Inventor Study: Gutenberg and his Printing Press

First things first, we watched one of the brilliant videos found on YouTube about Gutenberg:

Ha!  I just love these videos!  Next we read these books all about Gutenberg and his printing press:

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The picture book was particularly good because it covers the history of printing.  I was gratified to see we had covered the majority of its history in our own studies.

The idea of printing many images mechanically had been around since the ancient Chinese had developed a type of soot ink and paper, made from pulped bark and rags.  We had attempted our own paper making using these techniques when we covered the Ancient Chinese last year:

Our dried out hemp and bark paper.  I can't believe the difference a bit of bark makes!

By AD 868, the Chinese were using block wood to carve raised relief images to print out Buddhist texts onto the paper.  We used polystyrene to carve raised Chinese characters, attaching them to a block of wood:

Inked with a sheet of paper to show their stamp.

After which we printed on our home-made paper:

And again I printed on it, and it took the ink and print very well.

Over in Europe texts were still being written by hand and decorated individually by a painter.  These were called Illuminations.  We had studied medieval illuminations and made our own:

T11 with his feather ink pen and some black ink in a shell!

L10, C10 and T11's illuminations

Papermaking came to Europe from China via the Silk Road in AD 1151, and gradually replaced parchment (tanned hide).  These papers were made from the pump of cotton and linen.  This is an example of the resultant material paper:

rag paper

Picture credit

Although the Koreans had already cast moveable metal characters, it wouldn’t be until 1435 in Strasbourg that a man named Johann Gutenberg began working secretly on what would become his printing press, that books would stop being copied by hand.

 We watched a short video about the printing press:

and another I had bought from Amazon, without realising I could get it on YouTube.  Note to self: Always check YouTube first!  This is a video showing Stephan Fry attempt to build his own medieval printing press.  I hoped this would be useful when the children would build their own out of materials I had bought.  It was a fabulous video which also showed how paper was made in medieval times – something we had hoped to try ourselves.  I have included the YouTube link:

Afterwards I set the children a simple task using the bits and bobs I had bought for them (in addition to anything they had to hand around the house) to construct their own, simplified version of the printing press:


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  1. I will also be looking forward to their inventions. Its always fun to see what they come up with

  2. We, too, had a strange batch of paper when we tried making it ourselves. Oh, well. That adds to the education of it all. A medieval book sounds so very interesting. I am looking forward to seeing it.
    Thank you again, Claire, for sharing the videos you find. You do all the work for me! 🙂
    I hope you have a most lovely day. We have reached 100 degrees, but are thankful it has taken us this long to get there. Sweating in Texas…

    1. We just converted degrees F into degrees C and was horrified! That’s almost 38 degrees Celsius!! We’re at 19 degrees C which is 66 degrees F and that feels warm enough!

      1. We are having a very unusual July rain over the next two days. Hopefully, if the weather forecast is correct, we will have a couple of days in the 80’s. This is very unusual for July and I count it a blessing from the Lord. We are in desperate need of rain to fill our lakes. Some lakes are so low, the boats that should be in water are in dry dock. We have to water our yard twice a week to keep it alive. Such is the life in Texas. Enjoy your temps.

  3. It’s been ages since we’ve made paper. I bet my younger ones don’t even remember it…hmmm. I love the video selections you hunted down – really brings the study to life.

    1. Thanks Leah. We’ve done quite a lot of paper making and do fairly well when we are using soaked scraps of paper to make new paper. I’m not sure how successful we’ll be doing it our of linen or cotton. We’ll see!

  4. I can’t wait to see it all! I was just planning our medieval lessons for the year and the projects. Thanks for the book ideas. I’m not sure we are up to paper making, but we are trying to come up with a Gutenberg project.

    1. I’ll be doing a review for a kit to make Da Vinci’s printing press, which is very similar to Gutenberg’s. I only very rarely do reviews but I was so very impressed by this kit. Maybe that would be a good project for you and your daughter to do?

  5. Claire,

    You always find such interesting resources. Thank you for sharing them! I passed on your links to the animated Chaucer tales videos on my FB page today. We’re all looking forward to watching them!

    1. Hi Myriam! Thank you for the link. I visited and will have to return when I have more time. It looks a wonderful place to get lots of arty ideas. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. It’s so great how your studies lead into each other. Can’t wait to see the inventions and I hope you do try out paper making – it’s good, messy fun 🙂 I hope we’ll get around to making more this summer.

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