Project Based Homeschooling: Gutenberg’s Printing Press


Great Resources to have on hand


Ribbet collagegutt1


Making a Wooden Model of the Printing Press

We had already done a bit of work on the printing press and Gary and T had put together the model of Da Vinci’s design, which was very similar to Gutenberg’s:

Making your own rag paper

T ripped up a 100% very thin cotton dress of A’s into lots of tiny pieces:

DSC_0727cottonHe then began the long and arduous process or boiling and shredding the rags:


And he boiled and shredded, and boiled and shredded……

Never did he achieve anything close to a pulp, just shredded cotton suspended in water.  He kept up the boiling and mashing for a whole week, after which he gave up.  In the end I ordered some rag paper from Amazon.  Slight cheat, but honestly, we had lost all patience that the cotton would ever macerate enough to become a pulp!  This paper was made entirely from linen rags:


Making your own printing press from stuff around the house

I always enjoy seeing what my son comes up with when he tries his own hands at making whatever we are learning about.  He started out making one entirely from Lego, but soon discovered that it wasn’t strong enough to make a printing pressEach time he pressed it broke.  He was determined to use his Lego in some sort of capacity however, and eventually came up with a roller press:


Simple but effective.

He had decided to make a gift for A5, who will soon be A6.  He made his raised relief of Mr Tickle, cutting out a sheet of Vinyl and sticking it on another:

DSC_0751printing press thomas

He primed it using orange and blue ‘ink’ he had made from paint:

DSC_0752printing press thomas

Then, using his printing press, he printed some Mr Tickle rag sheets, from which he would be making his medieval book:




This wasn’t one of T’s favourite project based learning experiences, although this time it was through no fault of his own.  His first hurdle was his Lego press not being strong enough to press print, and his second and far more time-consuming hurdle was the making of the rag paper.  He was disappointed with this not working.  We had followed the instructions we had to a tee, but that cotton would not become pulp.  At all.  He had literally spent well over an hour cutting up the cotton, and a week boiling and shredding and was not at all happy with the outcome.  Buying some paper online saved his project somewhat, but he would have much preferred making it successfully.

He printed out lots of pages with ease and is planning to bind them to make Little Miss A5 (soon to be A6) a Mr Tickle notebook, which I am sure she will love.


  1. I love T’s creativity! It’s really frustrating when a project doesn’t go smoothly – we have a lot of those here so I can relate! I suspect the dress didn’t go to pulp because of certain chemicals that were added to bind the fibre together at the factory that doesn’t allow them to come apart as easily as they would have if the binding agents weren’t added in the “pure” cotton cloth. Good job for trying, though.

    1. Y’know, I hadn’t thought of that. You’re probably right. Well done, Hwee, that was an unanswered question for us! We just couldn’t think why it had gone wrong.

  2. Oh I´m sorry, it doesn`t work! We always use recycling paper to make paper ourselves, maybe T likes to try? (To put some starch into the pulp might also help!) I like your wooden press, it´s nice!

    1. We had really wanted to see if we could try our hands at rag paper, which would have been the type around during Gutenberg’s time. But we failed!

  3. I’m sorry the rag paper didn’t work out for you, but T had some great ideas for the LEGO printing press and showed some real dedication to the project. I’m sure the notebook he is making for his sister will turn out lovely.

  4. I read this post earlier, but didn’t have time to reply. A little later, the girls read it and both had the same response, “Poor, T.” It is so difficult when something you work so hard for just doesn’t come out right, but what a great learning experience for him. Bravo to T for keeping on and making a lovely notebook for his sister. We had a similar experience and ours didn’t work either.
    LEGO’s are just great – except for the ones left in the middle of the floor in the middle of the night. Ouch.

  5. I learned from going to Colonial Williamsburg that part of the process of making paper from rags at the time involved human urine……. There was something in that which helped break down the fibers in the cotton.
    It’s also interesting to me that the technology didn’t change all that much from Gutenberg to the 1700s.

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