After a few weeks and many coats of polyurethane, we get this.
Very shiny 🙂 In period, they would have waterproofed with linseed oil and I could have done that. My friend has poly so we used that.
Next we drive the stay for the press screw through the upper support. We did use a dremel to widen the hole a bit and I didn’t do as good of a job as I could have. There is a little bit of splintering but not too bad.
On the top side, we add the set screws.
Then we add some feet to the base plate.
Here is all the parts before we add the rods to make the frame. The foot of the press screw is just a set screw on the bottom.
We cut some PVC pipe that will provide some vertical support and protect the long screws.
The photo of the long screws inside of the PVC didn’t turn out. Here is the finished press.
My quest to make hand-made medieval paper has led me to the part where, before you make the thing, you have to make the tools to make the thing. While it is perfectly fine not to use a press to make hand-made paper, most places had and have (depending on medieval or modern) one. This is the documentation of making my paper press.
I started with trying to figure out how to make one. This video was very helpful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVESW-KvqEg
So this isn’t going to be a medieval style press but really who has access to that kind of wood and manpower? Here is what a medieval paper press might have looked like.
First step was to draft out what this thing might look like based on the video. I knew that the largest sheet I would make in the early part of doing this would be 11 x 14. The felts would be 13 x 16 then to have enough room to help wick the water away. The press plate would therefore be 14 x 17 so we didn’t have to be exactly center. Because of the rods supporting the press, those plates would need to be 17 x 20.
Off to the hardware store. I purchased two 48″ x 48″ birch plywood boards. I would have loved to get a 48″ x 96″ board but neither I or my friend could get that in our vehicles. We also got some 1″ PVC pipe for the supports. My friend had some threaded rods, wood glue, and all the tools. I also ordered a 12″ press screw.
I chose birch for a few reasons. It needed to be a hard wood to have some wear and water resistance. I had initially thought mahogany. The best I could find locally was 6″ boards. While I am told joinery is not a big deal, I just didn’t want to deal with that. So birch is somewhat water resistant and is pretty smooth. That was important too.
First we cut the 20″ lengths. We will need 2 of everything because this is 3/4″ plywood and we want to glue it together to make 1.5″ (or close to it) to ensure we withstand the pressures.
A few cuts later and we have our four 17 x 20 boards for the plates.
We then cut the 14″ length into two 14 x 17’s for the press plate.
This is what the second 48 x 48 was for. The paper needs something to dry on. In my model, the Europeans used drying lines in an attic. That isn’t very portable. Indian and Chinese papermakers brushed the pressed paper onto a flat, heated surface to dry. the smooth surface of the birch would be great for that. So we cut the other 48 x 48 board into 12 x 16 boards. One 11 x 14 sheet or two 8 x 10 (or slightly larger) could fit on each board to dry. Ideally, cuckling should be less by drying flat. We will see.
Then we sand the edges just to get the splinters from cutting off.
Then we glue. There was a slight bow to the plywood. So lots of glue. This thing is neat. I imagine you could use to to spread mayo on a big party sub.
Then we clamp it all down and let the glue dry. That is it for part 1. In a week or so, we take the clamps off. Then some polyurethane, drill some holes, etc.
So in It starts with research, I showed the model I did of a 16th century European papermill. I put up that display at Dragonshire 12th Night / Festival of Maidens and I was honored to get Mistress Gianneta as my patron for this endeavor.
Let’s back up a bit. Why am I doing this? About 8 months ago, maybe close to a year but I don’t think so, Dr Best asked if I was interested in joining the Starlit Syndicate. I was flattered. Many of my close friends are part of it; Lucretia, Gunnar, Heather, and yes even Dr Best. He pointed out that the shop has generated several laurels which is indeed true. The issue? What should I sell? I guessed that he thought about my glass work. I declined. One I wasn’t going to Pennsic that year. Two I don’t have any inventory to sell. I did some number crunching and I just don’t think I can sell my glass. It costs between $50 to $75 for me to make a glass bowl. I would have to sell them for at least $100 and I just don’t think people will pay for that. Plus I would have to have many $100s to possibly $1000s of inventory to sell even a small number of bowls. I just can’t afford to do that.
So I looked at what could I sell? I can’t sell my cordials. And I can’t sell my vinegars. Both would require licensing and inspections and then to sell across state lines would require more regulations. That is not worth the hassle. I already decided glass was out. Plus, the glass I do is really not medieval. So if I wanted to sell something, it would have to be something new. I didn’t want to be full time merchant but it would work well for my Oswyn Swann persona. So I want to do something to give and something to sell. See Words on Paper for more.
The plan then. I got a papermaking kit for Yule. Most parts are there. I need to rig up a cheap press. Ideally, it should be a screw press. I also need a drying method. The papermill display used a drying loft. But that is not very portable and takes up more space than I have. But I do need to dry many sheets at one time. I could build a drying box. It is still not portable. But there is an older technique that would work well. I can get flat surfaces and either heat them or let the sun do the work. And I need to look into a glazing hammer. But I have everything I need to do a proof of concept.
The plan is to pull some sheets. There is a small amount of skill needed. Once that goes well, upgrade equipment. Then I will start with already beaten fiber with sizing. Then move back to already beaten fiber without sizing and adding it as I need to. I might on occasion create my own fiber but that requires even more equipment and time. Things would have to go very well for me to afford that.
Watermarking will be a thing and branding as well. I have brands already decided 🙂
There is a Laurel Prize Tournament coming up and I decided that my research into this new endeavor would be a good entry. I want to be clear, my model making skills, or lack thereof, are not part of the display. The display is to help you visualize the process. So, yes most of the model is purchased. I even thought about buying the LEGO medieval water wheel setup instead. Anyway, just follow me along here.
Here is my medieval water mill plant. Through the doors, carts would bring the raw materials in, rags, castoffs from the textile industry, bones and hide, etc.
The water wheel drives a shaft that trips a series of hammers to break the cloth into fibers. There may also be some processing with lime or chalk, depending on the needs. The mill would use a source of clear water for this, a spring perhaps, not the river or stream driving the wheel.
The mascerated fibers are put in a vat with more water. A vatman pulls sheets of paper out of the vat with a mould and deckle. There is skill here. The vatman needs to know when there is too much material or not enough on the mold. There is a small jiggle that needs to be done to make sure the fibers are evenly spread and to help start the “lock.” Handmade papers in this fashion should basically have no “grain.” Grain is caused by the mechanical process that modern papers are made. The constant shaking causes the fibers to align. Handmade papers should not have this issue.
After the paper has drained for a little bit (a few minutes only), a coucher takes the mould and “couches” the sheet on to a post. Felt is spaced between the papers. The felt helps wick away some moisture but primarily is there to give support to the paper. This stack is called a post. When the post is big enough, it will be taken to a screw press to expel more of the water out of the post. Ideally, there is a 3 person crew. The vatman pulls the sheet, one coucher takes the mould when ready to couch that sheet, a third coucher gives the vatman a fresh mould. Each coucher is moving between vat and post. When the post is ready, all three people will move it into position and operate the press.
I don’t have a model of a screw press. But once the paper has sat in the press for a while (many hours, maybe a day or more), the post is taken out. The sheets are carefully separated from the felts and hung to dry. Other methods of paper making would dry in different ways. The Indians would stick the paper to a hot stone wall to dry. The Japanese and Chinese had easel-like racks. Europeans like the drying loft method. Paper is hung from thin strands of horsehair in a warm loft to finish drying.
Here is everyone working together.
After drying in the loft, the job isn’t done. The paper might then be polished to close up the pores. These was done with warm stones, warm glass, or eventually, a glazier hammer. Supposedly, an experienced glazier could do 6 reams per day. Assuming measurements are the same, that is 3000 sheets per day. The paper might be sized. A thin layer of glue or gelatin (or depending on the culture, starch or clay) is spread over the sheet and then more drying.
After all of the drying, the paper can be sold. It might be sold as is, or cut to size as a customer requests.
I have now a papermaking kit and in the near future will start.
I got several books on the history of paper now and on paper making. Of course Dard Hunter’s book is in there and I will devour them all as soon as I may.
But I finally had some thoughts on why I want to chase this rabbit.
Paper is central to my professional life. There is not a single workday that I am not deciding what paper something should be printed on, figuring out what the paper market is doing, exploring paper options, etc. I am pretty good at feeling a sheet of paper and knowing what it is. I have looked at this idea before but didn’t pursue it. So why now?
One, I do like looking at how the medieval process was and trying to see what we can do it get close. Unfortunately, most of my other “hobbies” aren’t very medieval. I make cordials. But since I can’t distill, and cordials, as we know them, as actually pretty late in period. I use modern liquors in modern mason jars. I make vinegars. The process is probably similar to how it would be insofar that it a natural process. It is going to happen. I don’t have the ability to properly set up the Orleans process and it would be great to grow my own grapes, make my own wine, and make my own vinegars from them. No sulfides to fight. I make glass. This process is deciding modern. If I was doing hot glass, it would be closer to classical style glass.
But the process for hand-making paper has been largely unchanged for the nearly 2000 years. Machine made paper is very different but handmade paper is the same basic processes and the few machines used even harken back to period. The Hollander beater, now electric, but water driven back then, was developed just at the end of period. Things like a screw jack are period.
But more importantly, paper is a chance to do something I think has been missing in the SCA. We have merchants who sell items. Some are medievally made (for a given value) and some are modernly made but look medieval. That is awesome! But we are missing the industry. We are missing the “town” feel. If I can make a good paper and make a reasonable amount, then I can make an industry. The paper supplier supplies to the scribes, supplies to the bookbinders, supplies to the card makers, etc.
We could be doing this with fiber arts and I think I have seen a small amount of these. The spinners supply the weavers, who supply the tailors and seamstresses, who supply the milliners, etc. I think that would be so cool.
For those not in the Middle Kingdom, we give handmade scrolls for awards. Imagine the next level. Instead of Bristol board, the paper is handmade too. One step closer to where we were 1000 years ago.
That is why I want to do this. I know papermaking isn’t hard. I just have to find the time to do it.
One of the things I love about English is the amount of wordplay that is possible with it. I don’t know how true that is with other languages as I am universally bad at languages. I can barely speak English well enough. But I love puns and rhyming and the multiple meanings that arise in English and love learning why our language is the way it is.
These two words are connected, believe it or not. For those who don’t remember, stationery is paper or more generically writing supplies and stationary is to not move. The former got its name from the later. During the 1300’s through the 1500’s, most sellers sold from carts. You moved your store around as you needed to or as markets allowed you to. Some days you had product to sell and some days you didn’t.
But the paper sellers eventually always had supply and always had demand. They would set up outside of the universities, etc. With the demand for paper high, they never needed to move their carts. They remained stationary and in time, became known as stationers, those who didn’t move, and thus, their products were stationery, things a stationer sold.
I have started looking down the rabbit hole at paper making. I have looked at it before. I will take a class on it soon. And like everything, when I start looking at something, I develop grand plans on what I will do with it. Let’s look at a bit of the research I had done so far.
Paper gets it start in the 100’s BC in China. Needing a cheap medium to write on, they develop a method of turning bamboo or mulberry bark into paper. From what I can see, the method for handmade paper hasn’t changed much in China. The plant fibers are mashed, originally with a mortar and pestle, but later with a drop hammer. The fibers are then layered and dried. Then cut. Then soaked in large vats. The slurry is caught on wire mats and then transferred to couches (often bamboo). In the Chinese method, these sheets are then quickly put on hot stone walls to dry. Depending on the need, chalk can be added to the slurry to whiten the sheets. I didn’t see evidence of sizing being used yet.
Paper then moved to the Muslim world with the siege of Samarkand. Not having either bamboo or mulberry trees, the Muslims use cotton or linen. These fibers need more processing to soften so there are now multiple soaks with some fermentation to help break the fibers down. The overall process was about the same though. The Muslims did use sizing, in this case starch. The sizing helps develop a water resistance so ink doesn’t just get absorbed. The Muslims also found they had to burnish their paper with smooth stones to make sure it was flat enough for clean writing.
Finally, paper comes to Europe with the Muslims. Rags of cotton and linen are still the main source but more industrialization is used. Water wheels with trip hammers help break the fibers down. Couching is done on felt sheets with presses to expel the excess water. Sheets are hung in warm rafters to totally dry. Gelatin is used to size the paper. Watermarks appear.
Finally in the 1800’s more machines enter the process and wood pulp is used for the paper and the modern method is not that dissimilar to the 1800’s method.
We will see if I take this up. I can see watermarking my paper as a tag to myself. I can see adding watermarks for Royal and Baronial use. I can see scrolls and cards made on handmade, medieval paper. I can see something like the Great Machine in Calontir used to drive the beating hammers.
Too often, I can’t be stationary but perhaps I can be in stationery.