This excellent Sappi video shows a monster paper mill.

The ones I’ve witnessed have all been a good deal smaller, though even a small paper mill has massive machinery. Some of the dramatic stages are glossed over a bit in the video: partly it’s true because this mill is so immense, modern and slickly designed that you can’t actually look into every stage of the operation. For instance in a smaller mill, taking the bark off the tree trunks is a sight (and sound show) not to be missed. The logs are fed into a large rotating circular cheese-grater-like machine which roars most impressively as it chops the bark off before spitting the naked tree out the other end. The one they have here looks to be enclosed, so less dramatic. Chipping is also a wonderfully screechy event in a smaller, more open mill. You also don’t get to see too much of the early stage of paper formation here where the water is just pouring out of the pulp solution which is carried forward on wire mesh screens and felts until sufficient water is removed for the entire web of paper to hold together enough to be handed off to the drying cylinders, which in this giant machine look like they may be quarter of a mile away. Not for nothing is that employee riding a bicycle.

One notable difference between this modern mill and an paper mill fifty years ago is the concern for pollution control. Back then as you approached a paper mill from downstream, the color of the river would warn you you were getting closer, even before the smell let you know about it unambiguously.

I can’t watch a paper making machine without thinking of death and dismemberment! With that web traveling at 1,400 meters a minute it’ll cut the arm right off the incautious. And imagine what you could do with a slitter-winder.

See also Fourdrinier.