The wheel: water and movement

To run a paper mill, of course, you need water. A 17th-century Auvergnat Jesuit, Father Imberdis, wrote, "Choose a region with a mild and temperate climate, for the water of the stream must not freeze in the winter or dry up in the summer."

About the quality of water he added: "I take for the best the one whose pure and transparent crystal shows the smallest grain of sand below its depth."

From this point of view the Sorgue obviously offers all the guarantees. In the 18th century there were up to four paper mills in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. 

Water is both the energy of the mill and the chemistry of the paper. Carried  by the bay, narrow wooden or metal canal,  it flows "from below" the wheel, pushing its blades (wooden blades),  and  spins it.  The wheel at Vallis Clausa is 7 meters in diameter and 2 meters wide. It carries 48 blades.

The cam tree

The cam shaft, a 6 meter long cylindrical beam driven by a belt from the axis of the wheel, activates the mallets (hammers) by turning on itself.

It is equipped with cams, protruding ergots that come to hit the bottom of the mallet handle and lift it. The mallets fall back on their own weight and crush the rags contained in the beater. For each mallet there are 4 cams.

All along the tree, these ergots are arranged so that not all mallets rise at the same time. They hit one after the other.

The mallet

It is a huge 75kg fir hammer. Its handle, the mallet tail, rests on a base, the rear grip. Its base is crossed by an axis that allows it to rotate vertically.

At the other end of this handle is the spur, a metal piece that the cane comes to hit. The hammer then rises. Under the mallet itself, which is a metre long, nails will grind the contents of the beater

Each time this hammer falls, the top of the handle comes on to another guide, the front grip, which serves as a rail to avoid any lateral movement.

Note: the mallet is not quite perpendicular to its handle, so when it hits, it prints with the porridge of rags a rotation that could be compared to that which the pastry maker undergoes to its pie dough.

The mallet beater

There are five in Vallis Clausa. They are dug  by hand in granite. In  each  beater, about 15kg of rags mixed with water will become a paste, passing from one trough to another. For each beater three mallets strike alternately, allowing the raw material to be converted to pulp.  At the bottom of the troughs are two pieces: one at the bottom is made of wood (beech), it is the false platinum; the other, placed on top, made of the platinum. This set will endure for hours the pounding of the mallet. In the beater water circulation is continuous. A kind of bottom leap, the "kas", allows the evacuation of the washing water of the rags.

The grinding in the mallet beaters lasts 24 to 36 hours.