Ten years ago we took our children to Sicily to explore my family’s roots. One daytrip found us driving up a scenic mountain road looking for the small town of Isnello, home of my great-grandmother on my father’s side. The winding country road was slow-going and more than once we had to wait for a herd of goats to pass. Along the way, we passed something very unusual — a grove of nude trees.
As we continued along the road, we saw more nude trees and then, stacks and stacks of bark on the ground.
We pulled over to investigate and suddenly realized we were looking at a forest of cork trees. Cork oaks (Quercus suber) to be exact. We were all so excited to figure this out; it seemed like the light bulb went off in all of our heads at the same time. Where corks came from was just not one of those questions any of us had ever considered, and now the question and the answer were presented to us at the same moment. That was memorable.
Slabs of cork bark are harvested from cork oaks, by hand, every nine to twelve years. The trees, which often live for 250-300 years need to be 25 years old before they can be harvested. It is a good example of a renewable resource. The harvest from each cork tree will be used to make 4000 corks.
Here is a good video that shows the production of corks from harvest to bottle cap. Section 4:45 on the video’s timeline shows the drill that punches out the wine corks from the bark strips. If you look closely at the corks in the photo, you can see the age lines from the 9-12 years of tree growth.
I was already a collector of wooden wine corks with their interesting texture and graphics, before seeing the cork oak grove. Since visiting the grove, I’ve become incapable of throwing away a wooden wine cork. I am that person who subtlely slips corks into her purse at dinner parties.
A year after our trip, I was in the middle of a kitchen renovation when the idea hit me to make a wall-sized corkboard on the space above my cookbook bookcase.
My husband built the frame for the bulletin board using a very thin sheet of plywood for the backing and pine trim for the frame. I used a polyurethane stain as a wood finish.
The board is anchored into the wall studs with four screws, each of which is covered with corks that have pink nail polish dots painted on them so we can locate the screws should we ever want to remove the corkboard.
I made another corkboard for the wall space above my sewing machine table.
I did not frame it. Instead, I custom built it to fit into the cabinet space that surrounds it. The corks are glued onto thin plyboard which is fastened to the wall with screws.
Over the summer, I made three corkboards, one for each of the new apartments my sons and niece were moving into. They all wanted black frames.
My husband built the frames, and another relative who was visiting, puttied, sanded, and painted the frame for me. Friends and family, both near and far, either mailed boxes of corks to me or dropped off boxfuls at my front door after I posted a plea for corks on Facebook. I am so grateful to all of the generous cork savers who nicely shared their stash with me.
Each of these new cork boards is two feet by three feet and uses about 500 corks. The frame and backboard weigh five pounds, and the corks weigh about six pounds. Before you take on this project, you’ll need to save a lot of corks.
Two tips before we get started. Once I used an old wood-trimmed bulletin board I found at a yard sale for my cork surface. I glued the corks directly onto the board, and that worked fine. I’ve also recycled the particle board panel from 24″ by 36″ poster frames from Wal-Mart.
Supplies You Will Need:
About 500 wooden corks (weighs about six pounds)
Two six-inch strips of wood trim to build the frame (see photo)
Miter box and saw
Hot glue gun with a refill package of long glue strips
Cutting board and knife for trimming corks
Yardstick and pen to draw guidelines on the plyboard
Lightweight wood filler
Sanding block (fine)
Primer, spray-on works fine
Paint- I used one with a satin finish
Two eyelet screws
40-pound picture hanging wire
Buying the Backing and Frame Materials
To keep the weight down on the finished product, I use the thinnest and lightest sheet of plywood backing I can find. I always ask the salesmen at Home Depot to cut the plywood down to the size I need. They also cut the molding strips down to the approximate size I will need. I add a little extra length of trim, in case I/we mess up on the mitering when I get home.
Building the Frame
My husband took the two six-foot long trim strips and used a miter-block to cut them down to the proper size which was previously measured to fit around the plywood exactly.
He then used wood glue to attach the molding to the back board. He used clamps to keep the trim in place while it dried. You could also use a nail-gun to keep the frame in place, but you will have to come back and fill in the nail holes with putty.
Putting a Finish on the Frame
First use wood putty to fill in the crevices of the mitered corners. Allow to dry and then lightly sand with a fine block sander.
Apply a coat of white primer paint. Primer raises the fibers on wood, so once it is dry, you will need to sand the surface again. Wipe away the dust with a cloth.
Use a paint brush to apply the paint. I tried using a can of spray paint, but I didn’t like the drip marks it left, so I switched to regular paint. Allow paint to dry overnight.
Applying the Corks
Draw horizontal guidelines across the plyboard, approximately every three inches, to help you lay out even rows of corks.
Start at the bottom of the board, two corks vertical followed by two corks horizontal. Choose corks that are the same length for each of the twosomes. When you get to the end of the row, you may have to use a knife to trim corks to make them fit.
I lay out an entire row of corks first and then come back with a hot glue gun to glue them into place. The corks should fit snuggly.
I place all the corks with their graphics and words readable from the same direction, both vertically and horizontally. Thus, whether you choose to hang the finished board vertically or horizontally, the corks will all face the same direction.
Continue in this pattern all the way to the top of the plyboard.
I usually need to do some finagling to make the last three rows of corks fit nicely into the frame. It is definitely like a puzzle at the end. This is not the time to be a perfectionist. Once you start pinning things on your finished bulletin board, nobody will notice what you did to make the corks fit.
Installing the Hanging Wire
You will need two small eyelet screw and 40-pound picture hanging wire.
Lay the frame face down. Mark the frame on each side with a pencil one-fourth of the way down from the top corners. That’s about six inches down.
Make a small pilot hole over the pencil mark using a hammer and a nail one size smaller than your eyelet screw.
Screw the eyelet hooks into the pilot holes. The eyelet holes should face each other when properly installed.
Wrap the hanging wire through the eyelet hole a couple of times before running the wire across to the other eyelet screw.
My friend, Libba, just sent me photos of the cork wall of the bar in her home. I love the design! It looks like it was sprayed with a coat of polyurethane.
Thank you for sharing your stash of corks, friends!
Thank you to all my friends who left corks at my door and who took the time to mail their stashes to me: Wayne, Maribeth & Michael, Albie and Sara, Bill & Kim, Frances, Beth, Millie, Caroline, and the people I’ve missed. It’s nice to know I am not the only one who can’t throw away a cork.
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