Corkage, Part II: Bouncy Bouncy!

September 8, 2015 — 5 Comments

Many manufacturers offer cork flooring and as with any building material, it’s easy to get lost among a dizzying number of stylistic options. After some research, I went with a company named APC, selecting a style called Eros (on the left) for the playroom and the cheaper Athene (on the right) for the shop.

cork styles

Images from the manufacturer

The flooring boasts impressive technical specifications. Their panels feature “6 coats WEARTOP-ARMOUR HPC super matte finish with anti-slip effect,” which yields a sliding co-efficient of 0.7 and a Class DS rating. Its thermal conductivity is 0.092 W/m.K and its Domestic is Class 23. I have no idea what those specs mean. None whatsoever. But I assume that six coats works better than five, and that Class DS is more desirable than a classy FU.

APC flooring was one of several brands procurable through a local flooring distributor and came highly recommended. At the time, I found a comparison online in which The Comparer submerged cork flooring for several days and afterward, assessed swelling and damage. APC came out on top with the least swelling. I didn’t intend for it to rain from the ceiling in my basement again, but things happen when kids, drinks, and playrooms coincide, and I’ve seen small spills wreak havoc on some floating floors. So I sold some plasma and went with the APC.

acclimating boxes of cork flooring

Acclimating boxes of cork flooring

So what has roughly 18 months of cork flooring been like? Even better than I had expected.

First–the Eros style is gorgeous. I can’t imagine a better surface for a playroom. We looked at carpet squares but as both my son and I are asthmatic, we like the easy-to-clean, fewer-dust-mites bare floors approach better. The cork is soft but has held up very well to some pretty rough play, it absorbs sound, and is great to walk on in the winter due to the radiant floor below it.

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The playroom

As with the woodshop, the flood allowed us the opportunity to rethink many aspects of the playroom, so changing out the carpet was only one of many aesthetic and infrastructural changes we made in the renovation. But I think the floor plays a significant role in making the playroom the new favorite place in the house for the wife, the kids, and the two new-to-us dogs that joined the family last year.

Divided but equal

Divided but equal

In my last post, I detailed at least some of the ways that cork has proven a great choice in the woodshop. Lest the “dent” tests I performed in that post make cork seem indestructible, I should report that I have in fact damaged one spot on the floor (and probably others). Doing so, however, revealed to me just how cool a material cork is. I was routing out a sink cutout in a wooden countertop and forgot to clamp the countertop one of the benches supporting it.

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Routing, Take 2

As I was routing, the countertop (easily 120 lbs or so) slid off the front edge of the bench and dropped on the floor, thankfully missing my feet.

Have you ever seen a countertop bounce?

I have. And when I say “bounce”, I mean bounce. Like an eviscerated Teletubby made of steamed and laminated European beech, this 100+ lb. board literally rebounded off the floor so high that it hit my router, which was still in my hands. Then my router, still spinning, took a nice chunk out of the countertop and threw it back down to the floor. It bounced back up one more time before skittering to a stop.

After carefully turning off the router, I changed my pants, then inspected the floor for damage. I found some: three thin, straight-line gouges – one for each bounce. As with the dent test in the last post, it took considerable effort to first find the “scars”, then to find an angle in which they are visible for the photo below. I know the marks are between my benches, but I can’t find them unless I’m really looking for them.

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Battle Scars

This incident clearly took some of the finish and cork off the floor, but I need to be clear: this incident would have damaged almost any floor. It has taken far less to damage the oak flooring in other parts of the house, and before it was buried alive, the linoleum tile had all manner of scratches and chips on its surface.

The material qualities of cork offer other advantages. Ever drop a furniture assembly on a concrete floor? On cork: it bounces. Ever drop a metal plane onto concrete? On cork: it’ll bounce. I’m confident that you’ve never dropped a just-sharpened edge onto the floor or that your marking knife has never been pushed or rolled off your bench. That stuff just doesn’t happen to a quality person like yourself.

But for the rest of us, I think the ULTIMATE CORK FLOOR DROP TEST is in order. The video below is footage from a highly controlled, professional scientific experiment. Various commonplace woodshop tools are scientifically dropped from a height of about 3 feet above a test (APC) cork flooring panel then inspected for damage via a process known as scientific eyeballing. Do not try this at home if you live on the International Space Station.

As for the cork flooring panel, there was an indentation or cut in the cork for each of these dropped items. Most of those indentations will spring back; some or all of the cuts will close up. Thanks to science, we now know for sure that a cork surface is softer than sharpened tool edges. As regards your tools and parts and so forth, that’s a very good thing.

But really, this is all a rather absurd way to rationalize a non-issue: I don’t really care whether there are dents in my woodshop floor. I don’t baby my shop floor any more than I baby my tools (it’s a user floor). Basically, you can expect a cork floor to behave a lot like a corkboard — the kind you might mount on a classroom or office wall. Sure, when you put a pushpin into a corkboard, it leaves a hole. In most cases, that hole has no aesthetic or functional impact on the corkboard afterward. Now take that corkboard, add six coats of WEARTOP-ARMOUR HPC super matte finish with anti-slip effect, then put it on the floor. Voila: cork floor.

When I renovated the shop, replacing the floor was a big priority for me because I grew to hate the previous floor. All I wanted out of a replacement floor was one that was comfortable and easy on my feet, legs and back; that held up reasonably well, that wasn’t exorbitantly expensive, and looked better than Barney vomit. To date, cork has proven to be all of that and more. If that changes, I’ll eventually emerge from crying for days in a fetal position and let you know.

Shop Panorama

The shop today-ish

Is cork the right selection for you? I can’t say. I think a lot of it comes down to what’s important to you in a woodshop floor and how many rubber sharks you have laying around. Again–my goal for this two-part post was to put at least a few data points on the Intertubes for cork flooring in woodshops. If the information in these posts is helpful to 2.36 other people, then it was worth the effort.

5 responses to Corkage, Part II: Bouncy Bouncy!

  1. I miss my cork-floored kitchen…and will install one at the new place eventually. But I’ll tell you what doesn’t bounce on cork: eggs.

  2. nathanbreidinger September 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    Does it clean up well with a broom or does it require a good vacuuming to get all the saw dust out of the little cervices and pores of cork? Also, I think an experiment is in order to test your theory against Fitz’s. Just to be scientific.

    • The coating on the cork (or some other substance) fills in the gaps. So while the material’s physical qualities are like a corkboard, a cork flooring surface is very different. It’s smooth but has surface variegations that are a little like oak grain.

      Anyway, cleanup is a breeze. I use a broom most of the time. If the dust is really fine I’ll use a vacuum or a wet swiffer-style mop.

      And yeah, I think a shark-egg-floor smackdown is in the cards.

  3. The first time I saw a cork floor, my head nearly exploded. Of course, that was at Gropius House. See article on restoration, here: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/08/garden/the-gropius-house-renovating-a-modern-classic.html

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