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Machining Cork

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Allen Paddock29/01/2014 16:07:52
24 forum posts

I need to turn down some wine bottle corks to fit into the ends of some round 20mm electrical plastic conduit.Do you think a normal cutting tip will work or do you think it will rip the corks to bits.The corks will then need a 10mm hole down the center.Any tips before I go out to the work shop in the next couple of days.

Edited By JasonB on 29/01/2014 16:14:36

Ian P29/01/2014 16:34:30
2526 forum posts
102 photos

Cork in the lathe is not likely to machine well with tools for metal cutting.

Best is to cut with sharp knives. In the case of round holes I would use a short length of steel tube of the correct OD and bore one end with a tapered bore to a very sharp end. If you rotate it whilst pushing it into the cork it will cut a clean hole. You might need to peck at the job and remove the core in stages.

To turn the OD you could use a sanding disk or wheel of some sort to abrade the cork away.

Ian P

Michael Gilligan29/01/2014 16:37:02
18972 forum posts
944 photos

I'm almost certain that normal turning tool will rip the cork to bits.

You need something very sharp, set to cut with a slicing action.

... a Stanley knife blade might do the trick

For the holes; use a Cork Borer [sharp tube], which is/was standard School Chemistry Lab equipment.



Edit: Ian beat me to it.

Edited By Michael Gilligan on 29/01/2014 16:38:47

Rik Shaw29/01/2014 16:41:35
1457 forum posts
396 photos

Having made and bottled quantities of wine and beer in my younger days the best way to get your cork into a tight hole is to pour boiling water on the corks and let them stand a while. This softens them and lets you get them into the bottle / pipe. If they resist simply get the cork in as far as you can, grasp your pipe and push the cork against a rough brick wall (sandface bricks are good) and pushing whilst twisting does the job.

Only problem is that the grades of cork vary so some cork is soft (easily dealt with) and some is hard (more difficult). You can drill cork OK but in the cork factory holes are formed with a punch.

I'd recommend a soft cork up your pipe every time.


Edited By Rik Shaw on 29/01/2014 16:42:34

Russell Eberhardt29/01/2014 16:44:40
2706 forum posts
86 photos
Posted by Ian Phillips on 29/01/2014 16:34:30:In the case of round holes I would use a short length of steel tube of the correct OD and bore one end with a tapered bore to a very sharp end. If you rotate it whilst pushing it into the cork it will cut a clean hole. You might need to peck at the job and remove the core in stages.

You might be able to do something similar using a larger diameter tube on the outside.


Mike29/01/2014 17:22:30
713 forum posts
6 photos

As the maker of many fishing rods, I can assure you that any metal tool, however sharp, will cause cork to rip. The only safe way I found was to bring down the diameter gradually with increasingly fine grades of sandpaper. Use gentle pressure and quite a high speed - and wear a dust mask otherwise you will be blowing the stuff out of your nasal passages for ages.

dcosta29/01/2014 17:42:05
496 forum posts
207 photos

Hello Allen.

I'm Portuguese and, as you may know, Portugal is the main producer of cork. Long ago I saw a movie showing a machine cutting bottle corks and as far as I can recall the tube like knife was rotating. In the movie **HERE** you'll see a working machine cutting bottle corks. The rotating movement is not clear. However you can see in the specifications table of a cutting bottle corks machine **HERE** there is a r.p.m. of " Velocidade das facas 1400 r.p.m." meaning knifes speed of 1400rpm. As I remember the knifes look very much like hollow punches.

Best regards
Dias Costa

mike T29/01/2014 18:24:27
186 forum posts
1 photos

Hello Dias,

Love the video, It would not do to get your fingers mixed up with that cutter.

"Round and round went the b***** great wheel and in and out went the knife of steel"


Jerry Wray29/01/2014 19:36:15
84 forum posts
4 photos

Hi Allen,

Most chemistry labs. used to be equipped with a 'cork softener', I have not seen one for years, but as far as I know chemistry labs no longer use corks.

The softener comprised of two serrated wheels the centre of the small being offset from that of the larger.

By putting the cork into the largest opening and turning with quite some force the cork was squeezed. On removing the cork it was surprising how small a hole it would fit.


Bubble29/01/2014 20:15:45
75 forum posts
6 photos

Hello Allen

Some years ago I made a complete fuel system for the Avro 504 at Shuttleworth.

One item was a pressure relief valve for the fuel tank. This needed a part-hemispherical cork seal about 20 mm diameter to replicate the original item.

I will skip the details of making this (unless anyone is interested). The main point was that all of the machining of the cork was done using a grinder, with a 60 grit grey stone. This produced a very good finish. Try it with a bottle cork on your bench grinder!



Muzzer29/01/2014 21:25:04
2904 forum posts
448 photos

From what has been described above, it sounds as if cork would be very difficult for most of us to machine using single point tools or blades.

I've recently been "machining" some vulcanised natural rubber strips. These are actually snooker table cushions and are very elastic (they need to have a very high coefficient of restitution) and pretty soft. I had to taper them at each end where they merge into the centre and corner pocket areas.

My first thoughts were to try some form of sharp blade (ouch!) but this was clearly not going to work. Even with a very sharp wood chisel and a smart blow, it's impossible to place the cuts anywhere near you need them and blend the surface acceptably. I also tried some very sharp tin snips and the result was pretty awful.

The solution in the end was to hack off the bulk of the material with scissors or snips and then use a belt sander to remove the rest. As you can see from the test piece, you can get a very reasonable result indeed. Believe me, this is a miraculous improvement compared to the first attempts with the cutting tools. Just keep yourself to one side unless you want rubber crumbs everywhere! Of course, this is what the professional snooker table restorers do.

I imagine something similar would work very nicely for cork. If I was planning to "turn" cork, I would probably mount a Dremel tool in the tool post and use a fairly coarse one of those sanding wheels.


soft rubber snooker table cushions.jpg

paul rayner29/01/2014 21:35:29
174 forum posts
46 photos

just a thought for rubber and cork you could try freezing it to make it harder

ive no idea if it works but may be worth a try


HughE29/01/2014 22:28:38
122 forum posts

Paul is spot on

when I started out in engineering we used to make pinch wheels for tape recorders. the rubber was bonded on to the shaft left in a freezer. Then ground down to the correct size finish was perfect May work with cork!


Allen Paddock30/01/2014 09:21:02
24 forum posts

Thanks guys for all the info,I will certainly try some of the methods out to see which is best,Alterntivly I was thinking of turning down some nylon bar to use,If I dont make a very good job with the cork idea.I am a ham radio guy and I am making a 4 meter aerial using 10mm alloy tube inside some 20mm electrical conduit with out it touching the the sides of the plastic tube,So I need something non conductive to hold the alloy tube central inside the 20mm plastic tube.Any way thanks guys.

maurice bennie30/01/2014 09:34:21
164 forum posts
1 photos

Hi Allen why not use rubber bands ?

Michael Gilligan30/01/2014 09:36:36
18972 forum posts
944 photos
Posted by dcosta on 29/01/2014 17:42:05:

... Long ago I saw a movie showing a machine cutting bottle corks and as far as I can recall the tube like knife was rotating. In the movie **HERE** you'll see a working machine cutting bottle corks.



That is astonishing !!

I can't bear to think what damage that machine would to the operator's hand, if he slipped.

Thanks for posting the link.


Ian S C30/01/2014 10:37:02
7468 forum posts
230 photos

Little OT, back in my aviation engineering days we used to fit a rubber seal with a hole though it in the fair leads for the tail wheel control wires, the bits of rubber were about an inch long by an inch wide and D cross section, the corners of the D were first cut with a knife, then finished on a wire wheel. When fitted a split pin was passed through the fair lead, and rubber block. Used to prevent the fertiliser etc., getting in and damaging the control cable.

The wire wheel maybe a bit harsh on cork, I'd try the bench grinder. Ian S C

Phil Whitley31/01/2014 22:22:39
1375 forum posts
147 photos

Could you use one of the synthetic corks that are appearing in our wine bottles?

Andy Gray 102/04/2016 18:54:41
1 forum posts

I recently found myself needing to cut some cork into a cone shape, and after attempting to cut it down with a razor sharp knife, I discovered the best way was simply to chuck it in the lathe and, using a normal right-hand knife carbide tipped tool, machine it down with the speed set at the highest. In my case this was around 2650 rpm, this provided quite satisfactory results with all types of cork, reconstituted ones included.

For boring this also works, however as the bit gets smaller the speed needs to increase (obviously) so as to maintain high speeds at the cutting edge, and beyond some diameters this becomes hard to achieve. As a suggestion if this is the case, perhaps a power drill mounted in some fashion on the tailstock could spin in the opposite direction to the lathe chuck so as to increase the relative speeds between the bit and the work?

Michael Cox 102/04/2016 20:42:12
544 forum posts
27 photos

One of the recent innovation in cork technology is to veneer it into thin sheets. To do this the cork is first impregnated with plastic. It can be veneered into thin sheets that are used to make handbags, purses, wallets, shoes and even skirts. I do not know what process is used for the veneering.


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