And Tuning Tattoo Machines

By LunaC 2006

Welcome to the world of tattooing...keep it clean and honest, honor the trade and if you are skilled enough the trade will repay you. That being said, I would like to give back to the of the most frequently asked questions that I recieve is about how to tune and maintain tattoo machines. The problem is that many a tattooist/apprentice buy their rigs already tuned (or so they think) and never bother to adjust more than the tubes and the contact screw, and are too hesitant to tear it all the way down for fear that they'll never get it back together. For many tattooists, "maintenance" means changing the rubber bands. So for those of you who do not know where to start here is my detailed tutorial-if you have any questions mail them to [email protected] with the subject line "Re:Tuning Guide". Good Luck!

P.S. The images are original and were taken by a friend as I rebuilt and tuned my own machine-please disregard the crappy tattoos on my knuckles and trust that they do not reflect my own expertise! Thank you.

A quick explanation of theory:

In order to fully comprehend the marvel that is the tattoo machine, we must understand how it works IN AND OUT. I feel this is a necessary preface for this instruction guide and if you feel you know HOW a tattoo machine works well enough feel free to skip ahead.

Tattoo machines function with electromagnetism, as it may well be known. The coils are magnetised by the electric current running through them, which magnetically attracts the armature bar to them (thus pushing the needle), which disconnects the electricity to the coils, their magnetic feilds collapse and the armature spring pulls the armature back into contact with the contact screw (i.e. electricity) which recharges the coils, the magnetic fields expand and the process repeats, extremely fast-somewhere between 60 and 150 cycles per second. There are a few technical terms that I have to run by you: when you pass electricy through a conductor you create a magnetic field, we learned that in second grade with the battery and the nail with the coiled wire around it picking up paper clips (the same priciple in application in a tattoo machine) and the reverse is also true, that is when you pass a conductor through a magnetic field you produce an electric current in the conductor (a principle applied in DC generators, alternators, etc.). When you have a COIL of wire, however, and introduce an electric current into it, magnetic lines of force (force fields, the rainbow pattern magnets make with iron filings) emerge and "cut through" the coils of wire (or collapse into them when the current is DISCONNECTED as well), which produces a voltage spike in the conductor of the coil which can be damaging to certain sensitive electronics. This principle is called "self induction", as it is a self induced voltage spike. If there are two coils together (as is the case on a tattoo machine) and one is connected or disconnected to power, the magnetic lines of force from that one will also produce a voltage spike in the ADJACENT COIL, a principle called "mutual induction". Both of these principles are constantly interacting on your tattoo machine, creating voltage spikes every time power connects and disconnects for every pulse! That is why you use a capacitor on your machine to make it hit harder: The capacitor serves a few purposes in electronics-it can function as a small battery that only holds a charge for a number of minutes, which is not applied on a tattoo machine. The other functions are Radio Frequency Interference filter (also not applied) and it filters out voltage spikes, which is what it is used for in this application. In this way, it filters out spikes in the voltage that would otherwise create opposing magnetic fields and dull out your machines' performance. Thus the capacitor will make your armature bar drop and bounce back without hesitation due to opposing magnetic fields, which will result in your machine "snapping" or hitting quickly and hard. If your capacitor is too big, your machine will get real loud and ragged sounding, which it may do with a smaller capacitor already -that's okay; as long as it is tuned correctly and you won't be causing any additional stress on your machine. My mentor explained it this way-if you were going to be punctured by a needle, would you prefer it to be on the skin and given pressure enough to pierce the skin, or would you rather it come AT the skin at full speed and "pop" in and back out? The capacitor creates the latter scenario..

Getting Started


Tattoo Machine Tuning

Screwdriver (Most likely a flathead for the coil screws and maybe others, find out which you need) Allen Wrenches (There are probably two different sizes of allen screws, once again find out exactly ones you need first)

Feeler Guage (I like to buy a few as I can use the leaves for coil shims, however you can purchase washers that are of varied thickness for this purpose)

Soldering Iron (If you need to solder anything)

You will also need (1) Straight Armature spring or equivalent device (see shimming the coils)

Note: The machine pictured is a Spaulding & Rogers Puma-good quality and economical value..and it is the most basic tattoo machine design, so it can be applied to almost any type of machine. For those of you with V machines or some other fancy over-complicated hunk of metal, if you can't apply this tutorial then you're on you're own!

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