How Do Paper Shredders Work? Your Questions Answered!

Last updated on 

February 25, 2021


If you’re as curious as I am, and if you have ever used a paper shredder, then you might have wondered as to how exactly paper shredders work. People are naturally curious beings. When we learn something new or find out that an object does some or other service for us, we are intrinsically drawn to pursue knowledge and understanding, striving to increase what we know about the world.

I know what you might be thinking: this all seems awfully deep to be aimed at finding out what makes a paper shredder tick. But in reality, even a paper shredder is a technological and mechanical wonder, and why should we not be curious about them? Without further ado, let’s get stuck into finding out how paper shredders work. Aren’t you dying to satisfy your curiosity?

Paper Shredders are Made Up of Two Main Parts

First, we have the MECHANICS:

  • The mechanical components of a paper shredder include the rotating, toothed cylinders that slice up the paper, and the motor which turns said toothy cylinders.
  • The teeth on the rotating cylinders are very sharp metal, and are often staggered to increased the jaggedness and effectiveness of the shredding. Generally, there will be a set of cylinders going one way which slice the paper into strips, as well as a set of cylinders oriented in the opposite direction which cut the strips into diagonals or smaller square pieces (a bit like confetti).
  • When you place the edge of a paper at the opening of this treacherous mouth, a sensor picks up that there is paper near by and sends a message to the motor.
  • The motor, usually a relatively simple configuration, is prompted to activate the turning cylinders, which guides the metal teeth through the edge of paper that has been inserted.
  • This turning motion pulls the paper through the gap, until the piece of paper is completely sliced through. Different models and types of shredder can shred different numbers of pages at a time. Different shredders also have different continuous-operation times. This means that some can operate for hours, some for one hour, and some for a matter of minutes.

This is where the second part, the COLLECTION, comes in:

  • Once the paper has been sliced through, or thoroughly made into confetti, it drops into the collection centre of the shredder.
  • This container unit is essentially a bin which is connected to the motorized, shredding lid.
  • These waste paper containers can range in size from very small and compact, to quite large, and there are several different ways of emptying them.
  • Some bins operate like drawers, where the user is able to pull them straight out of the front of the machine. The paper strips or particles can then be thrown away, repurposed as compost or packaging, or recycled.
  • Other bins pop out from the side or back of the shredder unit, or even the top. Sometimes you can remove the lid completely and the whole base of the shredder is the collection container. Some paper shredders do not have attached collection bins, but are designed to fit over existing bins to minimise the effort exerted by the user.
  • Regardless of how the collection box is removed, the waste paper inside is usually easily emptied. The bin can then be replaced, ready for the next shredding session.


Not all paper shredders are designed in the same way, and some may operate slightly differently. This will also depend largely on the size of the shredder and its intended use. Personal paper shredders which are designed for home use will be simpler, slower, and run for less time than industrial shredders which are faster, larger, and can shred more material at once.

It is also worth noting that some paper shredders can be more like “everything shredders”. Larger, more heavy-duty shredders with more teeth, more powerful motors, and bigger capacities can shred not only paper, but also plastic items such as laminated documents, CDs and DVDs, and credit cards, and some can shred cardboard and other materials. The specific requirements and processes in place for these more difficult jobs might be very different to the run-of-the-mill office paper shredders, but it’s still interesting to know they exist.

Additional Features

  1. Automatic on/off feature- many paper shredders have an on/off feature that sense when a hand is too close to the rotating teeth. When this happens, the motor shuts off to protect the user from injury.
  2. Manual reverse feature- most paper shredders have the facility for you to reverse the direction of blade movement. This is particularly useful if you wish to rectify a jammed piece of paper.
  3. Energy saving- a lot of paper shredders, particularly newer models, have been designed to be economical with electricity so as to be more efficient and better for the environment. Saving energy keeps bills low and helps to keep the world green.

You’re not the only one…

Many people out there have wondered about the inner workings of a paper shredder, myself included, and it might comfort you to know that the internet is rife with people asking questions, sharing answers, and discussing information. There’s no need to be curious any longer. Get out there and ask your questions, research for answers, talk to people who would know (there are a lot of them out there).

Hopefully this information has given you some insight into how paper shredders work and maybe you’ll even share your new-found knowledge with others! Let’s keep the ball rolling!

I am a tech geek. I love techie things and also love electronics. Together with the two traits, I have created With my site, I aim to answer all of your questions about office equipment in general and especially shredders. Let me know if you have any questions.

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I am a tech geek. I love techie things and also love electronics. Together with the two traits, I have created With my site, I aim to answer all of your questions about office equipment in general and especially shredders. Let me know if you have any questions. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to &

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