Preventative maintenance for cork?

7:11 p.m. on May 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Got me some new trekking poles and they have cork handles. Love it. But I expect that in time they might break down and crack or crumble, especially given the wet-dry salt-sun cycle I'm likely to be putting them through. Anything I can do to help them last? I'm thinking of maybe a light mineral oil rub, or maybe a silicone spray. Bad idea? Don't want slippery handles, of course...hmm.

Your opinions valued, as always!

8:14 p.m. on May 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Assuming it is a good quality cork, I would just use a mild soap and water to keep the cork clean of salt and dirt. Over time the cork will darken and gain a nice patina all on its own. Other than that I would not use any preservatives. Your idea of putting a light coating of mineral oil might soften the glue; try a vegetable based oil instead. Let us know what you decide on.

8:30 p.m. on May 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Music instrument stores have a product specifically intended for cork that is used on woodwind instruments.  You may also try saddle soap, which is primarily lanolin and mink oil.

Ed

10:15 p.m. on May 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Bear in mind that cork is pretty darn tough stuff.  I've worked in the wine industry with it---and have a fly rod with a handle that is easily 25 years old, with heavy use.  No notable damage to date. 

Keep it basically clean...but the stuff is amazing

6:00 a.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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My high end nordic ski poles have a thin layer of cork composite on the grips, and it cracks and pieces work loose gradually. I just buy new grips every 4-5 years. If it's a thin layer of cork like that it's probably not as tough as a more solid cork handle on a fly rod.

I recall that you're supposed to maintain the exposed cork edge of the molded footbeds on Birkenstock sandals with "barge cement", which looks an awful lot like contact cement, so I suppose that might be worth a try, but I don't know how it will affect the look or feel of the grips.

10:48 a.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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I wouldn't use anything but saddle soap to clean them. Having several trekking poles with cork handles(Leki) I would guess the cork grains are mixed with a binder, then thermoformed on a mold. If a tear or nick does occur, you will want something like a dab of waterproof contact cement to reattach. I would not oil them or seal them. The beauty of cork is that it doesn't absorb things, is  a renewable product, and has a great feel. It may darken slight from age and dirt so cleaning or even a very light sanding will be sufficient and they will last a long time.

7:28 p.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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I don't know where I'd be without you guys -- off doing something stupid, probably.

I will leave them be. The cork seems (to my uninformed eyes, anyway) to be very good quality, thick and dense and well-finished. The cork section has plastic bits above and below and the join is perfectly flush. So I'll see what a season's use does to them, and keep the sanding and saddle soap in mind if they look like they need the help.

Thank you all for being there when it's me that needs the help!

4:18 p.m. on May 30, 2013 (EDT)
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I have fly rods over a hundred years old with their original cork grips. Good quality cork is key to a lasting grip.

3:32 p.m. on May 31, 2013 (EDT)
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ed is referring to cork grease...you don't want to use it on this type of cork! just clean it with a mild soapy solution periodically and it should be good to go.

July 22, 2014
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