The Right Wood for the Right Paper
Foresters divide trees into two categories: softwood and hardwood.
Northwest softwood trees such as Douglas fir and Western hemlock have wood with long fibers, and paper made from this type of wood is much stronger. This paper is ideal for making products like shipping containers that require superior strength. But the finish is rougher, and that’s not as good for writing, printing and many other uses.
Northwest hardwoods, such as poplar and alder, have wood with very short fibers. Paper made from these species is weaker than that made from softwoods, but its surface is smoother, and therefore better to write and print on.
Paper manufacturers can blend fiber from hardwoods and softwoods into a single paper, getting just the combination of strength, whiteness, writing surface and other characteristics that we want.
Most of the paper used today is made from both hardwoods and softwoods, a special blend for each purpose. We make newsprint to be opaque. We make grocery bag paper strong, tissue soft, fine writing paper smooth. Even within the same category, there’s quite a range. Among printing papers, for example, compare the thin sheets of a Bible to the thick, tough pages of a child’s picture book.
The basic recipe – wood, water and energy – is adjusted to make just the paper that’s needed.