Cork is such a great substance. It’s all-natural, biodegradable, a renewable resource, nearly impermeable, buoyant, and bouncy. It is also a good insulator both acoustically and thermally. I could go on and on about the many wonders of cork, but I’ll stop here and direct you to Wikipedia for further reading. You should check it out. Seriously. Cork is great stuff.
My first experience with cork outside of the more familiar wine corks and school bulletin boards was in Portugal, where much of the world’s cork is grown. There cork is used for many things, including (a little randomly) covering this doorway at the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra:
While I think the louvered grates at the top kind of give it away, it does blend more naturally with the surrounding stone than if it had just been painted, so why not, right?
In addition to the cork on this doorway, I actually found some cork oak trees growing in the wild on a very (very!) steep hike up to the castle in Sintra. This is a view of the fortress below the castle:
Getting back to cork: I was surprised by the texture of the bark, which looks like cork when you get close, but also has these really deep ridges: The enormous size of these trees was surprising as well, but I guess since they can live for 300 years, and a cork oak grove on a random hillside where roads and trails are diverted around it must be pretty old, their size makes sense.
One of the best things about cork is that you get a free piece of it with every (or nearly every) bottle of wine you open. I guess that’s more of a benefit of drinking wine than it is an intrinsic characteristic of cork, but the point is, there are a lot of great wine corks out there just waiting to be reused.
While free corks might not be the primary reason most of us consume wine, we all seem to have an inclination to keep these handy, often nicely-printed little mementos, especially if we’re makers, right? I mean they’re so pretty, and useful…or at least they appear to be. Maybe if there were just enough of them?
That’s where I started with this project: I had enough of them. Far more than enough, actually, as I ran out of cute little containers for storing them while envisioning their perfect upcycling project. You know that phrase about necessity being the mother of invention? Well, that’s where we are now, so it’s time to start inventing.
Of course there are plenty of obvious ways to upcycle wine corks, like making a bulletin board, and also some really beautiful and decorative ones, some of which you can see on the Creatorvox Pinterest board. The thing is, I wanted something not only useful and attractive, but also something that would allow me to add corks as I acquired them and not have to wait until they were threatening to take over my apartment.
I started playing around with arranging the corks in my collection into different patterns, looking for inspiration. Just playing around with materials is often a great way to get new ideas, and when I assembled this pattern with the jagged edges, I realized that I was onto something: This pattern, while ordered and linear, has an unfinished, but not unpleasant, edge that makes adding more corks seem obvious, yet not critical. Just what I was looking for. Instead of making an entire cork board all at once, I could start with a chalkboard surface and then add corks to it as they accumulated. Perfect!
I decided to use MDF (medium density fiberboard) for the backing board because it doesn’t curl and has a nice, smooth surface. I had some of the write-on/wipe-off vinyl contact paper leftover from the coffee canister project, but needed to do some tests to make sure it would work in this application. I was curious about how well the contact paper would stick to the MDF and wanted to determine what kind of glue would be necessary to adhere the corks to the contact paper.
Using some of the scrap I had, I tried sticking a piece to the back of the board. It stuck very well, and made a nice, smooth surface. Just in case, I decided to see if I could peel it off again, which also worked well, but not so well I worried that it would peel off once the corks were attached.
Next, I did a little glue test. I have two glues in my drawer of adhesives that claim to work well on ‘all craft materials’ and that are non-toxic. That seemed like a good place to start so I glued a cork using each glue to the test piece of contact paper on the back of the MDF.
Then I waited 24 hours, just to let the glue really set before pulling at the corks to try to remove them. The cork stuck with the Scotch glue was much, much more difficult to remove, and the glue dried clear, so it would work well for this project. Great! Testing done: time to move on to production.
The first step was to cut and stick the contact paper to the front of the MDF board. I knew there would be a seam here because the contact paper is not as large as the board, so it was important to figure out where this seam would be in order to hide it as soon as possible with the corks. If I had planned to fill the board with corks from the bottom to the top, then I would have put the seam close to the bottom. What I had in mind instead was to keep some of the contact paper visible at the top, even after the entire bottom of the board was full of corks. This meant locating the seam towards the top of the board so I could start where I wanted my corks to end and work down from there.
Tip: don’t worry too much about getting the seam exactly straight, or the overlap between the pieces perfectly even, because it will be covered (and no one will see it) soon after you start adding corks.
Next, I cut out the two pieces of contact paper I would need to cover the MDF board completely, each a little bit larger than required. There is really no way to align a large piece of sticky contact paper perfectly with the edge of a board that you hope is square but suspect might be ever-so-slightly off, so don’t worry yourself trying. Just make each piece a bit larger, on all sides, and concentrate on smoothing all of the air bubbles out as you paste the contact paper into place.
Once the contact paper was adhered to the MDF, with a little overlap between the two pieces, I flipped it over and cut off the excess. For this step I used an x-acto knife, a steel ruler, and a self-healing cutting mat (the photo above was taken on white paper, not the mat, to make it easier to see the black contact paper). These are really great basic supplies that will help any maker do a professional-looking job on a variety of cutting projects, so if you can add them to your supply kit, you will be very happy. If you don’t have access to some, or all, of these supplies, very sharp scissors or a utility knife held against the MDF board as a guide will work ok if you go slowly and carefully. Actually, any time you’re cutting, slowly and carefully is a great idea. If you don’t have a self-healing cutting mat, then a piece of cardboard or chipboard will work to protect the substrate from incidental cuts if you don’t press too hard.
The next step was to deal with hanging the organization board. Since the MDF board was really thin, I drilled holes and inserted grommets by which to hang it. MDF tends to fall apart when you do things to it, like saw and drill, so I used a drill bit that was slightly smaller than the grommets. That left room to smooth the jagged edges around the holes without making them too big.
The last step before adding corks was to put tiny measurement markers along the sides and in the center at the top and bottom. I wanted to make sure that as I added corks, which are not at all uniform in size or shape, the whole pattern didn’t accidentally slope or curve. The measurements along the sides, which I did at 3/4″ increments (roughly the width of a cork), make it possible to draw a guideline before each row. The center markers at the top and bottom keep the pattern from starting to skew, which would likely happen if I just estimated the location of the center at each row.
Tip: start adding corks from the center of each row and let any dimensional irregularities work themselves out at the sides where they will be less noticeable.
After that, it was just a matter of drawing a guideline (using the erasable chalkboard marker), finding the center, and gluing the corks in the pattern I had selected.
To keep things nice and straight, I took a break after a few rows to let the glue set a bit. It was a lot of gluing because I had stockpiled so many corks, but I’m looking forward to adding to this board a little at a time going forward.
What you will need:
- Natural corks
- Glue (Scotch Create Tacky Glue works well)
- A board of the size you want that has a smooth surface, like MDF
- Write-on/wipe-off contact paper in the color of your choice
- Contrasting chalkboard marker
- X-acto knife or utility knife
- Steel ruler
- Self-healing cutting mat or other material to use as backing while cutting with the knife
- Grommets, or other hardware, and associated tools, string, wire, etc. for hanging the board
Tips and tricks:
- For a more cohesive look make sure that all of your corks are actual cork and not synthetic. The uniform color and perfect shape of the synthetic corks will stand out in the finished board and not mix well with the variations in shape and tone of the natural cork.
- If you wait until you have a few corks before starting this project, you can play with different patterns before you glue, and choose the one you like best.
- To determine the size of your organization board, you can cut-out or tape-together a piece of paper that is the size you think you want. Then hang that paper where you think you want the board. Change the size and location until you’re happy with it, then use those measurements. Starting with a size that you know you can get, like a pre-cut 2’x2′ piece of MDF from the local hardware store, helps too.
- Before you cut anything with an x-acto or utility knife, look at where you hands, arms, and other body parts are to make sure there is nothing in the way of your cutting path. It is ridiculously easy to hold a steel ruler in place with a finger slightly over the edge of the cutting path without realizing it. So check that your cutting path is clear EVERY TIME before you cut.
- While it was tempting to hang the board with a removable adhesive that would have been completely invisible from the front, like Command Strips or blue tack, MDF has a habit of shedding; consequently, adhesive strips would probably eventually detach, causing the board to fall, so I made holes and used grommets instead.
- For any corks you have leftover, like these two that have no printing and I think would look a little weird with the rest, just bring them to your local cork recycling depot. Don’t know where that is? Didn’t even know such a thing existed? Check out ReCORK.org for a list of locations (there are tons!) in the US and Canada, or check with your local recycling center.
Hope you enjoyed upcycling your corks. Don’t forget to put some fun things on your organization board, too, so you can be inspired when you look at it.
Feel free to leave a comment, or send a picture of your organization board, and don’t forget to follow Creatorvox on Facebook and Twitter for more tips and tricks between posts. Thanks for reading, and happy making!