DIY cork map

Now that I’m living in a stable location and about to start a new, full-time job, I’m trying to make my way through my giant dream list of DIY projects during my remaining free days. This one was much more manageable for our power tool-less household. I wanted a map to hang on a wall that would be both interesting to look at and could serve as a reminder of all the places we’ve traveled, lived, and want to go to in the future, as well as keep track of all the places where we have loved ones. I found this video by the Sorry Girls on how to make a world map out of cork.

The instructions for this project are pretty straightforward. You could probably figure it out yourself (buy cork, print map, cut cork, hang map) without my instructions, but if you’d like, read on for more details about how I made mine.

– X-acto knife (or other sharp craft blade)
– cutting surface (I already had a self-healing mat)
– cork (at least 1/8″ thick)
– a blank map of the world to use as your template
– pins
– glue (optional)
– two-sided tape (or some other material to stick the finished cork map to your wall)

It took me several weeks to find cork here in Ghent. I visited several craft stores and hobby shops and DIY stores, finally finding a few options at Schleiper. I took note of prices and sizes, then put off buying the cork until I had a better idea of how big I wanted my map to be (and how much cork I would need). I found a map template (the Sorry Girls offer one, but I’m a bit of a map snob and I fear judgement from my geography nerd friends {ahem, Robin}, so I found a different one) and used Block Posters to print it out. I did follow the video and rearranged all of the continents to fit into a tighter space… but that later turned out to be a waste of time for my situation. I also labeled and circled some island groups so that I’d later know which islands were which. I mean, could you look at blank map and say, “Oh yeah, these islands right here are all part of the Philippines, but this one is Indonesia. This round blob is Taiwan, while this round blob is Sri Lanka”? No. I also erased a lot of teeny tiny islands. (Sorry, world.)

I figured out that I’d get more cork for my Euro by purchasing a 4-pack of 12″x12″ squares of cork that are about 1/4″ thick, as opposed to a roll of 1/8″-thick cork that was also available. I liked the idea that the map might be a bit sturdier with the thicker cork. I bought two packs (eight pieces in total, 8 square feet in total), figuring that I could use leftovers for another project I have in mind.

I knew I’d probably have a few pieces that would be bigger than one square of cork, so I bought glue to attach them.

I printed out my map several times, trying portrait versus landscape to see which produced the biggest continents (and I messed up my printer’s settings too), then I cut off the margins and laid out my template on top of my eight squares of cork. Then I realized, all of the continents overlapped onto several cork pieces and I was going about this project all wrong. I cut out each continent and every island from my template and arranged it so that, for the most part, each continent got its own piece of cork, and islands could be made from the scraps. This drastically cut down on the amount of gluing I had to do.

With that figured out, I set out cutting the cork. It was hard! Not impossible, obviously, but the cork was tough to cut through. I gave up on any sense of accuracy, rounding out corners, slicing over series of dips and bumps, joining islands, etc. Luckily the roughness of the cork still gives it a realistic look. It could be an actual border (unless you look really closely and you know your geography really well). Still, it took several hours spanned over five days to finish cutting out everything. The thicker pieces of cork definitely made it much trickier to cut any small or skinny pieces, and I had to perform surgery to reattach countries that broke off (Italy and the Korean Peninsula, for example) while I was trying to separate the outline from the cork scraps.

Europe/Asia and Antarctica were the only continents I couldn’t fit onto single squares of cork. Africa is chopped off from Asia on the Egypt/Israel border and North/Central America are separated from South America right at the Panama-Colombia border (yes, I had to look that up just now). I finished with three whole squares that I’m planning on turning into big versions of Pennsylvania (where I’m from), Colorado (where Farrell’s from and a super easy shape!), and Belgium (duh).

Then came the fun part! Also frustrating, but nowhere near as tedious as the actual cutting. I pulled up a map on the computer for reference and set to hanging it up. Again, I wasn’t going for perfect accuracy, but I wanted it to be close. I started with Antarctica. I think if I had to do it over, I would’ve followed the video and started with Eurasia; it seems like a better reference point in hindsight. I had to completely pull down and re-attach North America after realizing that it was tilted way too clockwise for my liking.

The cork is super light. I used double-sided tape that is meant for hanging stuff on walls. It’s padded and thicker than normal double-sided tape and it worked fine for this project.

Next, the pins! I have a box of different colored pins, so I devised a system for four different colors to represent where we’ve lived (yellow), where we’ve visited (light green), where we want to visit (blue), and where our family and friends live (purple).

I love how it turned out! All together, it cost me about 26 Euros to buy the supplies for this. Not bad.

Would you try something like this? Do you have any maps on display in your home, or another way to show off your travels?

5 replies on “DIY cork map”

    1. I have to admit, I didn’t notice the shark in the first photo I took (there are stray toys everywhere, all the time), but I left it in because he’s pretty cute.

  1. my dr. and her husband used M&Ms as rewards for their toddler daughter and geography lessons (they came to my store to buy them). They would ask Emma to identify different countries and if she pointed out the right one she got an M&M.

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