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The Easy Steps to Set Up a Tattoo Gun

Jan 30, 2008
Every profession has tools of the trade, and the tattoo industry is no exception. All the ink, flash, stencils and needles in the world would be worthless without the tattoo gun. Your tattooist will definitely know what you're talking about when you used the word "gun", but it's a generally thought of as an amateur term. Professionals usually just say "machine" or use the term "iron".

The first tattoo machines where based on something Thomas Edison (that's right, that Thomas Edison) invented in the year 1876 called the Autograph Engraver. The device was originally meant to be an engraving machine. The design was improved upon some years later by a man named Samuel O'Rielly who came up with and needle and rod system and ink reservoir. The modern day machine has evolved quite a lot since O'Rielly's version. The first apparatus resembling the current model was so heavy; it was often mounted to the ceiling with a spring so that the majority of the weight was taken off the tattooist's hand.

The version used today allows for much more precision in depth, saturation, everything. In fact, the art of tattoo application has become so precise that dermapigmentation, or applying permanent cosmetics to the delicate skin of the face and eyelids is possible and popular. The gun works on an alternating current system, similar to a sewing machine. The needle moves between 80 and 150 times per second, speeding up the process, cutting down on skin irritation and allowing the artist to work without moving very much so that his hand remains as steady as possible.

The needles are soldered into tubes in all different numbers and arrangements. The purpose in having a variety of configurations is the same as a more conventional artist having more than one paint brush. Each one produces a different effect. Some are for outlining, some are for shading to varying degrees and some create a solid fill. The general mechanics of a tattoo gun are fairly simply. In fact, some inventive person could put one together at home with parts of things you probably have lying around the house. There are several very good reasons you should never, ever do this, injury and disease to name just two, but since when has that stopped everybody?

* An ink pen
* Guitar string
* A tooth brush, or something similar (you'll see in a minute)
* The eraser from the top of a #2 pencil
* A small, battery operated motor, like what would be in a hand held cassette player
* Tape, or some sort of adhesive to hold it all together
* Some sewing needles

First you take four or five inches of guitar string and bend a little bit toward the end. Next, you remove the tube of ink from the pen. Cut it down to three or four inches long, then remove the brass ball at the end, making sure the opening created is large enough for a needle to pass through. Insert the needle into the tube. Then decapitate the toothbrush. Use a lighter, or some other flame to heat the plastic just until it's soft enough to bend, and then do so in an L shape.

Then, use your adhesive of choice to join the tube/needle combo to the long end of the L. Gently push the eraser onto the motor's shaft, getting it as centered as possible, then attach the motor to the short end of the L. Stick the bent end of the guitar string should be pushed (off center) into the eraser, and the other end should go through the tube and attached to the needle. The thinner the tube, the more control you will have over the gun. Now that you know how to manufacture a tattoo machine, DON'T!
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