About Karimoku Cat, Part 2

Through a series of tailored, one-on-one sessions we are learning all about Karimoku Cat. In Part One we covered their heritage and products. Now we are covering the manufacturing process. We find it fascinating. A lot of work goes into these cat trees!

Part Two
Karimoku Cat's Painting Process

I never knew this,
Karimoku Cat Trees are sanded and painted three times!
Wood Varnish Types

The wood in Karimoku Cat Trees is varnished. Why? Because varnish protects the wood, therefore giving it a longer lifespan. Varnish falls under two categories - synthetic and natural.

There are three types of synthetic varnish available to wood furniture makers; Polyurethane, Polyester and Lacquer.

Polyurethane is the most widely used varnish in the world, and it is used by Karimoku Cat on its oak and walnut cat trees. It has excellent properties. Highly durable because it is hard, heat and ultra violet (UV) resistant, water proof, difficult to dirty, and alcohol tolerant. This varnish is completely safe for people and for cats. Region specific, it's not found in European furniture as they don't use synthetic paint.

Karimoku Cat Factory Image
Polyurethane Is Used by Karimoku Cat © 2021 Tomooki Kengaku

Other varnishes are less suited for cat trees, here is why.

Polyester is a very hard varnish, typically found on pianos. This varnish is very hard to remove with sanding. Lacquer provides a very shiny finish but is less durable. It is used on guitars and breaks if dropped.

The most effective varnish in the world for furniture is Urushi, a Japanese Varnish made from tree sap. However it's very expensive therefore, more often used for Japanese bowls and ornamental boxes. Characterised by a wet, shiny look, it is very costly because there are not many trees in the world for this. Additionally, only small quantities of the sap can be harvested at one time as prolonged and excessive sapping can kill a tree.

Oil is a natural varnish too. It permeates the wood and does not sit on top. Therefore it cannot protect wood like other varnishes do. Soap is another natural finish. Wax like, dull (not shiny) and high maintenance are its qualities. It is the preferred varnish for Danish furniture, as it looks great on white woods.

I never knew this,
Oak is a ring-porous wood. Meaning it contains pores (holes in the wood that carry water through the tree—commonly referred to as vessels). Karimoku leaves these holes open so the wood surface is more tactile and authentic.
Karimoku Cat's Painting Process

The wood for Karimoku Cat Trees is (1) machine cut and then (2) hand sanded. Sanding prepares the wood for varnishing and is performed by highly skilled craftspeople. Sanders progress through the company to areas requiring higher sanding skills. They are knowledgeable on different wood and sandpapers. This first sanding is performed quickly on a conveyor.

Karimoku Cat Factory Image
Hand Sanding © 2021 Tomooki Kengaku

(3) A base colour is painted onto the wood. Karimoku has 15 colours all based on wood types. This paint is transparent and is the thickness of a film. Painting is undergone in a "Painting Booth". It's a room with flowing water, which absorbs extra paint.

Karimoku Cat Factory Image
The Painting Booth © 2021 Tomooki Kengaku

(4) The wood product is hung to dry. A hole needs to be made for the hook, and this occurs in an area of wood that will not be visible. As this tiny area will have no paint. A "Clean Room" is used for drying painted wood so no dust collects on the product. Temperature and humidity in the factory is controlled to regulate paint drying.

Karimoku Cat Factory Image
Painted Furniture Drying in Clean Room © 2021 Tomooki Kengaku

(5) The wood is sanded again. Why? Because the first round of sanding creates a fine wood powder that leaves the surface of the wood a little rough. Even after the varnish is applied. This powder is not noticeable by eye but Karimoku sands again because they seek a perfect product. This sanding stage is careful, thus performed off the conveyor as it usually takes an hour to complete.

Karimoku Factory Image
Hand Sanding © 2021 Tomooki Kengaku

(6) Another layer of paint is applied. In this step the craftsperson adjusts the colour of paint by comparing it to samples. This is all done by eye.

(7) The wood is sanded again and (8) a final layer of transparent paint is applied.

I never knew this,
90% of Karimoku products are made to order. They have the craftspeople and equipment to take custom orders.

In our next session we will be learning all about Karimoku's upholstery process. Please look out for Part Three of this blog series.

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