You gotta have fiber!

Over the centuries, paper has been made from a wide variety of materials — wood pulp, rice, water plants, cotton, even old clothes! But no matter what you use to make paper — you need “fiber.” Today’s paper fiber comes mainly from three sources — byproducts from the sawmilling process, pulpwood logs and recycled paper products. In fact, much of the paper we use every day is a blend of new and recycled fiber.

From log to pulp 

Much of the paper produced in Idaho is made from “waste” — the tree parts from logging and sawmill operations that can’t be made into lumber. After harvesting, trees are cut into logs and are transported to the mill. At the mill, a debarker removes the bark from each log. The log is cut into boards of varying sizes. The wood that’s left over is then converted into wood chips, about the size of corn flakes (though not as tasty in milk!).

The wood chips are then put into “pulp digesters” where they are broken down by steam and chemicals into a gloppy pudding of cellulose fibers and other wood components. In another process, the chemicals, wood resins, and wood lignin (sort of a natural glue in the wood) are removed. The cellulose fibers are cleaned and screened many times to get them ready to be made into paper. Some papermakers use a mechanical pulping process instead, where the wood chips are literally “beaten to a pulp.”

From pulp to paper

The paper pulp (from wood chips, recycled paper, or both) is fed into the paper-making machine. A pump sprays a thin layer of the liquid paper pulp onto a moving wire screen. This screen can be up to 20 feet wide, and can travel at speeds of 60 miles per hour. That’s fast paper!

As the pulp is carried along by the screen, the water in it is removed, and the cellulose fibers become bonded together, forming paper. While the paper is still damp, it is fed through a series of heated rollers which press it and dry it. The paper is then spooled into huge rolls, cut into various sizes, and converted into paper products.

From paper to more paper 

Recycling paper helps make sure we get the most out of every tree we use. And it helps keep paper from clogging up our landfills. Each time paper is recycled, the cellulose fibers get shorter, until eventually the paper won’t hold together. That’s why most “recycled” papers contain some new paper fibers mixed in with the old.

Want to make paper at home?

Download this Project Learning Tree lesson plan on how to make paper.  

Borrow our paper making kit

If you’re an Idaho resident, you may borrow a paper making kit from the Idaho Forest Products Commission. It includes screens, pulp, instructions and supporting resources. You’ll provide your own blender, dishpan and towels. Your only cost is return postage. E-mail

Watch this video about making paper at home or in the classroom. 

Watch these videos about making pulp, paperboard and tissue products at Clearwater Papers in Lewiston, Idaho. 


See how Clearwater Papers in Lewiston, Idaho turns wood chips and sawdust into pulp, the main ingredient used to make the many paper products we all use every day. Click here to watch.



Paperboard is the material used to make folded cartons, liquid packaging, paper cups and plates and printing paper.  It needs to be strong, uniform and clean. This video shows the process of turning pulp into products we use every day. Click here to watch.


Tissue paper

Most people know that paper products come from trees.  This video shows the technology, machinery and people-power Clearwater Paper uses to turn wood pulp into paper towels, facial tissues, napkins and bathroom tissue.  It’s a fast, safe, efficient and fine-tuned process. Click here to watch.



The “Paper Makers” film tells the story of the modern day paper industry through the eyes of the workers who cultivate sustainable forests, apply technologies that nurture and protect them for years to come, and help create nature-based sustainable products — all in one of America’s oldest natural industries.


Learn more about Idaho’s forests here.

Learn more about the products that come from Idaho’s forests here. 

Learn about the environmental benefits of forest products here.

Learn about jobs and working in the forest products industry here.