Ways of finding the direction of a paper's grain

Long grain is when the grain runs paraller to the long edges of the sheet.

Short grain is when the grain runs parallel with the short edges of the sheet.

For office A4 papers it is safe to assume that the paper is long grain.

The grain can sometimes be felt by gently bending the sheet. If one way is markedly different from the other then the fold of the bend lies along the grain. To be scientific about this you need to work with a square of paper, but it is usually obvious even with a rectangular piece. If it is not - try another method!

Try tearing a 2-3 cm strip along the edge of the sheet. For some papers the results are surprisingly informative. Try it with a sheet of newspaper!

If you can cut out a sample of the sheet then do so. First of all make a sketch of the shape of the sheet from which your sample is made. This can be seen as a pencilled rectangle in the picture below.

Drop your sample sheet onto a pool of water. It does not have to soak. A quick float on the surface will be adequate.

Testing paper with water to find the grain

After a few moments hold it by a corner, remove it and drain it.

Paper grain showing up clearly with damp paper.

It is likely that the paper will curl immediately. It can be seen that it runs up and down in the picture, and so the grain does also. The grain lies across the direction of the pencil sketch. This tells me that the original sheet from which the sample was cut is cross grained.

I was careful to be scientific with this test. I cut a square of paper. Hence the importance of the sketch of the rectangle. Otherwise you will learn which way the grain goes in the sample, but will be unable to relate it to the original. One day I shall repeat the test with an accurate square of paper. I will let it soak for a minute, or so, and then lay it down and measure how far "off-square" it has become. In many aspects of bookcraft it helps to know how much the paper will change its shape. Normally this is learned by experience, and hopefully not by a sad one.

We have some more notes on grain.



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