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Outline of female corkCork is a secondary tissue, made up by the whole of dead cells that the oaks naturally produce from the trunk. These cells, joining one another without space within them, create a light but thick compound, at the same time weatherproof and incorruptible, which make the bark gas- and liquid-proof. This is the reason why it’s turned to be the ideal material for several industrial applications. Besides the famous bottle-corks, cork is used to produce excellent thermal-acoustic insulator, floats, gaskets, precious coverings and tapestry and fine alternatives to tiles, marble and wood.
Cork extraction The cork oak grows spontaneously in the mild Sardinian climate and still holds out against the unceasing danger of fire and deforestation. The extraction takes place in summer, when hot and dry climate makes easier the detachment from bark and not before the tree is 25/30 years old and its trunk has reached a girth of at least 60/65 cm. The height of the cut is always in proportion to the size of the plants. The first cork extracted (the male one) is called “sugherone” or male cork; it’s greyish and rough, of low quality and is sent to grinding, to be agglomerated and form panels. This is the first bark product by the tree, that this latter will keep for all its lifetime in the parts of the trunk and in the branches, which doesn’t undergo extraction. From the second extraction and the followings, a different kind of bark will be taken out, it will be first-rate cork and called female, or gentle, cork.
Between two consecutive barkings, there must be a break of at least ten years, during which extraction is strictly forbidden. Cork oak woodCork can be worked after a period’s ripening that goes from a few months to many years. The next stage is to boil cork for about one hour, in a boiler at a very high temperature, to make it flexible and therefore workable. After a further ripening, cork production starts, often targeted to the main aim: the bottle cork. Actually, even if it has to face more and more often the competition of synthetic material, he stands always foremost. Cork market price is determined by several factors: bark age (the farther off the previous extraction, the thicker - and costly - the bark will be); possible impurities which would depreciate its quality; area and climatic exposure of trees.
Quality goes from “First” to “Fourth” level, according to material’s compactness. The reject, represented by inferior quality cork is called “macina” (grindstone) and it’s obviously to be sent to grinding.
Besides the above-mentioned uses of the product in industry and building trade, we can’t forget the production of typical Sardinian souvenir. Moreover a new tissue has been recently patented, completely cork-made, for dresses’ making up.
Once cork manufacturing was organised in stages: extraction, boiling and ripening and the final result is the “quadretto”, from which the bottle cork would later be trimmed, exclusively by hand. This kind of production is nowadays disappearing, owing to the use, more and more widespread, of machines, that make work ten times speedier than before. Suffice it to think that a craftsman of the old school could produce 2000 to 3000 “quadretti” a day, whereas, with machinery help, production exceeds 20.000 pieces a day.
The old craftsman is disappearing, leaving its place to the new technologies that need, anyway, sizeable investments, creating always-new employment opportunities, and certainly this isn’t a marginal factor. The old worker who, sitting at his bench, ground out a great deal of “quadretti” with mathematical precision, and sorted them out according to their size and quality, has nowadays given way to the hollow punch, which is of course handled by skilled hands, and which trims an enormous amount of bottle cork almost ready to be sold.
Going around the many factories in Gallura, you could still be so lucky as to chance upon a “quadrettaio”, the old craftsman, but, unfortunately, the merciless market logic made him more and more a rare sight threatened with extinction. Finally, we would like to remark that most of required machinery to go through the different stages is produced in loco by far-sighted craftsmen, who employed their time and resources, betting again on this wonderful material called cork.


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