The Rhythm of Work

Juan and Javier start very early each morning. They have a contract to supply a Michelin-rated restaurant with white, deckle edged paper for their menus. When I arrive, the studio is in production mode.

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Javier has milled up a big batch of cotton rag pulp and periodically transfers it to a vat from which Juan can top up his main dipping tank as needed.

It’s a big order, so Juan is using a large screen and deckle that makes six sheets at once. Once he agitates the pulp to the proper level of suspension with a giant blender stick, he bends over the tank, and deftly, smoothly and quickly dips and pulls up.

Video clips here.
And here.
And here.

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Then, after letting the excess water drip away, he “couches” the wet sheets onto felts and release material – another very smooth move – then covers with a heavy dampened drying sheet and repeats the process. Again and again, until he has a post of wet sheets between two heavy PVC sheets.

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Juan shows me the most ergonomic way to help shuffle them over to his press. He had it custom-built at a machine and metal work shop down the street: super heavy-duty, set for >50 tons pressure. I learn how to operate it: power on, press down…wait for 50T pressure once water starts flowing out of the post of paper, then stop the press and power off.

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The post sits under pressure for a short spell, then Juan and Javier raise the press, slide the fresh post out onto a barrel, and peel apart the damp drying sheets with the fresh paper stuck to them from all the felts and interleaving sheets.

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They move the fresh paper up to a mezzanine level where Javier hangs them to dry. Then Juan moves all the felts and interleaving sheets back near the vat and starts another set.

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It’s noisy, wet, steady work that demands continuous concentration and patience. At the same time, it’s also meditative.

Music and DJ chat on Radio 5 occasionally break through the buzz, hum and sloshing. Juan and Javier make very few mistakes, and I can tell by the tiny tweezers by the vat, used occasionally to extract a hair, that their standard is perfection.

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