Projects for 2021 – a year of COVID

2021 had a lot of time at home and the opportunity to complete several large projects. These included making large sheets of paper, building and developing a small stamping mill for processing pulp, and preparing for another show at the Emporium on Knoxville, scheduled for March 2022.

LARGE PAPER. In December 2020, I visited a papermaker in Prescott Arizona who makes very large sheets of paper, up to 4′ x 8′. She explained her methods to me, and I set out to duplicate them in my studio. I was more modest in my ambitions and settled on 2′ x 4′ for my ‘large’ sheets. This required building a sealed mold and deckle that could receive the pulp and then be drained. Pressing was accomplished with a rolling pin and drying was done with a small fan and edge restraint. The process takes several days, and I could only make one sheet at a time. After I got everything all fabricated and worked out, I made about 15 sheets of paper. Then I looked at them and said, “OK, so what?”. I really had no use for them, so I ended up cutting them to smaller size. Some I used in pieces of art, and I recently used up the remainder making our 2021 Christmas cards. I still have all the equipment; in case I have a future need for the large sheets. I don’t have any photographs handy but may take some in the future and post them.

SMALL STAMPING MILL. Before the Hollander beater was invented in the late 1400’s, pulp was often beaten using water powered hammer mills. There seems to be some mystique surrounding these mills, that they made better paper than Hollanders, but verified reasons for this are hard to come by and many of the mills still surviving are run as tourist attractions and no longer engaged in commercial paper making. Since I like making machinery, I decided to build a small stamp mill and see for myself. The result was a yearlong project with lots of development work and changes. I was successful and wrote an article for the next IAPMA Bulletin and will also be supplying swatches of paper made from linen and cotton with the stamp mill. The article is reproduced below:

Adventures with a tabletop stamping mill

For me, freedom means having the independence, ability, and will to follow my heart. I was originally attracted to papermaking because it is a juxtaposition of art, materials, chemistry, tradition, and machinery. As a retired mechanical engineer, I put a strong emphasis on the machinery part. Previously, I have built a Hollander mill, a drying box, and a hydraulic press and shoe-horned my studio into available space in our garage / workshop. About a year ago, I became curious about stamp mills and how they performed compared to a Hollander. I was particularly interested in being able to process more difficult fiber, to handle it in a longer state, and to further understand pre-processing such as retting, cooking, or bleaching. For my space and my artistic ambitions, I needed to build a much smaller mill than is typically found and to power it with electricity.  My target was 1 pound fiber per batch and a machine small enough to be easily moved.

In the last year, I have been through 4 major iterations of design and I now have something that is trustworthy enough to run over night. This allows me to start experimenting with papermaking. I needed design to make changes in several areas; the drive and lift mechanism, hammer faces, pulp circulation, and overall robustness.

I am currently running trials with linen, flax, cotton, and with plant fibers. I grew the flax in our garden. The nail points appear capable of picking apart fabric, the nail heads give further refinement, and the flat faces further develop the fibers for forming and bonding. However, I have found that none of these hammers are capable of shortening fibers from the original cut length. Fibers which are excessively long make a ropey pulp and will not form smooth sheets. In the future, I will add retting or cooking to my processing steps.

Dimensionally, the pulp drum is 12” inches in diameter and rotates at about 1.0 RPM with the pulp maintained at a 3” depth. The hammers are cut from wood, 3.25 inches square, double ended, weigh 6.5 pounds and lift 4.5” for each drop. The hammers run at about 100 drops per minute with the cam rotating at 17 RPM. Most of the frame is cedar wood and the other parts are steel, aluminum, and plastic.

Why am I calling this an ‘adventure’? Because I am developing the machine and the procedures at the same time and am working with a wide variety of fibers. I’m not sure how things will finally work out and if I will be able to make high quality paper. I do have the freedom and the desire to keep trying. I have also submitted paper swatches for this bulletin and they represent the best quality achieved to date.

The mill is easier to use in warm weather, so I have suspended activity for the winter of 2021. I already have a series of improvements I want to make next year and am planning them and acquiring necessary materials. Stay tuned.