floor covering and design...with a fuzzy side

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Where does cork flooring come from and how is it made?

This magnificent tree is called the cork oak tree (Quercus suber).  It typically grows in Northern Africa and Western Europe (namely Portugal and Spain).  This is where cork flooring (and all other cork) comes from.

Every nine years, the outer bark of the trunk and major branches is carefully stripped by hand using a specialized cork axe to remove the outer bark from the tree. Removal of the bark is always done by hand due to the sensitive nature of the removal. Below is a photo of a stripped cork tree.


A cork oak must be 15-25 years old (depending on who you ask) before the first harvest and typically sees 12-13 harvestings in its lifetime.  The bark is harvested in the summer months because the heat and humidity make the cork more pliable.  

Here are two great videos of the harvesting process. (I couldn't choose between the two -they're both very good.)

Once the bark is harvested, it is laid out to dry for several months. 


The cork is then boiled to clean and soften the planks.  The rough outer layer is removed.The best material in the slabs are used for bottle stopper corks (wine corks).
What is left over (the 'scraps') are ground up, mixed with a non-toxic resin binder and molded into large blocks.  The size of the granules and the shape of the grain both play a role in the look and function of the cork.
cork scraps

The blocks are baked in ovens which increases cork's durability as well as changes the color of the cork depending on the length of the bake. The longer the bake, the darker the cork.  The blocks can then be cut to size depending on the end use.

Flooring can be left naturally colored or it can be stained just like a hardwood floor.

The great thing about the cork granules is each one takes up stain differently, just like hardwood floor graining, resulting in some beautiful color patterns.

One feature of cork flooring most people don't know is it can be screened and re-coated many times (just like a solid hardwood floor).  This means once you install your cork floor, you don't have to live with the color forever.  Simply contact a floor refinishing company and they will come screen (remove the top layer, including the stain), stain and re-seal your floor.

Other cool benefits of cork flooring:
  • Can be used over radiant heat systems
  • Can be installed on uneven surfaces
  • Can be installed over existing flooring systems such as wood or linoleum
  • Excellent material to be used on retrofitted buildings
  • Natural insulation material
  • Great performance under heavy furnishings
  • Can be used as underlayment layer for ceramic, wood or stone
  • Superior sound attenuation characteristics
  • Warm, soft underfoot yet durable

So, cork truly is a green product.
  • It is harvested from trees without killing them.  
  • It is sustainable -can harvest numerous times from a single tree.  
  • The flooring recycled from the wine cork scraps.  
  • It can be resurfaced several times.

Below is one last video that does a great job of explaining the flooring manufacturing process from post-harvest to end product.  Worth a look for sure!

 If you have any questions about cork flooring, which types of cork floors Bob Wagner's carries, feel free to contact us


Cork institute of America

Real Cork Floors
Wineanorak (a super-cool online wine magazine)
MDPI (peer-reviewed, open access journals)