slurry. Ink pigments stick to clay, so the slurry must contain a certain percentage (commonly 30%) of clay-coated paper, usually in the form of glossy magazines. Detergents are added to help remove the ink, and air is blown into the mixture to make bubbles. The inky clay particles stick to the detergent bubbles and are skimmed off the surface. This skimmed material can then be used as a soil wetting agent/conditioner.

Post consumer' printing and writing paper can be recycled without de inking, but the process gives a distinctly off white recycled paper. A special dispersion process is used to ensure that the old ink is evenly distributed throughout the recycled paper. " (page 72)

  1. Plan a method of demonstrating this process on a small scale in your classroom.
  2. List the equipment you would need.
  3. List the materials you would use.
  4. Test your method, write a report and include three different labeled samples with it.

Wastes - Resource Conservation - Common Wastes & Materials - Paper Recycling: Basic Information - from Environmental Protection Agency, USA

KESAB Solid Waste Audit Guide - invetigate recyclable waste in a school from Keep South Australia Beautiful(pdf 1.15MB)

Recycling and waste - from Earthworks

The SCRAP Centre: A model for environmental education

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