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Friday, August 2, 2013

Article on Papermaking Part 1

Whipping Up Some Paper

Most of us already know that to make paper, water is mixed with plant fibers and sizing, scrambled together, formed into sheets, and dried. This is a good start, but to understand the jargon manufacturers and merchants use when they describe paper with terms such as Fourdrinier-made, cylinder-made, moulde-made, grain, deckle and watermark, we need slightly more information to better understand what they are referring to. Besides, it’s also an interesting process that will almost certainly make us more appreciative of one of our most essential painting tools — paper.

The powerful chemical that creates paper is H2O!

Water is the essential chemical that induces the blustery reaction that creates paper. We think of water as an inert substance without volatility when, in reality, it is a very powerful chemical! However, it isn't enough to combine water and plant fibers, you'll simply end up with felt ... a blotter, or floppy hat.

To create paper, a papermaker must first crush plant fibers while, at the same time, forcing water molecules deep inside the cotton fibers. Performing this process can be as basic as using a large mortar and pestle, or as modern as using Hollander beaters. Either way, the water molecules are forced inside the cotton fiber's molecular structure which is essentially modified sugars or cellulose. Since you're an artist, I assume you have an imagination that will allow you to take an imaginary journey. Follow this one ... it's brief and has a rosy ending.

Let's begin inside the crushed fibers and observe the hydrogen atoms of water as they attach to "bonding sites” on the cellulose. These bonding sites are simply sugar molecules with attractive hydrogen atoms. Hydrogen atoms love to attach to one another and that there’s a magnetic hydrogen atom on the sugar as well as one in the water, they draw together and hold one to one another. This is the first important reaction in the paper making process. Certainly, no one knew this when the first paper was made, but some Edison-type genius was astute enough to recognize the dramatic change in the dried fiber's character and its potential.

Once, after the beating process, there are zillions of water molecules clinging to plant molecules, the next step is to compel the hydrogen atoms of the water to depart ... BUT not before they marry their cellulose hydrogen partner to another cellulose hydrogen beau. In practical terms, this is when most of the water is squeezed out; then as the remaining water molecules evaporate, the hydrogen linking of the cellulose plant fibers takes place, creating paper. This linking process is called “hydrogen bonding” and it brings the crushed fiber molecules even closer than they were in the plant. In one respect, it is similar to the way vacuum packing reduces the space occupied by the ground coffee while making the package quite dense and hard, only hydrogen bonding is atomic, “vacuum gluing.”

Once the papermaking process is complete, meaning the paper is dried, paper can be repeatedly soaked in water, redried, and still remain atomically linked. Aside from destructive forces, only maceration of the paper back to pulp will destroy the hydrogen bonding. It's a rather incredible thought to consider water as a chemical strong enough to cause such a reaction but, in the case of papermaking, it is.

Part 2 coming soon! Thanks for reading!!