The TMNT Tattoo Machine.

Here’s a radical tattoo machine.

How to protect your steel/iron tattoo machine parts.

It might be a good idea to treat your steel/iron frames and cores with this 150 year old recipe. Just rub it on and your parts are rust proof.

Linwax is my name for an OLD wood and metal preservative recipe. It’s simple to make and it provides good protection and an excellent tacky feel for wooden handles.

Mix ratio is 1:1:1.
Melt the wax in a double boiler first.
Add the turpentine slowly to the wax.
Then add the linseed oil slowly.
Mix the concoction until it’s uniform in color and consistency. Pour the result into some appropriate container (I used a quart paint can) and let it cool overnight.

The result is a soft waxy product that’s easy to apply and works like a champ.

Tooth Machine.

Recently began building, “The Tooth.” or, “Anthropophagus.” The frame is steel Walker dipped in copper sulfate, cleaned, and then treated with gun oil; then cleaned again. I want to have it wind up as a shader or a color packer. Here are some pictures:

How to build your own good quality tattoo machine lab power supplies for almost free.

As always working with electronics can be dangerous. Fiddling around with electronics is always at your own risk. Now that that part is over…

Here are the two articles to convert old computer ATX power supplies into good tattoo power supplies:

http://boginjr.com/electronics/lv/atx-mod/

and

http://www.thediyprojects.com/page/ATX+to+Lab+Power+Supply

You may also find it easier to use a LM317 kit to do this. They are very cheap; about 7 bucks I think on ebay for a kit.

You should really read these articles and attempt a build of one of these, so you will be better equipped at fixing your expensive lab power supplies when components fail. This will also let you pop open a power supply you are using and you’ll be able to see the quality of construction and components used after completing this project. Is that 100-200 dollar supply really all that great?

I will be doing this project myself and filming/photographing it in detail so I can post it here for later reference.

There are tons of old computer parts in the US. I don’t think you would have to try very hard to find one for free.

Here’s a video from Underground Demagraphix he covers some other points as well:

How to Tell What Kind of Coils Your Tattoo Machine Has.

If you want to know what kind of coils are on your machine. You can easily check by removing them and then checking the ohms with a multimeter.

Use this spec chart to reference what kind of coils you have:

Layers

Ohms

Turns

MW Gauge

Core OD

8 1.5 400 24 0.317 in
10 1.8 460 24 0.317 in
12 2.5 565 24 0.317 in
8 2.1 450 25 0.317 in

NOTE: These specs are in reference to one coil; not a pair of coils. Multiply the values on the chart by a factor of 2. Example: An 8 layer 24awg pair would give a reading of: ~1.5 x 2 = ~3 ohms a pair.

Take your coils off your machine and hold them together with a rubber band so they don’t snap the solder joints and fall apart.

Connect the coil lugs to the positive and negative leads of your multimeter. You should get a reading somewhere near the exact specs on the chart. You will almost never get the exact ohms, because of variations in coil construction and the installed capacitor. If your reading is +/-  ~0.50 ohms of the ideal value your in the safe range. If it is a really high/low number your coils are made from some material other than copper, a weird gauge size, or only have a few layers of wire. Cheap Chinese coils are often wound with aluminum/junk wire, which will give a very high resistance reading when compared to copper. It’s more likely to be a really high number when aluminum or pot metal is used. Copper is primarily used in electronics because it has such low resistance.

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to use your multimeter to check for ohms read this article.

Here’s a cheapo multimeter if you don’t already have one. They have really cheap .99 cent ones that supposedly work like crap, but they may work for taking the ohms of these small coils. Let me know if they do so I can post a link here to a cheaper multimeter.

Tattoo Machine Frames 101.

A decent cast aluminum tattoo machine frame.

The frame is one of the most important parts of the machine. If the frame geometry is out of whack your machine will never run correctly. The above picture is of a decent tattoo machine frame with solid frame geometry.

Tattoo machine frame spring deck or saddle.  With a, “ramped” spring deck.

This is the spring deck or, “saddle.” Notice how this deck is slightly ramped to effect the rear spring tension/stroke. You will see both ramped, flat decks, and decks that can be adjusted. Decks are set up this way with specific machine functions in mind. Note: A flat deck will add zero tension/stroke to the spring assembly; while a ramp will give it some extra tension and change the stroke a little. You want to look at the contact post and spring deck when building a machine for a task you have in mind. (If you need to know what a spring is click here.) (I’ll cover stroke in another article later.)

If the deck is not aligned with the coil heads, tube vice, or/and front binding post. Then it is garbage. This is true for every part. They must all line up. You must start with proper frame geometry or you will never build a machine that will function correctly. That’s what, “frame geometry” is.

The pictured frame above is not made from a magnetic material so it will need a yoke to function properly. (Short article on what a yoke is.)

Good quality cast iron tattoo machine.

Notice that this machine doesn’t need a yoke under the coils. That is because the iron frame acts as a yoke. Also, this machine has a flat spring deck when compared to the first machine frame. Iron is a good solid work horse material, but it is heavy. Iron also is more desirable than steel, as it has double the magnetic capacity and will not retain a residual magnetic field as bad as steel does.

Note the front binding post’s alignment with the front coil. This machine is a more oriented to be a liner. But the spring and contact screw are set in a way that this machine is to be run as a shader. It’s where the spring hits the screw that matters.

If you look at different machines you’ll notice that the front binding post will be set more towards the tube vice, (A little past the front coil and higher up for a longer stroke.) Or back toward the spring deck, (More lined up with the front coil and lowered for a shorter stroke.)

A frame with an adjustable sliding front post. Note the range of motion it provides the contact screw. The picture is set in a long stroke position.

This is because the position of the front post will help determine whether your machine frame would be better set as a shader or a liner. In the picture above the adjustable frame is set to a shading/color position. If you were to push the contact screw back over the front coil it would be a lining position. Of course you can get a machine designed to run as a shader to function as a liner; or a liner frame to shade; but it’s just easier to start off with a frame that was made for what you want to use it for. It’s also why adjustable sliding front posts are a nice feature.

In short: The front post position will effect the, “throw” of your machine. You must pair this with the springs you use, coils/cap, spring tension, and contact gap.

So how do you determine a good frame from a shitty one? Or the noob question, “What is a good tattoo machine to buy?”

This is a piece of shit tattoo machine frame.

Why is it a POS? It’s all dependent on the process used to create the frame. This frame was made by cutting sheet metal and bending it into shape by automated machines. If you look closely you can see how warped this frame is. The frame geometry on these frames will always be warped; making them worthless. Don’t go anywhere near these thin stamped POS frames.

Another piece of shit.

This machine looks solid, but it is in fact a POS. It is made by drilling and bolting three cut pieces together. It isn’t noticeable in the picture, but everything on this machine is out of alignment. The holes are slightly off and the whole thing was carelessly bolted together. You’re going to have unscrew the bolts and get everything into alignment again, then tighten things down; hoping you got it right. Running the machine will vibrate the bolts and cause them to loosen over time. You can see where this is going…

When looking for a frame, start out by looking for a cast frame with a simple practical design. Cast frames carry some of the most desirable qualities. The only decision you have to make is what kind of material the cast frame will be made from. You have different deciding factors when choosing your frame.

EDM wire cut frames can also be good frames. If you’re buying your frame from a Chinese source it’s most likely going to be an EDM wire cut frame. Look for something with clean angles and a solid thickness. You will have a hard time telling a EDMWC frame from a cast frame. So beware of sellers claiming it’s a hand crafted cast frame.

Weight:

The lighter the better. Having the lightest machine possible helps reduce hand strain. Although many people prefer a heavy frame, claiming that the weight absorbs the kinetic vibrations and steadies the line work. Get some machines in your hands and feel them after a needle and tube are loaded. Can you hold that machine for say, 2 hours?

Shape:

A good shape is something well thought out for the machines intended use. Bull dogs, dials, and J frames are solid designs. Anything that has good solid cast construction and straight forward geometric angles. The design will also affect the weight; so go for the most minimalistic designs.

Residual Magnetism:

Over time steel frames will become magnetized. This can cause funky things to happen as the interfering fields can throw off the operation of the machine. This includes any metal that reacts to a magnetic field. It is also one reason why brass/copper is a commonly desired metal in frame construction. Steel is prone to much more Residual magnetism than iron. This is one reason why an iron armature bar and iron coil cores are so desirable. The magnetic field in iron reduces to zero more effectively than steel.

Durability:

Durability of a material is common knowledge. Look out for materials that will rust or bend easily. One of the issues with machines made from non air craft aluminum.

Material:

Brass, iron, steel, copper, and aluminum are really the only materials you want to tinker with. It’s up to you to figure out what traits you want your machine build to have. I’ve seen really bad ideas like wood frames. I don’t think that porous wood with tons of places for bacteria and BBPs to hide should ever be used in a machine. Plus it will vibrate with the wood grain like crazy.

If you want a good quality machine out of the box for very little money I recommend these guys: https://www.internationaltattoosupply.com/

Of course you’re going to have to strip your machine down and set it up to run exactly how you want it to after it arrives. But the frame and all the parts are an incredible deal for the kind of quality they carry in their construction.

Note: I use a lot of pictures of generic machines because I don’t want to piss off the brand name guys. And remember the first thing you should think of when selecting/building parts is can this be sterilized?

NOTE: Yes you can build/find frames that are welded, bolted, etc… that will have excellent frame geometry. Casting is a solid piece that has little room for error when you are buying parts for construction. That’s why it comes out as the top choice.

Here’s a video from Underground Demagraphix that explains some things a bit more in depth:

The Yoke.

Yokes are as basic as it gets. They are just a strip of iron with two holes in it. The yoke gets placed underneath the coils to bridge them together on machines made from materials like brass or any non magnetic reactive metals.

Tattoo machine yoke.

You’re machine may not have a yoke. This is probably because the frame is made from a magnetic reactive metal like iron; so you don’t need a yoke.

And remember that you need a pretty thick yoke. You want it to make a good solid magnetic bridge for your coils so choose a iron one that is as thick as a quarter or as much as your coils and frame will allow. Measure it and see if you can at least make a 2mm thick one work.

Axial Tattoo Machine Capacitors 101.

Start out by watching this video and try to gleam the basics of what a capacitor is.


Here is a simple diagram of how capacitors function.

A couple of axial tattoo machine capacitors. 47uf 35v on the left, and 22uf 35v on the right.

Axial simply referes to the terminal leads being located at the top and bottom of the capacitor.

Axial capacitors can be polarized, non-polarized, and bi-polarized. Polarized will be the easiest to find, plus the cheapest. But you have to take care when soldering the terminal leads to the coils. If you get the + switched with the – the capacitor will short out and fail completely. You can tell which end is + or – by the markings along the casing. Another way to tell is that the + terminal lead will be slightly longer than the negative terminal lead.

Non-polarized axial capacitors can be wired to the coil with the +/- terminals backwards as this is pretty much what non-polarized means.

The voltage rating is simply how high a voltage the capacitor can take before it shorts out and fails. 25v-50v should be fine for most machines. Unless you plan on running your machine at over 25 volts of power.

The uf rating is the most important in regard to tattoo machine set up. Tattoo machines are commonly set up with 22uf for liners, 33uf for custom set ups, and 47uf for shaders/color machines. Experiment with different capacitors and see what effects you can produce.

“The circuit created when you combine a capacitor with the magnetic coils is called a Resonant Tank Circuit. It essentially alternately stores energy in the field of the coils and between the plates of the capacitor. Thus it is creating AC from the DC current. The frequency at which the tank circuit runs is determined by the combination of the coils and the capacitor, change the value of either of them will change the operation frequency of your needle.” -From physicsforums.com

Tattoo Machine O Ring Set Ups. Or, “WTF does this thing do?”

Tattoo machine O rings are used to absorb the kinetic energy in the springs and reduce the vibrations caused by running the machine. Some tattooists do not use them at all, and consider them useless. They’re nothing more than a standard black O ring you can grab at any hardware or tattoo supplier.

You’ll see two types of set ups commonly used for O rings:

A really common set up, is when they stick the O ring in between the front and rear spring and wrap it around the spring saddle screw.
Some people prefer wrapping the O ring under the armature bar instead.

Grab your machine and run it fully loaded as if you were going to practice tattooing, (needle bar, grip tube, and rubber bands.) then try the different set ups; and try it with no O ring to see the difference. Do a couple of lines on your practice material and see what kind of effect it has.