By Kim Robson:
Cork comes from the bark tissue of the Quercus suber (Cork Oak) tree, which is native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. Because cork is impermeable, buoyant, elastic and fire retardant, it is used for a variety of commercial purposes, including flooring, acoustic and thermal insulation, fishing floats, and fire retardant. Its most well-known use, of course, is as wine stoppers.
Only 2,200,000 hectares of commercial cork forest exist in the world: 34% are in Portugal and 27%, in Spain. Annual production is limited to only 200,000 tons. The trees must mature to about 25 years old before the cork is stripped from the trunk. Stripping takes places only every nine years, with the first two harvests generally producing lower quality cork. The trees live for about 300 years.
The cork industry is generally considered to be environmentally friendly because the cork tree is not cut down to obtain the cork; only the bark is stripped, so the tree continues to live and grow. Cork production is sustainable, but its limited output means we shouldn’t simply throw old wine corks into the trash. There are lots of creative ways to repurpose those corks.
Cork Bulletin Board
Got a basket full of wine corks? Take an old picture frame, remove the glass, and place a thin sheet of wood in the frame. Slice corks lengthwise, taking care to preserve any interesting logos or designs in the cork, and hot-glue in rows to the wood. You can line them up in rows, or alternating blocks, in a zig-zag pattern, or use medallions sliced crosswise. Hang and use as a family bulletin board that doubles as a striking conversation piece.
Picture Nail Stabilizer
In the bathroom, I have a thin cabinet wall with a pair of pictures hanging from it. Problem: the wall is too thin to support a nail or pushpin without drooping. Solution: slice a coin of cork and push it into the back of the protruding nail, stabilizing it against the wall.
There are lots of ways to make a pin cushion from old corks. Take five or six corks and glue them together standing up. Tie with a pretty ribbon to finish. Or glue them together to the top of a jar lid; you can stow sewing supplies inside the jar as well. For a smaller cushion, simply take a champagne cork and glue a pretty grosgrain ribbon around the neck. Or forget the ribbon and paint a charming design on the cork, or decorate with felt. The creative options are endless.
Slice the cork in half lengthwise, preserving any interesting logos or designs, or into coins if there are cool graphics on the top. Then just hot glue a slab of flexible magnet stripping to the back. Or drill a core into whole corks, and fill with tiny succulents and air plants for a twee hanging garden! Set one aside for use as a pencil holder.
Hot-glue old wine corks to foam cores to create a holiday wreath, or decorative cork balls. Space them around a lamp shade for an interesting votive. Cover shapes or letters with cork then hang.
Trivets / Coasters / Table Toppers
Glue a few dozen corks standing up together, and tie with a pretty ribbon for a charming trivet. Use the same technique on a smaller scale with corks sliced in half crosswise to make coasters. Or glue together a few dozen cork coins in an organic pattern for a table topper. Or cover an entire old table with cork and top it with glass.
Old champagne corks make brilliant drawer pulls because they already have a knob shape on the end. Just drill a small pilot hole into the bottom of a cork, pop a screw in there and install it on a drawer.
Hot-glue corks sliced lengthwise to a flexible mesh backing for a unique bath mat.
Line up several corks in a row and screw in a few hooks to use as a wall-mounted key holder.
Waste Paper Basket
Use hot glue and straight pins to assemble this marvelous waste paper basket from old wine corks.
Flooring and Wall Covering
For the truly ambitious who’ve amassed a stunning number of corks, cork can even be used for a flooring material or as a wall covering.