The Cat'o Nine Tails was the classical instrument of discipline and punishment among seafarers. The traditional number of 9 tails is still standard (though 5 and 12 tails can also be seen). No other small whip produces such a feeling of being truly whipped in the bottom as the cat (the second whip offering that feeling is the singletail). The sensation is that of sting and disciplining, narrow strands of leather -- often much more painful than a cane, yet less impersonal.
Seasoned masochistic flag-enthusiasts report that well-made leather cats vary in feeling depending on type of leather used, number of tails, lengths and style of the tail-ends. They range from sharply stinging, over soapy cut up to extreme bite, thus a variation of 2-3 cats can easily keep the bottom floating, while creating enough diversion to provide interesting sensations.
All cattails are made for target play, meaning that the handle and fall are well-balanced (if need be shot-loaded) and the individual tails are arranged and made so that the fall lands close together in one spot. With normal-sized cats this spot is about 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter, which allows the experienced Top to e.g. shoot off flakes of wax or hit precisely where (s)he wants.
The important functional variations of cats are:
1. Type of Leather
Cats made of a light leather (kid, sheepskin, etc.) are ideal to start a submissive on cattails, as both impact and sting/cut are not as severe as with heavier leathers. The more severe leather types are water buffalo, cowhide, bullhide, calfhide and kangaroo.
Standard is nappa leather with its smooth surface, which itself can variate from nubuk (slightly abrasive, dull) to glazed (high gloss, very smooth), though the suede cats are also very interesting. Thuddier and naturally heavy, they are naturally abrasive and create a sensitized surface for further play. More than smooth cats the suedes catch the skin when contacting it, giving them an action similar to latexstring whips.
2. Thickness and Weight of Leather
The thinner the leather at high density the more sting. Thicker leather produces more cut and bite instead. Low-density thin leathers (e.g. kid) are light enough to be used on breasts and genitals.
The standard cat is braided without core. With thin leathers this makes for a hollow tube, which is very light in feeling. Up from medium thickness of leather, the classic 4-braid technique creates a solid, slightly stretchable string, which can carry up to extreme endgame play (depending on leather type, e.g. bullhide). However, there is a variant with tails braided over a solid inner core, which is the high end of thud plus cut. These cats are 6-braids.
4. Number of Tails
The classic number is 9 tails. With 5 tails only the cat will be stingier, with 12 thuddier.
5. Endings of Tails
There are 3 different basic tail ends: rounded, flat (or leaf-ended) and open. Flat is the standard (least severe) and looks like a flat leaf, open creates more bite due to the smaller stringy ends, rounded leaves a smooth and pinpoint surface at the end (severest). Additionally tail ends can bear a turkhead knot, situated about half an inch to an inch from the actual end. This knot adds weight to the whip snap and strikes with a narrow, hard and heavy surface -- creating distinct cut and making the cat a whole lot more bloody-minded. Turkheads leave a distinct strike pattern on skin and faciliate bruising.
The basic size of a cat to be used inside a room is 9-10 inches handle length and 18-22 inches fall length, the handle variating from 0.6 to 1.2 inches in thickness. These measures can be slightly adjusted to fit height, power and hand of the wielder. Larger or shorter cats create different effects, larger can be much more severe, smaller can be ideal for special uses (e.g. genital whipping).
Other variations are:
Handle design can be freely chosen. Colors for the handles cover the whole spectrum, the tail colors are restricted to those available for the leather chosen.
Special cats are:
1. Horse Hair
The rough mecate-style rope of harsh hair, weighed by thick turkhead knots stings, rasps and whips at the same time. When applied in a lingering caress it scratches and itches severely.
The classic seafarer Cat of Nine was made out of hemp or cotton rope with turkhead knots. The Catholic Discipline for monks and nuns also was occasionally made out of hemp rope.
An effect cat that caresses and is made out of rabbit fur.
4. Flatbraided Cats
Thuddier than the round-braided variant.