This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #33 (January, 1996).

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Methods of Beating Fiber

All material for papermaking--whether cloth, plant fiber, or paper to be recycled--needs to treated to separate the fibers. Beating is the most common and quickest way to do so. (Other forms of fiber separation, like retting and fermentation, are sometimes used in place of or as a supplement to beating. Cooking material, especially raw fiber, before beating also helps accelerate the process of separation.)

The earliest papermakers probably beat their material by hand with a stick (as is still done in some traditional forms of Japanese papermaking), by the use of simple mortar and pestle equipment, or by the use of animal-power (used to pull a stone wheel continuously through a circular stone trough, for example).

More advanced technology for beating material for papermaking came with the introduction of stampers, which range from foot-powered adaptations of the mortar and pestle design to enormous mechanical devices, with stamper heads of different degrees of coarseness in adjacent troughs for processing the material in stages. In the European mills of the middle ages and Renaissance, papermakers constructed large, elaborate, water-powered stamping mills to process a considerable amount of cloth into pulp for papermaking, with ingenious features like rinse water running through the troughs where the fiber was being beaten, to remove waste materials throughout the process.

In the late 17th century, the Dutch invented a mechanical device known as the Hollander beater. These are still used by hand papermakers today, although the machine-made paper industry has generally switched to more chemical ways of breaking down material for papermaking. Hollander beaters (or Hollanders, as they are commonly known) come in different designs, but all consist of an oblong trough with rounded ends in which water and the material being beaten circulate; a rotating cylinder with dull metal blades (known as the roll); and a bedplate of raised dull metal blades in the bottom of the trough, underneath the roll. The roll turns in close proximity to the bedplate and the material being beaten is forced between the blades, through the circular movement of the water. Either the bedplate or the roll are adjustable and one of them is sometimes moveable; these features allow for variations in the thickness and toughness of the material being processed. Some Hollanders have a device for removing waste water so that the fiber can be more effectively rinsed as it is being beaten.

Contemporary hand papermakers also use a variety of tools adapted to their needs in preparing partially-processed fibers (like cotton linters and sheets of abaca). These include devices like Whiz Mixers, Hydropulpers, blenders, and home-made devices of similar ilk, which variously serve to agitate the pulp or subject it to a garbage-disposal type of treatment. None of these devices, however, produce pulp as effectively or with the same force of Hollanders or stampers, as they tend to cut or simply stir rather than force apart the separate fibers. For beating certain materials, especially cloth, stampers and Hollanders are the only practical choice.

For further reading:

Beater Builders of North America, A Catalog of Handbuilt Beaters, Lee S. McDonald, ed., (Friends of Dard Hunter Paper Museum, c/o Dard Hunter III, PO Box 771, Chillicothe, OH 45601: 1989).

A Hand Papermaker's Sourcebook, Sophie Dawson and Silvie Turner, (Design Books, Lyons & Burford, 31 West 21 Street, New York, NY 10010: 1995).

Papermaking, The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, Dard Hunter, (Dover Publications, New York: 1974, reprint). Copyright 1996 Hand Papermaking, Inc.