Tattoo Machine Mechanics
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With this particular tattoo lesson, I will discuss the importance of knowing your tattoo machine and its mechanics so you may better understand its operation.
Maintenance and repair are the two main points of this tattoo lesson. Learning how to disassemble and reassemble your tattoo machine are key components on how your tattoo machine will run. Not all tattoo machines are the same, so mastering the basics will reduce the likelihood of panicking if your tattoo machine stops working in the middle of a project.
Before you actually begin disassembling your tattoo machine, you will want to examine it and, if necessary, take notes so you have all the correct pieces organized as you begin the disassembly process.
Take a glance at the tattoo machine I have displayed in the photograph above. It is a fully functional tattoo machine; if you need to grab your tattoo machine to see if you find immediate differences between mine and the one you are you using, that is what you should do.
Tattoo Machine Diagram
Above, I have provided a side view of a tattoo machine with the technical terms for each component. The tattoo machine in this image is slightly different than the one I use. The main difference is that there is a yoke on this machine to raise the coils to the appropriate height. I would also refer to the yoke as a shim; that is not considered the technical term, but you get why it is used.
After you have examined your tattoo machine and made any necessary notes or marks (springs mainly), then you are ready to start. Depending on where you purchased your tattoo machine will determine what type of tools you will use to disassemble and reassemble your tattoo machine. The Allen screws used on my tattoo machine are metric, but I have also used machines that used standard measurements; you will need to figure out which screw type that was used to assemble your tattoo machine.
Once you have figured out which screw type you have, select the correct tools needed to disassemble your tattoo machine. Then lay out some paper towels so you can place the tattoo machine parts on it as you begin disassembling it; this will help you keep the parts organized and make reassembling it a cinch.
Note: Make sure you are working on a clean surface so if you drop a part you can easily find it.
How to Disassemble Your Tattoo Machine
Step 1. Remove Contact Post
After you have laid out your paper towels go ahead and loosen your contact post and set screw and remove them. Most set screws can be tightened or loosened by hand or with a flat head screwdriver. After you have removed those parts set them off to the side.
Since the contact post is out of the way it is a good time to remove the small black O-ring that slides underneath the front spring and wraps over the screw head that holds in place the armature bar and front and rear spring together. Something good to look out for is cracks or drying of the O-ring; this will diminish the strength of your spring’s punch, so if you see this, take the time to replace it with a new one.
Step 2. Remove Front Binding Posts
The next thing we want to do is grab your Allen key set or pliers whichever you choose, keeping in mind that we do not want to damage the tattoo machine or any of its working parts. Select the correct Allen key size and loosen the front binding post.
As you prepare to do this, I want you to take a look at how the metal washers are placed and how they are not placed directly in connection with the tattoo machine frame. If the metal washers come into contact with the frame of the tattoo machine, it grounds itself out, making the tattoo machine useless until that problem is corrected.
Almost every tattoo machine has rubber washers that seat against the frame, greatly reducing any chance of grounding issues you might have as you work. Go ahead and remove the front binding post and so that you don’t have any issues losing screws, rethread the screw with the rubber and metal washers back on the binding post you just removed from the tattoo frame.
Step 3. Remove Spring Assembly
With the front binding post now removed, we will now move to removing the Spring Assembly of the machine. The springs of a tattoo machine dictate several factors in operation; springs come in different thicknesses, and the springs of a tattoo machine can be cut in certain ways that generate a different punch or drive of the needle. Ideally, the springs’ that are attached to your tattoo machine are in ready working order and all you have to do is tune it and you are ready to tattoo, but more often than not you may need to make adjustments to the springs themselves (if possible) or replace them.
Cutting a new spring can be daunting for a beginner because you need to closely replicate the spring and certain tools are needed to make an effective spring. Make sure to remove the rear screw of the spring assembly so you don’t have to mess with reattaching the armature bar and front spring as of yet. You do this ONLY if you need to replace a spring.
Step 4. Remove Rear Binding Post
We are now going to remove the rear binding post it is a simple process but again, take a look at how the rear binding post is assembled. You should have rubber washers that are direct contact with the machine's frame, then metal washers on either side of the rubber washers, and then finally the copper or metallic wire connector that is held firmly in place by the screw which goes through the frame and then finally threaded onto the binding post itself. The rear binding post is one of the primary spots of which the tattoo machine receives its power.
Step 5. Remove the Coils
Both the front and rear binding posts have now been removed freeing both wires that come from the coils of the tattoo machine. This means that it is time to remove the coils themselves. Now if you are not familiar with how a coil looks on the inside, imagine taking some thin copper wire and wrap that around a small cylinder of steel using 200 feet each of that copper. You would not think it possible to fit that much wire on such a small cylinder, but it is very possible and that is also how the magnetic energy is created which ultimately drives the tattoo machine.
Now, removing the coils is a simple process. There are two screws that hold the coils in place, one screw each. Go ahead and remove those screws, keeping in mind not to drop either the frame or the coils of the machine once the final screw has been removed.
Set the tattoo machine frame down and take a look at your now removed coils. You should notice a wire for each of the coils that are connected to a small capacitor, the capacitor regulates the power so each of the two coils energy output is equivalent and if a sudden surge of electricity flows through your P.S., the capacitor will blow or pop like a fuse, causing your tattoo machine to lose power in which then you will need to replace either the capacitor or the coils themselves.
Step 6. Remove Tube Vice Assembly
We are now ready to remove the tube vice of the tattoo machine. On this particular tattoo machine I use, it has a simple butterfly screw with a separate tube vice that puts pressure on the tube as the butterfly screw is tightened. This should take just a couple of seconds, and once you are done, take the time and arrange your disassembled tattoo machine in a way that reassembling it will be easier to do.
Now that your tattoo machine is completely disassembled this is the time to examine everything critically and up close. It is also the time to deep clean your machine and change out any parts that need it. Anytime I have to break my tattoo machine down it is the rule of thumb to do a deep clean, and I take good care to be thorough I think you should too.
Note: Once you have your machine tuned and running exactly how you like, do not BREAK it down; BREAK it in and use your fabulously tuned tattoo machine.
I want to add a few things in case someone has questions. Springs are the toughest part of the tattoo machine for most people to understand. So if anyone has a question about adjusting needle depth, or lengthening their machines stroke just leave a comment, I will do my best to explain it and provide some photographs on how to bend and cut your own springs. There is a ton of information I left out but the type of information will be more specific and so will your questions. I look forward to the next lesson and will be talking about dealing with difficult clients.
Thanks for reading!
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© 2012 Jason Goodrow