Cork Rail Fail

by Dave Veilleux, VP Business Development –

Currently “Cork Rail” is the de facto standard product on which school designers rely for hanging children’s art, displaying students’ work, mounting wall posters, for use as map rails, and posting staff notifications. But there are multiple reasons to reconsider this type of art rail.

Cork Rail Fasteners 

First and foremost, we must address the safety factor. Cork rail requires sharp objects, such as thumb tacks, push pins, and staples, to be used around children. Where else would that be allowed? At a time when our society is so cautious and concerned with our little ones’ safety in so many other aspects, why would we allow these sharp objects to fall loose or stray from their intended purpose in schools?

Cork Rail Fail, Fasteners 1The staples in the above photo need to be removed at some point. What are the odds every single one will be accounted for? For that matter, why do we use thumb tacks and push pins with middle school cork rails where mischievous middle schoolers can use them in pranks and what have you? Really? Perhaps at the time cork rail became institutionalized, the 1960’s, this was acceptable. But those were simpler times. But now, really? If “Mary” sat on a tack in 1965 she would be embarrassed and there would be a big laugh. Now, if “Mary” sits on a tack there will be an investigation, reports, possible medical services, perhaps even legal matters.

Cork Rail Fail, Fasteners 2

Conclusion: Safety – Cork Rail Fail


Cork Rail Graffiti

As long as we are talking about mischief, let’s talk about graffiti.

Cork Rail Fail, Graffiti 3Since cork is porous, it readily accepts ink and graffiti, leaving the bulletin bar quite unsightly, even if the cork is otherwise in good shape. But let’s consider if the markings are not so innocent. Perhaps they slander or place an innuendo or slur on a particular individual. What choice is there for school administration? Can a sexual slander be tolerated after it has been reported to administration by ”Mary’s” parents?. No, the cork insert must be removed and replaced. This is no small feat, typically. In many cases, cork inserts are held in place by adhesives. The labor cost to replace an insert is significantly more than the cost of the insert itself.

Of course it is not always difficult to have the cork release from the aluminum channel in which it is housed. In fact the cork insert is totally dependent upon a good adhesive bond between porous cork and the non-porous aluminum channel. When facilities personnel attempt to temper the bond between the two materials, or when an end cap required to retain the insert is missing … sometimes there will be a complete failure, as in the following photo.

Cork Rail Fail, Missing Cork 4In this instance the cork rail went missing outright. Easy to remove/replace can mean easy to loose.

Conclusion: Graffiti – Cork Rail Fail


Aging Cork

Let’s now look at another well-known attribute of cork. Over time is dries, and as it dries it shrinks. What is less appreciated is that over the length of a six-foot-long tack rail the cork can shrink by two to four inches. When it does shrink by that amount, considerable tension builds between the cork and track. Eventually the cork will tear loose, typically from the ends and most often where a screw penetrates the cork insert holding an end cap.

This is quite common. In the school where these photos were taken, easily 20% of the existing cork strips had torn free at the ends. We have many other photos that show this dynamic but see the following photos as examples.

Cork Rail Fail, Broken Cork 5Cork Rail Fail, Broken Cork 6

Cork Rail Fail, Broken Cork 7

Cork Rail Fail, Broken Cork 8

It does not take much explaining to appreciate how unsightly this dynamic makes the art rail installation. Also, the overall length of usable cork greatly reduces functionality.

Clearly, in evaluating the cost of cork-based art rails there should be a budget item for periodic replacement of cork that has otherwise survived the other hazards of school display.

Conclusion: Cork Shrinkage – Cork Rail Fail


Aging Cork – Part 2

Closely related to the last point, there is another downside risk associated to aging (drying) cork. It becomes brittle and less able to hold sharps. It wears out.

Cork Rail Fail, Aged Cork 9Cork Rail Fail, Aged Cork 10

The above two photos show how the cork insert will eventually tear away at the surface, and this is particularly common where sharps have been inserted repeatedly. It only makes sense. Most any material can only stand up to so many puncture wounds.

Conclusion: Dry/Brittle Cork – Cork Rail Fail


Cork Rail End Caps

Then there is the matter of end caps. End caps are added to display rails such as you see in many of the above photos to protect the ends of the cork insert. In other instances, the end caps are there to retain the insert when adhesives are not used. But surprisingly, most vendors of cork based map rails do not include the end caps in their quote price. Really? When was the last time you purchased an automobile and the doors were optional? But I digress. In many of the images within this story you see end caps that have been fabricated from a piece of aluminum angle. This indicates the original end cap was never ordered, purposely or as an oversight, or over the years was lost and replaced.

Cork Rail Fail, Original End Cap 11Above is an example of a surviving original equipment end cap. The following image shows how a creative facilities tech has crafted a replacement by hand.

Cork Rail Fail, Replacement End Cap 12Perhaps because of the frequency with which cork must be replaced, and with it the frequent removal and replacement of the end cap, our survey uncovered numerous instances where the end cap and final screw were missing.

Cork Rail Fail 13

This may be because holes and screw inserts in CMU wall construction, which is so common in school construction (as in these photos), do not respond well to repeated use. In several occasions the screws were relocated to an adjacent location where a new hole could be propagated.

Cork Rail Fail, End Cap Hole 14

Cork Rail Fail, End Cap Hole 15

Unfortunately, in those cases the end cap no longer fits. This caused another problem with the cork end being exposed to an abundant supply of curious and prying fingers.

Conclusion: Optional End Caps – Cork Rail Fail


So why is this such a sad state of school design?

Cork rails, display rails, map rails are all the same thing by different names and they have been specified as a part of virtually every k-8 if not k-12 classroom for the last several decades. They are almost as ubiquitous to the classroom as the #2 pencil and more common than is the American flag.

Any A&D professional active in school design can virtually recite the spec for map rail by heart. Certainly any school A&D professional knows where to copy and paste the cork rail spec into the construction project specification on which he/she is working. It is considered generic. Therefore no additional thought is given to it.

There are many, many vendors in position to fulfill that portion of a k-12 construction spec. With the large number of potential vendors comes ferocious price competition. The trickle down of that effect is that long ago any cost that could be stripped out of the product definition, was. As a result, map clips and flag holders are additional options, as you would expect. But mounting hardware and end caps are also not typically included. This all results in what you see above in these sorry photos.

The race to the bottom is ugly. In the effort to get the lowest possible cost for the taxpayer’s dollar, cork rail has been cheapened to the point where it is expensive to own, expensive to maintain, and a significant repetitive cost.

What is needed is a way to provide the same, or better, functionality provided by the all too familiar cork rail … but to avoid the cork. There must be a better solution.


There is a better solution. A solution to Cork Rail Fail.

Enter Casso® Display Rail. Casso Display Rail can teach us a valuable school lesson. It is never too late to learn something new.

Casso Display Rail by AS Hanging Systems replaces cork rail in schools.Casso Display Rail is not cork-based, so there is no use of (or concern with) sharp objects to display items. Also, because it requires no “fasteners”, it is “always ready” for use. There is never the need to remove a collection of staples from the last showings or to locate a fresh supply of thumb tacks. Simply insert flat documents/art into the bottom of the track. There they hang. Effortless!

It is also very tolerant of flat document thickness. It is compatible with single sheets and even 2-ply and 4-ply mat boards up to 1/16 inch thick (2mm). Versatile!

Because the surface is hard anodized satin aluminum and not porous, there is less chance of graffiti or markings adhering to Casso Display Rail, keeping it looking clean and pleasing. Few shinanigans here. It plays nicely!

Since there are no adhesives and no sharps repeatedly puncturing the holding mechanism, there is less wear-and-tear on Casso Display Rail. By the way, if the insert were to fail, replacement is easy. Facility Engineers love this! This is a good time to state Casso Rail ships with all needed mounting hardware and end caps are included. More love!

And the mounting hardware is hidden from view. The sleek lines are permanent so cleaning and dusting is equally carefree. Who doesn’t like that?

As for “map clips”, well, we don’t offer those. Heck, the entire rail is a map-hanging surface. Map clips aren’t needed. Instructors love that!

As you can see from the photo above, objects are mounted into the bottom of Casso Display Rail. The following illustrations show how little fingers built into the gripper mechanism flex to grasp inserted display material. These behave much like the flexible grippers on windshield wipers when wiping a wet surface. The fingers “grab” a little bit more the farther they are pressed against a surface. The thicker the material the harder the fingers grasp, up to 1/16 inch. Easy!

Casso Display Rail Detail Illustration by

What’s that? How would Casso Rail work in a retrofit situation? Fine!

Very often the holes that were drilled into walls to mount cork rail can be repurposed for Casso Display Rail. Casso Rail comes with mounting clips that can be placed along the length of any rail with considerable liberty in placement. But perhaps best of all, Casso Display Rail is wider than is most cork rail. This is an advantage in the replacement market. The wider Casso Display Rail will hide unsightly damage to building walls making the switch over very easy.  Typically there is no need for repainting to mask shadow lines or existing blemishes.

Considering safety, usability, maintenance, and let’s not forget aesthetics, Casso Display Rail clearly receives the highest grade. It exceeds cork rail performance and offers benefits to all stakeholders.

If you are an architect or design professional and are active in the k-12 market, you owe it to your clients and you owe it to your practice to revisit the blind habit of specifying the same old tired cork rail from the 1960’s. Casso Display Rail is the better choice. “Cork Rail is what we have always specified” is no longer acceptable.

If you are the school “owner”, or “owner’s representative”, you owe it to your budget to break away from the old pattern. Cork Rail is not inexpensive. It is cheap. Further, it is expensive to own.

For a Casso Display Rail sample – please contact us.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about how our products can be beneficial in your school project, please contact our Customer Support at, or give us a call at 866 935-6949 (toll free) or at our local number 450 619-7999.

When you hang with AS Hanging Systems, you Hang with the Best®

About the author:

Dave Veilleux, VP Business Development

AS Hanging Systems

Mr. Veilleux has been with AS Hanging Systems for seven years. He heads business development, marketing, and product development. Earlier in his career he was with a major fastener company that predominantly sold products through the DIY/home center channel. He was also instrumental in the introduction of digital cameras to North America.

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