To understand a tattoo machine better let's break it down to nothing. The first things you need to look at are the coils. The tattoo machines heart is the coils. They are nothing more then electro-magnetic coils. A steel shaft wrapped with usually .022 gauge copper wire that has a thin nylon coating on them. The electricity flowing through the wire around the coils pulls the particles of the metal shaft into alignment causing a magnetic field. The steel shaft is solid with the exception of a screw hole in the bottom center to allow it to be fixed to the frame. Most of the time any machine parts will have an 832 thread pattern. This is so more parts are interchangeable. On the outside of the wire is a piece of heat shrink tubing to keep all of the wire nice and tight, topped off with a round piece of cardboard or plastic to hold its shape in both ends attached by a ring clip. In between the wire and the shaft is a thin piece of Teflon tape or cloth to separate the wire from the shaft. Coils come in different configurations measured by how many times the wire wraps around the shaft. One wrap counts as one full wrapping of the wire down, the second wrap is one full wrapping of the wire up, and so on. Do not count up once and down once as one wrap or you will have a coil the size of a baseball. The wire has to be going the same direction or the coils will not work. You can wrap in any direction you like as long as they are both going the same direction. If the two coils are opposing, then this will interfere with the flow of the electricity in one direction which is needed to get the magnetism. If you wrap your own coils then always go from the bottom and end at the bottom. This is why you will always find coils wrapped in counts of even numbers, if it starts at the bottom it has to end at the bottom for the sake of wiring properly. If you decide to be brave and wrap your own coils you can make a jig instead of wrapping by hand. Trust me, wrapping by hand takes for ever. Fix your coils of new wire on a screw at the edge of a work bench. Thread a screw into your coil shaft and put it in a multi-speed electric drill. Make two small holes in the bottom of your round covering disk.
The bottom of the shaft is the side with the treaded hole. Feed the wire through one of the holes leaving at least three inches of wire sticking out for later soldering. Then slowly wind as many wraps as you want while pinching the wire between your fingers to keep tension. Remember to go slow, you will make mistakes and have to back up to correct them. The wires have to be perfectly straight, and can not have any friad spots or kinks. If it's not perfect then they will not work. Also make sure the wraps are even, you do not want to coil to look "pregnant". It needs to have a nice smooth shape to allow the least resistance for the electricity. The amount of magnetism created by the machine is dependant on the amount of electricity cycling through the coil wires. This means that more electricity controls the strength of the machine and has no relevant change on the speed at witch the machine functions. Depending on what the configuration and material of the coils are, each machine will have to use a different amount of electricity to get the same exact amount of magnetic pull.
The most common configuration is a ten wrap set of coils. This is what I recommend for new artists. Coils come in eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, and sixteen wrap. But like needles they will always make bigger. Eight wrap coils are much too weak. You have to turn your power supply up really high and then they get hot at the heavy work load. I have even seen a screw head burn through a pair of gloves while still on my hand. Ten wraps are standard, great for lining and shading. Twelve and fourteen are good for shading with large mags but have a little too much power for lining. You might end up just cutting your client. Any coil bigger than a twelve is equal to a low grade chainsaw, so stay away. Another little trick that was taught to me at a convention involves the screw hole in the coil shaft. When you thread the screw into the shaft there will be a small gap of air inside. If you put a bit of steel wool in the hole before you attach the coils to the frame it will fill that space and give you just a little more bang for your buck. Coil shafts can be made from steel, brass, copper, and iron. There is little difference between the different metals as far as magnetic pull is concerned. My only advice on this subject is to not use aluminum. It's a little too light and will not magnetize nearly as well. Steel coil shafts are the most common.
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