Paper Production

What You Need


  • Clear countertop or other flat work space
  • Several sheets of colored paper
  • Decorative paper scraps collected as homework
  • Scissors
  •  Blender
  • Sink or tub large enough to hold the screen (30 cm to 1 foot deep)
  • Section of window screen slightly larger than the size of paper being made (rust free works best)
  • Heavy masking tape
  • Rolling pin
  • 2 large pieces of wool felt (thickest found), old newspapers, or towels
  • Access to an oven, patch of sunlight, or clothesline
  • Sponge and towels for clean up
Paper Production


Students will compare making paper by hand to the automated process used in modern plants, and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each.


This lesson is designed to help students understand how processes and jobs in developed countries have changed over time due to technology and mass production. Papermaking is used as an example of a craft that has become increasingly automated over time.

Students will make paper by hand, and consider how mass production might improve product uniformity, quantity, and quality, while reducing cost. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 188.)

Students will use Internet resources to learn about modern paper manufacturing. Students will compare the process of hand-making paper to manufacturing paper, then consider the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Planning Ahead

Have students collect scraps of leaves, flowers, herbs, string, glitter, rags, paper with no writing on it, lint from clothes dryer, feathers, decorative threads, foil, leftover holiday paper, and any other items that could be used as decorative scraps for making paper.


To start this lesson, help students realize how many processes have changed over time due to technology and mass production. For example, you could show students a copy of the Science NetLinks student sheet and tell them that they have to copy it by hand. Students will undoubtedly start complaining, and then likely ask you to photocopy it for them. You could take this opportunity to begin a short discussion of how almost everything in technologically developed countries is now produced using automatic machines (like the photocopy machine).

Tell students that they will focus on paper today; specifically, how it is primarily produced using automatic machines. Let them know that they will analyze paper made by hand as well as paper made by machines. They will discuss the similarities, differences, benefits, and drawbacks of each.


In this activity, students will make paper by hand to gain an appreciation for the time and effort required to produce a sheet of paper. You will need to organize this activity in a way that is manageable for your class. You may wish to assign students and/or small groups different tasks. For example, you could have one student fill the sink or tub with water, one tape the screen, one tear paper scraps, etc.

Have students record start and end times for the papermaking activity. This will help reinforce the idea that making paper by hand can be a time-consuming process. (It might be interesting to see if, with continuous practice, the time of the process shortens.) Inform students that they will make paper by hand, and will then compare the process of hand-making paper to manufacturing paper.

Distribute copies of the Papermaking student sheet, which outlines the materials and steps involved in this activity.


  1. Fill a sink (or tub) 1/3 full of water. Cover the edges of a screen with heavy tape; place in sink.
  2. Tear paper into pieces the size of large postage stamps; arrange in piles by color.
  3. Cut thread, metallic foils, and other small decorative scraps to length. Be creative - vary the sizes from 1/8 to 2 inches (30 mm to 2 cm). Create a separate pile for these scraps.
  4. Fill blender 1/2-3/4 full with lukewarm water.
  5. From the piles, choose a primary color for the paper. Add a handful of those scraps to the blender. Cover and blend on medium-high for a few seconds. The mixture should start to look like watery oatmeal.
  6. Add more scraps one by one, giving a short blast with the blender each time. (Put smaller scraps in first, then larger, so the paper will have fibers of different lengths and look more interesting.) Continue to add until you have almost 1-part paper scraps to 4-parts water; leave room for a few decorative scraps.
  7. Add some decorative scraps; mix these in by hand, with a spoon. Don't go overboard with the decorative scraps, because the pulp mixture needs to be 1-part scraps to 4-parts water, and the blender should not be more than 3/4 full. (If large amounts of pulp are to be made, pour the finished mixture into a separate container and start again.)
  8. Empty the blender into the sink or tub. Swirl it around so that the pulp is evenly distributed throughout the water.
  9. Move the screen back and forth until the pulp is spread evenly across the surface of the screen. Pull the frame straight up out of the tub so that the pulp fills the screen to the inner edges of the frame.
  10. Hold the screen above the tub until only a few drops of water remain on the screen. (If the paper looks too thin, add more pulp to the water in the tub, swirl, and dip the screen again. If the paper looks too thick, remove some pulp from the tub and dip the screen again.)
  11. Lay several sheets of felt, old newspapers, or towels on a flat surface. Turn the frame over on top of the felt. (The freshly drawn pulp should drop out easily. If not, gently tap the frame.) Remove the frame and lay another felt on top of the pulp.
  12. Use a rolling pin to squeeze out the excess water. Start at one end and roll firmly and evenly across the pile. Do this several times to remove as much water as possible and to press the fibers together.
  13. Remove the top layer of felt from the pulp. Carefully lift two corners of the paper and gently peel the sheet from the bottom felt.
  14. Dry the paper by placing it in a warm oven at 250 degrees (1 hour); placing it in a patch of sunlight (3 hours); or clipping it to a laundry line with clothespins (3 hours). If the paper is wrinkled, press it between two heavy books overnight.

Discussion Ideas:
As a class, look at the Papermaking student sheet. Go through the procedures and discuss these questions:

  • How many people were involved in making our paper?
  • Which steps were the most difficult?
  • Which steps took the most time?
  • How much paper did we make?
  • How long did it take to make our paper?
  • How does our paper compare to the paper we use in our classroom?
  • Would the paper look exactly the same if we made another batch? Why or why not?
  • Would you consider this a realistic way to make large amounts of paper? Consider each of the steps listed. If you were asked to make a ream of paper (500 sheets), which steps would be the most challenging? How much time would it take?
  • If people continued to make paper in this fashion, what effect would this have on the amount produced? On the cost?
  • Imagine we had to make our own paper in this class. How could we improve the method we used today? What machines could we use?
  • Imagine a factory that makes paper. How do you think machines would speed up the papermaking process? What would happen to the cost?
  • In a factory, do you know if there are any steps that a human being would have to be involved in? Which steps? Why?
  • We discussed ways that machines help the papermaking process. What are some ways in which machines could "hurt" the process? What are some things "lost" in the process because of the machines?

Next, students will investigate the mass production of paper. Using the Paper Production student esheet, students should visit How Paper is Made from the Wisconsin Paper Council. Here they can find out how paper is made by clicking anywhere on the image or just scrolling down the page. Once they have looked at How Paper is Made, students can learn some more facts about paper by going to the History of Paper or Paper Products.

As a class, compare the handmade paper to the machine-made paper. Ask questions such as:

  • How are the processes different?
  • How are they alike?
  • Which steps were completed more quickly using a machine?


Have students complete a chart of similarities and differences between the processes of making paper by hand and by machine.

Then, help students summarize some benefits and drawbacks of the papermaking process using the Put Your Thoughts on Paper student sheet. Help students think about what they learned in terms of how mass production of paper has "helped," and how it has "hurt."

Once students have finished the activity sheet, have them discuss their responses. Make sure both positive and negative impacts are discussed, such as:

  • Machine manufacturing paper allows us to have more paper (faster; better quality; more of it; ability to produce a higher quantity of letters, magazines, and books faster).
  • Machine manufacturing is less costly (not as many people needed).
  • Impact on the environment (trees are needed to make the paper; more waste is produced; if waste water is not filtered, it can be harmful to animals living in and around the water; chemicals are produced from the smoke stacks and those chemicals fall with the rain and can harm plants and animals).
  • Loss of an art or craft.

Be sure to pay close attention to student responses in order to evaluate their understanding.


Visit the Science NetLinks lesson entitled Engineering Solutions, which investigates garbage and the vast amount of paper thrown away each day.

Students can also explore the resources found on the Paper University website. All About Paper would be useful to students interested in learning more about papermaking.

Did you find this resource helpful?

Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks