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Tattoo Machine Coils/cap'

  1. Oct 15, 2012 #1
    tried to leave this on the appropriate thread but it's locked! hope your not bored of the subject ;) there are some really in depth answers and stuff to be learned.

    i'm (surprise surprise!) a tattooer just getting into the practicality of building machines after a bunch of very expensive machine failures. Just to clarify, capacitors on tattoo machines originally served only one purpose, to minimse the spark at the contact point, to reduce the amount that the tension spring burnt out at the point of contact.

    People like P. Rogers started the big move into finessing machines from non adjustable hammers into finely tuned race cars.

    put simply the size of the coil dictates the time that it takes for the current to travel from one end of the coil to the other and thus the speed of magnetic cycle. more material=slower more powerful magnetic cycle, less material=faster less powerful magnetic cycle. The capacitor is a side issue and anyway there are only a handful of geniune options open.

    I know a bunch of this has been said, but as far as i can tell not in a joined up way. Also one other thing that has been said is that good builders are true artisans (and it must be said without exception Tattooers), and the instruments they create contain a kind of magic. That magic is the result of passed down secrets and what makes them magic is that these secrets have never been defined in a scientific way because they can't.

    Lastly anyone thinking of venturing into what seems a simple task in order to make cash please don't. the instrument concerned is for carrying out what amounts to a minor surgical procedure, the conclusion of which can either be a beautiful tattoo or a life damaging scar. thank you
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  3. Oct 17, 2012 #2


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    I think you need far more knowledge of physics and engineering if you want to progress this. From what you write about the functioning of the machine, you clearly know very little and you would probably be better to buy a new machine.
    Some while ago, I googled "tattooing machines" and I came to the conclusion that it is a world apart from medical engineering. They seem to be designed to look whacky and to make a particular noise which appeals to tattooists and customers, rather than to perform well. Compare what a tattooist uses with the tools that a dentist uses. They both involve similar invasive techniques and are accepted by the clients but the power tools that a dentist uses are well designed and have advanced with available technology. Tattooing machines seem to have changed very little in fifty years or more - in fact the retro look seems to be what people are aiming for. Is it all just a part of the frisson of getting a tattoo?
    Who, in their right mind, would design a precision reciprocating mechanism these days using a 'bell' circuit when there are elegant and cheap methods for accurately controlling frequency and amplitude of a needle oscillation? You could always use a loudspeaker to produce the required sound.
  4. Oct 17, 2012 #3
    thank you so much for your response. your erudite explanation has changed my mind forever. could you pm me your home phone number in cased i should ever need advice about my job again?
  5. Oct 17, 2012 #4


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    I apologise if you are offended but I was in no way impugning your abilities and skill as a tattooist. I was reacting to what you wrote above - which is technically totally inaccurate. Starting with that basis of knowledge of electromagnetism does not give you much hope of success.

    My comments about the tattooing machines which I have read about only reflect what I have read on many websites- namely that there are many really poor examples, that they cost an unjustifiable amount and their design is based on visual (and audible) effect rather than actual performance. There exist many better methods of producing a vibrating needle with better control and predictability. Can you seriously argue that a victorian electric bell mechanism is really the best way of achieving this?

    I may not have changed your mind but, rather than getting cross about what I wrote, I hope that you may take on board my suggestion that there must be a better solution in 2012 than what is used at present. This is an Electrical Engineering forum and mostly it supports advances in the field rather than reactionary non-engineering ideas. There are plenty of non-technical forums that deal in such stuff.
  6. Oct 18, 2012 #5
    to be honest i wasn't really trying to cause a debate, rather clear up a thread that i read a couple of years ago that held a smattering of correct information and a lot of conjecture and guesswork. what i know about Physics in general could be written on the back of a very small BBC2 schedule, like i suspect most tattooers. i have no idea how the maths work out on what i have said about coils but in practice it holds true.

    there are and always have been alternatives. big moves are being made in rotary machines, both electric motor and pneumatic and some tattooers use them to great effect but they are still just trying to make them work as well as a coil machine. much like in the world of cycling they can make a bike lighter by using aluminium, titanium or carbon but they still cant make a bike that responds to use as well as a steel frame which is in essence a big spring with wheels.

    the thing your on about with sound is kind of irrelevant. a well tuned machine has a power band in which the machine is usable, this sweet spot is determined by sound, but whilst the sweet spot is in a general power range it differs for every different person using it depending on factors such hand speed, area of the body being tattooed, type or genre of tattoo being made. as with all aspects of tattooing the variables are infinate.

    we are not luddites either. the truth is that frame geometry was only really looked at in depth in the last 30 or 40 years. it is by no means an exhausted subject. the research and development has been going into perfecting what already exists. i can almost guarantee that at least 90% of the machines you saw on your google search, and the information about them was rubbish. there are a couple of dozen people worldwide who make truley useful machines (actually there is a debate within tattooing about wether they are even machines having only one moving part, rather maybe a device ) everything else is in my opinion junk. it may work well for a month or it may not
  7. Oct 18, 2012 #6


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    That was a nice, positive reply. I'm glad we're not bad friends any more :smile:.

    I am glad to read that there have been some advances. Nothing I read on the websites implied that the machines had advanced since the turn of the century (previous, that is).
    The problem with a machine that has a "sweet spot" or resonance is that it is bound to involve a compromise. The bell mechanism suffers from this. There is no reason why the amplitude and frequency of the vibrations cannot be controlled independently and, if the operator requires an adjustable mass for the machine, that can also be changed. I mentioned Dentists as an example where these things have been considered and, in my nearly 60 years of experience of dentistry, I can testify to continually improved customer experience. There is no reason why a virtually silent hydraulic drive and a very light reciprocating part couldn't be used, giving a vast range of dynamic adjustments (cams and valves etc. could adjust speed over the cycle, as well as rate and amplitude) along with a weighted and a well shaped hand piece. Much more hygenic too! But, of course, the dangerous sounding Buzz and the Ozone smell of the sparks would be missing :wink:.
    Trying to go for improvements to the bell mechanism at this stage can't be a good way forward.
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