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The wonder of cork - how is cork produced?

Updated: Oct 13, 2019

At KORD we love cork, particularly in furniture and homewares. It is such a beautiful sustainable material to work with and has amazing properties. It is 100% natural and cork leather is of course completely vegan with no chemicals used to produce it. But have you ever wondered how cork is produced? We visited a factory in Portugal earlier this year to discover the amazing process of harvesting cork.

Cork is harvested from the Cork Oak tree, a tree that grows mainly in Portugal and Spain. When the Cork Oak has reached 20 years of age, the bark is stripped from the tree by a skilled cork harvester. Cork expands when the weather is warmer, which makes it easier to harvest without damaging the tree permanently. This is why cork harvesting typically takes place between May and September which also allows the trees to recover over the winter months.

No machines are involved in this process - the cork strippers work together in pairs using handheld axes, one person on the ground and one in the tree. They make cuts at the top and bottom of the trunk and then peel the cork off gently. 

Cork tree bark being harvested by skilled workers
Image courtesy of Conscious Lifestyles Radio Blog

That tree is then marked with a number so that it will not be harvested again for ten years.

The Portuguese tiradors (cork harvesters) typically earn between between €80 and €120 per day, which makes the job one of the highest jobs in the agricultural industry worldwide. The wages are also fixed, rather than being based on them collecting a certain amount of cork, and they receive health care and other benefits as well. 

Unlike other trees, the Cork Oak is the only tree in the world that can be stripped of its bark and not die - thus making the harvesting of cork 100% sustainable. In fact, the same tree can be harvested every 9 years for the lifetime of the tree which is nearly 300 years!

Cork bark strips left in the sun to dry out
Cork bark strips left in the sun to dry out

After they have removed the cork from the tree, the cork is left out for several months to dry in the sun. Next the cork planks are boiled to soften them, and also to clean them. The boiled planks are flatter and easier to work with.

Cork planks that have been flattened by boiling
Image courtesy of

Next the planks are graded and cut into workable pieces for the production of wine bottle corks and many other uses. For cork fabric pieces are then shaved down into very thin sheets -- about the same thickness as tissue paper. To make the cork fabric durable, the sheets are then glued to a cotton/polyester or polyurethane backing. The pieces of cork are sometimes glued onto the backing like patchwork, like the fabric we use in our Hangmatta chair and Hamaka magazine rack.

And while cork is naturally water and dust-resistant, a coating of sealant (non-toxic, non-environmentally-harming) is applied to the cork in the final step of production to keep it from getting dirty.

Cork is an excellent alternative to leather - just as soft, pliable and durable, with the huge benefit of being sustainably cruelty-free. Discover our range of cork pieces on-line now.

Hangmatta sling chair

Hamaka magazine rack

Dart console table

Notera notebook

Cortica clock

#corkdesign #howcorkismade #chairdesign

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