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- story by MaterialDistrict

Cork has excellent thermal and acoustical qualities. It’s beautiful, lightweight, warm to the touch, hypoallergenic, fire and insect-resistant, stable and renewable every 8-10 years.

Cork as a wall covering: Besides being decorative, cork coverings are also functional. Available in a variety of sizes and thicknesses, these decorative coverings can also serve as tack and pin boards without damage to the cork, making this material ideal for offices and children’s rooms. Cork is a natural insulator – in terms of both temperature and acoustics.

Cork floor: The cork patterns that you see on a cork floor come directly from the grain pattern of the veneer. Just like the grain of oak is different from maple or walnut, so too are there different grain patterns of cork. These veneer patterns appear on the top layer of most cork floors. The bark of the cork oak tree was designed by Mother Nature specifically to protect the tree during its lifespan. Not only is the bark inherently fire retardant to protect the tree from forest fires, but it’s also resistant to extreme temperature changes prevailing in those regions, as well as resistant to more than 38 species of insects including the termite, and to the development of microbes.

Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree, which grows in the forests of Mediterranean countries. It’s truly one of nature’s miracle products, renewing itself over and over again. The largest concentration of plantations are found in Spain and Portugal, which were founded by the wine industry centuries ago. After 25-30 years, a new cork tree develops a thick bark that is about 2″ thick. Skilled farmers with special tools carefully peel off about ½ of the bark. This does not hurt the tree; the bark grows back within 8-12 years and the process begins all over. (One cork oak tree yields 50 harvests over its useful life of 300-500 years. That supplies thousands of cork floors. By comparison, most hardwood flooring requires not only killing the tree, but the tree itself only results in a few floors).

To process cork, the bark is cut into large uniform sheets 4′-5′ long x 2′-3′ wide. They’re carefully transported to a mill where thin layers are veneered off the surface. The layers are the most dense right beneath the outer bark layers, while the inner layers are softer and less dense.

The properties of cork are derived naturally from the structure and chemical composition of the inner cells. For example, each cubic centimeter of cork’s honeycomb structure contains between 30 and 40 million cells. It’s this unique cellular structure that gives cork its innate characteristics, and each of these cells contains suberin, a waxy substance that gives cork its resistance to insects, mold and mildew.

Material Properties