General process information
Trees are typically used as raw material for papermaking, although many non-woody plants can be used. Plants used for papermaking include cotton, wheat straw, sugar cane waste, and more. However suitable these other sources may be, nearly 95% of the raw material for papermaking comes from trees.
Several processes are commonly used to convert logs to wood pulp. In the mechanical process, logs are first tumbled in drums to remove the bark. The logs are then sent to grinders, which break the wood down into pulp by pressing it between huge revolving slabs. The pulp is filtered to remove foreign objects. In the chemical process, wood chips from de-barked logs are cooked in a chemical solution. This is done in huge vats called digesters. The chips are fed into the digester, and then boiled at high pressure in a solution of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide. The chips dissolve into pulp in the solution. Next the pulp is sent through filters. Bleach may be added at this stage, or colorings. The pulp is sent to the paper plant.
The pulp is next put through a pounding and squeezing process called beating. Inside a large tub, the pulp is subjected to the effect of machine beaters. At this point, various filler materials can be added such as chalks, clays, or chemicals such as titanium oxide. These additives will influence the opacity and other qualities of the final product. Sizings are also added at this point. Sizing affects the way the paper will react with various inks. Without any sizing at all, a paper will be too absorbent for most uses except as a desk blotter. A sizing such as starch makes the paper resistant to water-based ink.
In order to finally turn the pulp into paper, the pulp is fed or pumped into giant, automated machines. One common type is called the Fourdrinier machine. Pulp is fed into the Fourdrinier machine on a moving belt of fine mesh screening. The pulp is squeezed through a series of rollers, while suction devices below the belt drain off water. If the paper is to receive a water-mark, a device called a dandy moves across the sheet of pulp and presses a design into it.
The paper then moves onto the press section of the machine, where it is pressed between rollers of wool felt. The paper then passes over a series of steam-heated cylinders to remove the remaining water.
Finally, the dried paper is wound onto large reels, where it will be further processed depending on its ultimate use.
The paper may be further finished by passing through a vat of sizing material. It may also receive a coating, which is either brushed on or rolled on. Coating adds chemicals or pigments to the paper’s surface, supplementing the sizings and fillers from earlier in the process. Fine clay is often used as a coating. The paper may next be supercalendered, that is, run through extremely smooth calendar rollers, for a final time. Then the paper is cut to the desired size.