Can we bring engineering to the paper in paper mache? It's a mix of a binder and a reinforcing matrix. PVA is common for the binder and is strong. That's fine as I think it's strong enough and readily available. Can we do better for the traditional news paper? I think that glass /carbon fibres would be incompatible as PVA doesn't readily adhere. Is there another filler? I read somewhere that they used to make air plane drop tanks and boats from some sort of paper mache, demonstrating it's engineering potential.

I realise that this is more materials science than pure mechanical engineering, but there are commonalities and it's all we have on SE. I'm deliberately avoiding Arts & Crafts as I'm not looking for a child friendly, mix a long with mom type of material. I'm looking for the dirtiest, leanest meanest (probably cancer causing) reinforcement that's as strong as possible drawing on modern technology. The only stipulation is that it should be available to the domestic purchaser (so bags of nano tubes are out). Is there something stronger than newspaper?

  • $\begingroup$ This seems really broad. There is a reason why carbon fiber is used. It is strong and light. You want something like this, only not this. $\endgroup$
    – hazzey
    Mar 30, 2017 at 1:30
  • $\begingroup$ This is very broad. Are you asking just about paper mache (only paper & binder), reinforced paper mache (using something other than paper to reinforce the paper mache), or paper mache like (using materials other than paper)? $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Mar 30, 2017 at 2:38
  • $\begingroup$ So is your goal to make paper mache (paper as fiber?) or to find a slower settling resin (without specifiying the fiber too much)? $\endgroup$
    – mart
    Mar 30, 2017 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Fred You're right. I've edited to refocus on alternatives to reinforcement. $\endgroup$
    – Paul Uszak
    Mar 30, 2017 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ My kitchen counters are made of Paperstone. We were told that it is basically paper bags laid flat and bonded together with phenolic resin. Extremely strong, dense, heat resistant, and you can see the stacked paper bags looking at the edge. They are non-cancer-causing, though, so they fail that criterion. paperstoneproducts.net/wordpress/faq (no affiliation other than having the stuff underneath my wheatabix every morning.) $\endgroup$
    – Adam
    Mar 31, 2017 at 19:37

2 Answers 2


My favorite is papercrete, below is a link to the wikipedia article on it. This can be reinforced with simple fiberglass to make it stronger, unfortunately finite analysis would not be terribly effective on determining the strength of the material. You would have to make dozens of samples and test them individually to work on optimizing the mixture.


  • $\begingroup$ Glass fibres are the first thing that comes to mind, but PVA doesn't adhere well to glass does it? They're macroscopically very smooth. I admit I haven't tried it as I was sceptical. $\endgroup$
    – Paul Uszak
    Mar 30, 2017 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Use longer strands in a mixed construct, I think it is called glass fiber mat. The bent fibers will lock in the glue instead of trying to adhere. I have used a product called Tiger Hair, glass fibers in an epoxy resin. You might be able to find the glass fibers without the epoxy. $\endgroup$ Mar 30, 2017 at 16:44

Absolutely. Paper mache at it's core is an early predecessor of carbon fiber. The paper is the fiber structure and the paste (not sure of the technical term) is the equivalent to the epoxy.

If you increase the 'strength' of the fibers you'll eventually reach a point that the paste is the weak point, beyond which increasing the strength of the paper won't do much. If you increase the strength of the paste to a better adhesive you'll then be able to increase the strength of the final part.


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