Paper Mold and Deckle #1: Why a paper mold?

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Blog entry by mileskimball posted 05-13-2013 12:53 AM 4304 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Paper Mold and Deckle series Part 2: frame and support bars »

This is a bit of a catch-up post, as I’ve been working on this project for several weeks now.

I’m building a more-or-less historically accurate paper mold that will be used to make paper out of West Texas cotton that we’ll print on in the Texas Tech Letterpress Lab ( The idea is to sell prints to alumni to help support the lab, which teaches students about historical methods of printing and helps them understand how most of the literature in the past several hundred years was created.

Setting out on this project I had the advantage of two beautiful replica molds made by Timothy Moore (, which we bought on a grant several years ago. But these are strictly showcase models – one is even a cutaway showing several different approaches to making paper (notably, laid and wove). They were really expensive ($5k), so I’m not about to dip them in a vat of paper pulp.

Essentially, traditional paper molds are composed of a frame covered by a mesh (the mold), which is topped by another frame (the deckle) that nests over the edges. Here’s the picture from Moore’s site:

The whole assembly is dipped into a vat of paper pulp, the water streams out through the mesh, and the paper is left on the top.

Seems pretty simple, no? But On close examination, paper molds have some fascinating features:

  • The mesh is made by stringing tempered wires horizontally (called “lay lines”) and tying them in place with a “chain line,” a softer wire wrapped around each lay wire to create a line perpendicular to the lay lines. Easier to see than to describe. But you can’t buy this mesh, so I made it myself, using .035” stainless welding wire for the lay lines and 15 lb test.
  • The mesh is supported by a series of transverse bars, airfoil-shaped in cross section. When you line these up side by side with the skinny end of the airfoil supporting the mesh, they form little channels of decreasing volume as the water flows through—that’s right, a venturi that sucks the water out the bottom!
  • The deckle, which is just a picture frame basically, is held together with a fascinating joint that combines a sliding dovetail and a mortise and tenon.

It took me awhile to figure out how to make this joint, which like some Asian joinery has features you can’t really see from the outside.

Traditionally the woods used were oak or mahogany for the frames and larch for the support bars. I had some white oak, so decided to use that. Failing to find any larch, I decided to use Spanish cedar.

All in all a surprisingly challenging project!

-- Miles

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