Lacquer objects can be beautiful, but creating them is a long and dangerous process. Lacquer is made from the sap of a tree closely related to poison ivy. The oils in the sap, even when converted to vapors during the lacquer-making process, are highly poisonous and can cause extreme rashes. Ironically it is this oil that allows lacquer to form into a hard, waterproof material.
The core is crafted, usually from carved wood in Japan, and then covered at least 20 thin layers of liquid lacquer. One piece, with time for each layer to dry and cure, can take months to finish. Once the lacquer is applied, the surface is buffed and polished using finer and finer abrasives. Finally, surface decoration can be added—often metallic powder is carefully applied to damp lacquer. Paint of colored lacquer can also be applied, or objects like mother of pearl are inlaid.
The lacquer process.
The lacquer tree is related to poison ivy, and both contain the urushiol oil that causes itchy rashes. The red bumps in this picture were caused by a lacquer object that probably wasn't cured correctly.