Cork - A Versatile Material for Industrial and Consumer Applications

May 11th at 9:05pm

Cork is the suberous covering (suberose parenchyma, or bark) of the species Quercus Suber L., commonly known as the cork oak. It is composed of an aggregate of cells, about 42 million per cubic centimeter, which have five wall layers. The Cork Oak trees can survive for up to 300 years giving raw materials every 9 years from the time they are 25 years old. The key to cork’s many properties is its honeycomb cell structure. Each cell is a 14-sided polyhedron filled with air with an extremely strong and flexible membrane that is waterproof and airtight. Cork also has exceptional electrical, thermal and acoustic insulation properties, making cork a versatile material 

Elastic and Resilient: The flexibility of the cork cell membranes are extremely flexible, compressible and elastic, so it will always tend to return to its original shape, no matter what sort of pressure it is put under. This makes it a fantastic product to use for bottle stoppers, because even after years of compression in the neck of a bottle, it still retains its elasticity so maintaining an airtight seal. You will see this when you remove a cork from a bottle that it will instantly swell back to its original size, making it difficult to fit back into the bottle, no matter how old the bottle is.

Light Weight: About 90% of the volume of cork is occupied by air enclosed in the micro-cells of cork. This enclosed air constitutes about 50% of its weight. This makes cork a lightweight material, about five times lighter than water. This gives Cork’s a low density and makes it floats on water. Cork’s strong watertight cell membranes means that it will not absorb water, which makes it ideal for fishing floats and other similar applications.

Thermal, electrical and Acoustic Insulation: Cork’s honeycomb structure cell is made up of lots or tiny, sealed pockets of air which offer incredible thermal and sound insulation properties. In its natural form, cork is also a very good fire retardant, although cork dust is extremely flammable (because here the cell structure has been broken down). These properties make Cork an ideal choice for industrial and aerospace applications requiring light weight insulation material.

Impermeable: Cork has a natural cell membrane that makes it completely impermeable to liquids and gases. This chemical is a mixture of fatty acids and heavy organic alcohol called suberin, which makes cork impermeable and stops it from rotting or degrading over time.

Mechanical strength & Durability: Cork has high mechanical strength between -80C and 140C. Cork is extremely durable and has a high friction coefficient, so it will survive repeated impacts or rubbing/abrasion extremely well.

Hypoallergenic: Cork does not absorb dust, so is ideal for use as flooring and wall coverings.

Industrial Applications of Cork 

Industrial Cork is made of cork granules mixed with various kinds of rubber such as SBR, Nitrile, Neoprene, Silicone etc. for binding. This composite material exhibits excellent wear resistance and oil & heat resistant, making it an ideal sealant for various types of applications in the automobile and electrical industry. This material retains all the natural Cork’s properties as well, making it an exceptional material for a range of applications listed below (non-exhaustive list): 

Phelps Industrial Products - Cork Flooring and Acoustic Underlay
  • Industrial flooring, underlayment etc., to anti-vibration insulation in many kinds of machines.
  • Automotive Industry sealing solutions (head gaskets etc,)
  • Many different types of gaskets for Industrial applications
  • Acoustic and noise reduction (anti-vibration) for light & machinery, construction, railways, etc.
  • Gaskets, washers bumpers, spacers, protective pads
  • Anti-slip and impact-resistant, shock absorbing applications
  • Electrical switchgear, electrical transformers sumps, and crank case covers
  • Cork pads for transporting glass and other fragile products.
Phelps Gaskets - Cork Gaskets

Consumer Applications of Cork

  • Bulletin / Notice / Memo Boards: Most common consumer application involving announcements, eye-catching displays, hang up favorite photos and more, which accepts pushpins and tacks for durable sticking. Made of composition cork, the cork maintains its strength even as you frequently change the display.

  • Cork Mat: Have you ever come across a wine cork bath mat? It is a rather creative idea and can change the outlook of any bathroom. You would need a huge number of wine corks for this purpose. Firstly, these will need to be cut into half lengthwise and stuck all together using hot glue. Once that is done, the rows can be transferred onto a shelf liner and the mat will be completed and ready to use!

  • Cork Photo Frames: A cork photo frame or a board could be of great use to an office area. This is the place where a number of pages or other items can be pinned up on. But this would require a photo frame which has a simple design. On to the edges, you can add a few cork pieces and make the borders look good. On the base, you could attach all the necessary items. This project could also prove to be beneficial for a study area in the house.

  • Cork Underlay Flooring: Owing to the fact that it is a thermal and acoustic insulator, it is used for making the floors of homes such that the place is kept warm, quiet and comfortable. It works as a comfortable piece of cushion beneath the feet and can have health benefits as well. Since the floor can bounce back to its original shape, any sort of pressure exerted on the cork layer or indentations does not last long. Thus, cork floorings can work for many decades.

  • Cork Stamps: One of the most useful applications of cork is with the help of cork stamps. This is a great DIY project - all that's needed for this project is a set of corks, a knife, and a sharpie. Make creative designs on the cork piece and with the help of a craft knife, shape out the area around the image. Remove excess material using some ink and the stamp is ready for use!

  • Coasters: Another common application of cork, since it is washable (and does not absorb water or moisture).

  • Cork Key Chains: Talk about good personalized gifts and wine cork keychains perfectly fit the requirement. The process is simple and you can make some creative gifts from these simple wine corks. All you have to do is a screw in the middle of the cork and fit it a chain in order to complete the key chain. Thereafter, you could also make some personalized notes and attach it to the chain. As an addition, small designs carved out on the cork key ring would also give it a good appearance.

  • Cork Magnets: This is yet another innovative use of corks. This can be used for multiple purposes. It is rather convenient to make these products. Once the corks are cut into half, with the help of a glue stick, simply add the magnets to the side of corks and then use it against a piece of paper on the wall.

Phelps has the materials, the equipment, and long standing experience making custom Cork products mentioned above. Call our material experts @ 1-800-876-SEAL and we’d be happy to help with your cork applications. Don’t forget to check-out Phelps’ cork portfolio.

Phelps Industrial Products - Cork Bulletin board, Cork Notice Board
Phelps Cork Coasters
Phelps Acoustic Insulation Cork Flooring and Underlayment


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