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"special hand-picked cork that is the best of the best"

I have been in the rod business since the early '70s and the Holy Grail of rodmaking always has been finding the perfect cork rings. After many years of searching I came to the obvious conclusion that perfect cork doesn't exist because its a natural product that always has some flaws. Although perfect cork doesn't exist it's possible, with careful selection, to find cork with a minimum of blemishes and to have them very small. Of course, the other side of the coin is finding this beautiful cork at a price that is reasonable.

I have always been interested in how the cork is selected, processed, and graded and think you will be too.

The cork I am selling is a product of Portugal where all the cork I have seen comes from now although Spain used to have a substantial cork industry. It's a product derived from the cork oak tree, Quercus Suber L, a native to the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The amazing trees can live five centuries or more. Cork has been used for hundreds of years as a method of closing containers because it doesn't allow gas or liquid to pass through it and the tannic acid prevents it from deteriorating. The cork slabs are cut from the cork oak tree every nine years and it's actually the bark. All of the bark is not cut from the tree during harvest but a substantial amount is left so the tree can continue to grow and produce the cork bark again.

Cork Oak Trees
Cork Oak Trees
  Cork Oak with Bark Removed
Cork Oak with Bark Removed
Click Photos Above To Enlarge

The harvested bark is then stored at least two months before processing begins. After this storage time the cork slabs are pressed flat on pallets. These pallets are then boiled in water for one hour. The boiling process stabilizes the flattened slabs so they remain flat making it easy to continue the processing. As you can see from the photo the boiling area is very clean. Most cork is used for wine or champagne bottles and there is a natural cork taint called TCA that's a big problem. If the cork is contaminated with it the wine will have an unpleasant taste so they do everything they can to eliminate it by boiling in clean water for one hour.

Cork Bark
Cork Bark
Cork Pallets
Cork Pallets
Boiling Bark
Boiling Bark
Click Photos Above To Enlarge

Two weeks after the boiling process the slabs are ready to start working and my supplier purchases the best quality ones that are also the appropriate thickness for rings. The flat wide slabs are now softer so they are cut into narrower ones that are approximately 4.2" wide and of various lengths. As you can see from the photo at this point the outside is quite rough and the inside isn't perfectly smooth so both top and bottom are cut to make a clear sheet. The cutting machine has two rotating blades that trim the cork in one pass leaving it a little thicker than the finished size needed for rings.

Cork Slabs
Cork Slabs
Slab Cutting Machine
Slab Cutting Machine
Thinning Machine
Thinning Machine
Click Photos Above To Enlarge

Typically for fishing rods this final sheet is then sanded until it's 1/2" thick by specialized sanding machines. This leaves a smooth, flat sheet of cork the correct thickness and ready to cut rings from.

Sanding Machine
Sanding Machine
Sanded Slab
Sanded Slab
Sanded Slab
Sanded Slab
Click Photos Above To Enlarge

The rings are cut from these sheets at the rate of 1-2,000 per hour using a machine called a Broca. The Broca has a very sharp spinning tube the size of the cork that is to be cut from the sheet. The ring size depends upon the size of the hollow cutter. The cutter is pushed forward into the sheet to cut the ring and when it is pulled back the ring is ejected with an internal plunger.

Cork Ring Cutter
Cork Ring Cutter
  Cut Rings
Cut Rings
Click Photos Above To Enlarge

If the corks are solid they are finished otherwise they go to the boring machines which cuts holes with a hollow cutter like the ring cutter.

Boring Machine
Boring Machine
  Bored Rings
Bored Rings
Click Photos Above To Enlarge

Once the cork rings are cut and bored they are ready to be sorted into grades. I didn't realize it but my supplier said there are automatic optical sorters that will sort thousands of rings per hour. However, my supplier does it the old fashioned way looking at thousands of rings and sorting them into the different grades.

There seems to be a wide variety of names for the different grades but the conventional name for the best grade is Flor. I am happy to report that I have found a source that provides me with what I am calling Special Flor. They handle a large volume of Flor grade every month and from these hand-pick my special cork which are the best of the best. I have seen tens of thousands of rings over the years and this is the best quality as it comes that I have ever seen. As you would expect the quantity available is limited but that is acceptable to me as my goal is to provide some very high quality rings to builders, such as myself, who appreciate excellent quality and not to provide rings to everyone.

The rings I have available are 1 1/4" diameter by 1/2" thick with a 1/4" hole, the standard for the industry. They are available in bags of 50 or 100 rings.

I am posting four photos for you to examine. The first two photos show two sets of 100 rings laid out. The third photo shows 200 typical rings together. The last photo is a close-up taken without any regard for picking the best examples. The photos were taken as the cork came out of the bag in a random matter so you only see one side but on average the other side will look the same. As you can see there certainly are some blemishes as you would expect but they tend to be very small so that the cork is very solid and in most cases would need very little, if any, filling.

100 Special Flor Rings Batch 1
100 Special Flor Rings Batch 1
  100 Special Flor Rings Batch 2
100 Special Flor Rings Batch 2
Click Photos Above To Enlarge

200 Special Flor Rings
200 Special Flor Rings
  Random Sample
Random Sample
Click Photos Above To Enlarge

  50 rings $140.00 plus shipping and insurance.
100 rings $260.00 plus shipping and insurance.

More information on ordering and delivery can be found on the price list page and ordering page. Click here to go directly to the order form.

Questions? Contact us:
21505 Norris Road
Manhattan, MT 59741

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Phone: 406.282.7110
Fax: 406.282.7167
tommorganrodsmiths@gmail.com


(Note: rodsmiths@imt.net is no longer a working address)


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