How do they make paper? From trees to pages.

When we think of paper, we likely picture a white sheet on which we can write or print information. However, the journey from trees to paper is a complex and fascinating process that involves several steps. In this article, we will explore how paper is made, from the harvesting of trees to the finished product that we use in our daily lives.

The Harvesting of Trees

The first step in making paper is sourcing the raw material, which is wood. Trees are harvested from forests or tree farms, and the species of tree used can vary depending on the type of paper being produced. For example, softwood trees such as pine and spruce are used to make paper products such as newsprint and paper bags, while hardwood trees like birch and oak are used to produce higher-quality paper products such as magazines and books.

Once the trees are harvested, they are transported to a sawmill for processing. At the sawmill, the trees are debarked and cut into logs of a predetermined length, based on the specifications of the paper manufacturer.

Debarking of Trees

The process of removing the bark from the tree is called debarking. This can be done in several ways, including using mechanical debarkers, which use spinning blades or rollers to strip the bark from the log, or by using chemicals to dissolve the bark. Debarking is necessary to remove any dirt, insects, or other debris that may be on the tree and to ensure the wood is clean and ready for processing.

The Production of Pulp

Once the logs are debarked, they are processed into wood pulp, which is the primary raw material used in papermaking. There are two main methods of producing wood pulp: mechanical and chemical pulping.

Mechanical Pulping

Mechanical pulping involves grinding the wood logs down into small chips, which are then steamed and cooked in a pressure vessel called a digester. This process softens the wood and breaks down the individual fibers. The resulting pulp is then washed and screened to remove any impurities, such as dirt or bark.

Chemical Pulping

Chemical pulping, on the other hand, uses a combination of chemicals and heat to break down the wood fibers. The most common method of chemical pulping is called the Kraft process, which involves cooking the wood chips in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide. This process breaks down the lignin, a natural polymer that binds the wood fibers together, and separates the fibers from each other. The resulting pulp is also washed and screened to remove any impurities.

The Manufacturing of Paper

Once the wood pulp has been produced, it is ready to be turned into paper. There are several steps involved in this process, including bleaching, refining, and sheet forming.


Bleaching is the process of removing any remaining lignin and other impurities to make the pulp as white as possible. This is achieved by treating the pulp with chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide or chlorine dioxide.


Refining is the process of mechanically treating the pulp to improve its quality and strength. This is done by passing the pulp through a series of rotating disks, which grind and tear the fibers, creating a more uniform pulp. This step is important for creating a smooth and consistent finished product.

Sheet Forming

After the pulp has been bleached and refined, it is ready to be formed into sheets of paper. This is done on a paper machine, which is a large, complex piece of equipment that can be several hundred feet long. The pulp is first fed onto a moving wire mesh, which allows the water to drain out, leaving behind a thin layer of pulp. This layer of pulp is then pressed and dried, creating a finished sheet of paper.

The Final Product

Once the paper has been formed, it can be cut and packaged into its final form, whether that be a ream of printer paper, a roll of packaging material, or a stack of magazines. The type of paper and its intended use will determine the final finishing steps, which may include coating, sizing, or calendaring.


Coating is the process of adding a thin layer of material, such as clay or latex, to the surface of the paper to improve its properties, such as brightness or smoothness.


Sizing is the process of adding chemicals to the paper to make it more resistant to water and ink. This is important when producing paper for use in printing or packaging.


Calendaring is the process of adding pressure to the paper to improve its smoothness and finish. This is done by running the paper through a series of rollers, which compress the paper fibers and create a more uniform finish.

Common Questions and Answers about Making Paper

  • What types of trees are used to make paper?
  • What is the difference between mechanical and chemical pulping?
  • Why is bleaching necessary in the papermaking process?
  • What is calendaring and why is it important?
  • How do paper mills dispose of waste products, such as chemicals and wastewater?
  • What is the environmental impact of the papermaking process?


  • “The Pulp and Paper Making Processes” – Princeton University, 2021
  • “Papermaking Basics” – Sappi, 2021
  • “How Paper Is Made” – International Paper, 2021

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