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Question #1 - What is the History Behind tattooing in North

Most nineteenth century scholars took no interest in Northern American tattooing, but in 1909
the American anthropologist A.T. Sinclair surveyed the land and noted with dismay that; one of
the great difficulties in treating our subjects is that details or even mention of it is so often absent
when the practice at one point was so common. Even the slightest hint is sometimes of value. In
his definitive paper, Tattooing of the American Indians, Sinclair surveyed the records of
tattooing in each geographical region of North America, but in many cases came up only with
fragmentary one liners such as, The Algonquin tribes everywhere seem to have practiced the
custom. Some of the most interesting descriptions of pre-Columbian tattooing in North
American were written by seventeenth century French explorers and missionaries in Eastern
Canada. A typical example is the French explorer Gabriel Sagard- Theodats, account of tattooing
amongst the Hurons, written in 1616; But that which I find a most strange and conspicuous
folly, is that in order to be considered courageous and feared by their enemies (The Hurons) take
the bone of a bird or of a fish which they then sharpen like a razor. They use this to engrave or
decorate their bodies by making many puncture wounds. During this process they exhibit the
most admirable courage and patience. They certainly feel the pain, for they are not insensible,
but they remain motionless and mute while their companions wipe away the blood which runs
from the incisions. Subsequently they rub a black color or powder into the cuts so that the
engraved figures will remain for life and never become effaced. The earliest written records of
American tattooing are found in ships logs, letters, and diaries written by seamen during the
early part of the nineteenth century. In his memoirs of his life, aboard the U.S. Navy frigate in
the 1840s. Herman Melville reported that some of his shipmates excelled in tattooing or
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pricking, as its called in a man-of-war. Each had a small box full of tools and coloring matter,
and they charged so high for their services that at the end of the trip they cleared around $400.
One of the first professional American tattoo artists was C.H. Fellowes, whose design book and
tattooing instruments were discovered in 1966 by a Rhode Island antique dealer, and are now in
the collection of the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. Fellowes left no other
record of his life or his art behind. A thorough search of the nineteenth century insensible, but
they remain motionless and mute while their companions wipe away the blood which runs from
the incisions. Subsequently they rub a black color or powder into the cuts so that the engraved
figures will remain for life and never become effaced.
The earliest written records of American tattooing are found in ships logs, letters, and diaries
written by seamen during the early part of the nineteenth century. In his memoirs of his life
aboard a U.S. Navy frigate in the 1840s. Herman Melville reported that some of his shipmates
excelled in tattooing or pricking, as its called in a man-of-war. Each had a small box full of tools
and coloring matter, and they charged so high for their services that at the end of the trip they
cleared around $400.
One of the first professional American tattoo artists was C.H. Fellowes, whose design book and
tattooing instruments were discovered in 1966 by a Rhode Island antique dealer, and are now in
the collection of the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. Fellowes left no other
record of his life or his art behind. A thorough search of the nineteenth century business
directories failed to reveal his name, and it is probable that he followed the fleet and practiced his
art aboard the ship and in various ports.
His book contains over a hundred designs in both red and black ink, many of which are
ambitious compositions featuring religious, patriotic and nautical themes. Several of these are of
special interest because they commemorate specific naval engagements which occurred during
the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. One of the great naval battles of the Civil War was
illustrated in a drawing which shows the Northern Warship, Kearsage with guns blazing as a
Southern vessel, the Alabama, sinks slowly in flames. According to contemporary accounts, the
crew and officers of the, Kearsage had stars tattooed on their foreheads to celebrate their
victories over the, Alabama.
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Question #2 - What is a tattoo machine and how does it work?
Understanding your tattoo machines may take a while to accomplish, but understanding how
they run and how you can change the way it runs, by making little tweaks to it to make it run
better for you will make your job as a tattoo artist easier once this is accomplished. The actual
process of tattooing has changed only minimally over the last one hundred and Nineteen years.
The electric tattoo machine invented by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891 has been modified only
marginally, and the inks used in the process slightly diversified (i.e., range and quality of colors).
For the most part, though, the ways in which tattoos are administered around the world are barely
different than in previous eras. Let's focus, as an example, on the tattoo machine, which operates
roughly like a sewing machine. A needle, or a combination of needles, is soldered onto a bar that
is cased in a steel tube. The tube is attached to a bar running underneath the coils of the Tattoo
machine that regulate the current supplied by the external power source. When electric current is
sent into the machine, the needles rapidly move up and down through the tube, slightly poking
out of its tip. The tattoo machine is held in the hand, the artist dips the tips of the needles into
colors stored in small ink caps, and the machine is moved across the skin to Perform the
tattooing. The needles penetrate the skin (anywhere from 500 to 3000 times per minute), and ink
seeps into the subcutaneous holes created by the needles. Perforating the skin up to about 1/8
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inch, the needles are pushed deep enough into the skin to prevent expect the ink from bleeding
out, but not so deep as to mask the ink's appearance through layers of thick skin. With the
exception of individuals who choose tribal methods of tattooing (i.e. hand-poking or tapping,
where larger needles are inserted into the skin manually) or tin are tattooed in some prison
contexts (i.e., using a crude variation on hand-poking or a makeshift electric 'tattoo gun') How a
tattoo machine is running is referred to as machine function or machine set- up.
There are two factors that describe machine function. They are:
The speed of the machine
The force of the machine
The required speed of a machine is determined by the tattooing process being done. An outlining
machine runs faster than a machine used for coloring. A machine used for shading runs at a speed
somewhere between the two and the three marks. The exact speed at which a machine should run
is dependent upon each tattoo artist's style and personal preferences.
The required force of a machine is determined by the needle configuration being used. Closely
spaced needle configurations require more force. Needle configurations with more or larger
diameter needles require more force. Needle configurations made of short taper needles require
more force than similar configurations made of long taper needles. Machine function is the
working outcome of the combination of the parts and adjustments that are present on specific
machine set-up any alteration to machine function becomes complex due to the interactions of
the machine systems.
There are two basic categories of machine adjustments. They are:
Set-up adjustments
Fine-tuning adjustments.
Set-up adjustments are made to establish the speed and force (function) of the machine. Fine-
tuning adjustments are made to balance the relationships of the machine systems.
There are two set-up adjustments on a machine. They are:
Stroke length
Spring compression
The stroke length of a machine is determined by the distance of travel of the armature bar from
its highest point to its lowest while the machine is running. Spring compression is the term used
to describe the interaction and combined effect of main spring return force and timing spring
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Main spring return force is made up of a combination of three factors. They are:
The main spring dimensions Main spring angle of deflection Main spring tension.
Timing spring resistance is established by the dimensions of the timing spring.
There are two fine-tuning adjustments on a machine. They are:
Rubber band tension air gap
Point gap balance.
Set-up adjustments must be made with consideration of the effect those changes will have on the
interactions of the machine's mechanical, magnetic and electrical systems. If the machine's
systems are so far out of synchronization that fine-tuning adjustments cannot bring the three
systems into balance, then changes must be made to set-up adjustments or parts must be changed
to get the machine to function properly.
A tattoo machine has three systems that must work together for the machine to function properly.
The three systems of a tattoo machine are:
The mechanical system
The magnetic system
The electrical system
The mechanical system consists of:
The springs
The armature bar
The machine frame
The magnetic system consists of:
The coil cores
The yoke or base of the frame
The coil shims
The armature bar
The electrical system consists of:
The coil windings
The capacitor
The binding posts and contact point screw
The springs
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The objective of any proper machine set-up is to achieve synchronization of the machine's three
systems while controlling the speed and force (function) of the machine. There are three different
size coils being used in tattoo machines. The first is the eight wrap coil. (Wrap meaning how
many layers of wire are wrapped around the center core of the coil) The second is the ten wrap
coil. The last is a twelve wrap coil. The eight wrap coil is used mostly when doing an outline
with a one, three, four, and a five needle outliner. I would not recommend using an eight wrap
coil outliner machine when doing larger outline work such as when an eight or fourteen needle
outline is called for. You would have to increase the voltage (by turning the power supply up)
which would in effect increase amperage. When you increase amperage more power is being
used and an 8 wrap coil is too small to dissipate (give off) the heat. This condition would make
the tattoo machine run hotter and even possibly cause the machine timing to break up and cause
an uneven outline. When you are going to use an eight or fourteen needle outliner, I would
recommend using an eight or ten wrap coil tattoo machine.
When you think about it...the more needles on the needle bar...the more skin you have to
puncture...the more skin you have to puncture the greater resistance...and the greater resistance
the stronger the tattoo machine you need. When you increase the power on your power supply
the needles don't go up and down any faster, the magnetic field is increased, which draws down
the needle down harder and allows the skin to be punctured more easily. This is what appears to
make the ink go in faster. The same principal applies with a ten wrap coil shader tattoo machine.
If you are going to use a four, five, or six needle shader then a ten wrap coil tattoo machine is
just fine, but if you are going to use an eleven through seventeen needle magnum tattoo needle
then I would suggest using a twelve wrap coil tattoo machine.
Question #3 - What is the Yoke For On my tattoo machine?
A Machine Yoke is the part of the machine that the coils bolt to. Some machines have thicker
frames to accommodate this and some have a separate piece of metal that fits between the frame
and coils. The idea is a thick piece of metal to connect the power of the coils. Think of the coil
heads power as a percentage. You have two coils, each with a north and a south. Think as if each
coil is a stick magnet. It has the capacity to pull one-hundred percent of its power, so north is
fifty percent and south is fifty percent. This means that each coil has a north and a south so with
the two coils combined you have a two hundred percent possibility of power. The tops of the
coils are where your armature bar is attracted to so without a Yoke you can only achieve one
hundred percent of power, fifty percent from each coil. With a yoke, you turn your coils that are
basically stick magnets into a single horseshoe magnet. This connects the two and makes a single
much stronger magnet. For the best performance you want the frame base and the machine yoke
combined to be the same thickness as the coil shaft. Magnetism is a really cool part of physics.
What makes a metal object magnetic is nickel, or the alignment of the particles of the nickel.
This is why stainless steel (316 LVM steel) is not attracted to magnets, it has a low volume of
nickel. Most people assume that metals like gold and surgical steel have no nickel but the only
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metals that have no nickel are platinum, palladium, and titanium. Low nickel metal is the result
of annealed metal. Annealing is the controlled heating and cooling of metal to make it more
flexible. During this process most of the nickel content is removed from the metal. Magnetism is
achieved one way, by lining up the particles of a piece of metal so they all go in one direction.
You can take a strong magnet and rub it on a piece of metal in one direction so the pull of the
magnet lines up the particles of metal in the not magnetized piece. This will make an ordinary
piece of metal lightly magnetized. The more you do this the more it's magnetized. Electro-
magnetic coils like the ones found in a tattoo machine are pieces of metal wrapped in wire all
going the same direction. As the electric current circulates through the wire the particles of the
metal are forced to follow the path of electricity causing them to line up in the same direction.
This electric current forces the metal shaft to become magnetic. The north and the south of the
magnet are determined by the direction of the flowing electricity. The beginning of the current or
where the current came from is the south and the north is the other end or where it's going. This
is why the polarity of an electromagnet will change if you reverse the connection of the power
source and why a tattoo machine will work not matter which way you attach the clip cord. No
matter the polarity it's still magnetic. The magnetic energy is flowing from one coil through the
Yoke and frame to the other coil. Now one top coil head will be the north and the other the south.
Like a horseshoe magnet the top heads only are magnetic so much more force can pull on the
armature bar making a stronger stroke. Now each head has a one-hundred percent pull and a
combined effort of two-hundred percent. This is why only the heads are magnetic and not the
sides with the Screws on them. This makes for a much more powerful machine. Machines with
an actual yoke or a thicker base plate will always be stronger than a thin framed machine without
a yoke. Also the strength of the stroke or magnetic pull will be affected by the type of metal the
machine is made of. Copper is much more conductive than aluminum so the copper machine will
have a stronger pull.
Question #4 - How do the armature bar and spring assembly
work On my tattoo machine?
The rest of the machine is pretty simple. Above the coils you have the armature bar. This is a
rectangular piece of metal that has a screw hole in one side and a small shaft sticking out of the
other. The small shaft it called an armature nipple. This is where you put the grommet and then
the needle loop attaching the needle to the machine. The armature bar is the piece that the coil
heads magnetically attract making the oscillating motion. A cool trick I have used for years it to
take the bottom of your armature bar and apply two layers of masking tape. Trim the masking
tape with a razor to the exact size to the armature bar. Never use more than two layers because
the machine will lose its magnetic pull and weaken the stroke. The application of the masking
tape does three things. It quiets down the machine because it acts like a damper between the
armature bar and the coils heads. It protects the armature bar against unnecessary ware, and it
also acts like another shock absorber smoothing out the performance of your machine. Its
amazing what a difference it makes. Most commonly the armature bars sold on the market are
made from cold rolled steel and are nickel plated. Some have been made of many materials but
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this seems to have little effect on the performance of a machine. Most commonly, armature bars
weight about thirteen grams and are 1 3/8 inches long, 3/8 of an inch wide and 1/16 or an inch
thick. The armature nipple or armature pin is around 1/8 of an inch thick and 1/4 to 3/16 of an
inch long. Armature bars are also threaded with an 8-32 thread pattern. There are a few different
shapes of armature bars out there. The most standard is a rectangle shape. Though many shapes
have been experimented with over the years they have all come to one conclusion. A lighter bar
if faster and a heavier bar in slower. The addition of weight means that the gap closing time is
longer, more weight to move. Faster is better for lining where slower movement is better for
shading. Basically, the job of the armature bar is to hold the needle loop and establish the speed
of the machine, not to be confused with strength.
Attached to the armature bar and the frame are the springs. The back spring is the spring that
attaches the armature bar to the frame. The front spring is attached to the armature bar but on top
of the back spring, and is the point of contact for the contact screw. This is the one that sticks
upward. The back spring is usually on the armature bar first, then the front spring, washer, and
last the screw head. Some artist do prefer to place the front spring on the armature bar first then
the back spring. Just keep in mind that placing the front spring on the armature bar first will
lower your spring assembly the width of the spring its self. The front spring combined with the
armature bar will establish the speed at which the machine will run. The back spring will
determine the strength in which the machine will hit and basically determine the efficiency at
which the front spring functions. There are many different gauges of springs, and what you use
will determine how your machine works. I cant just say use this because its something you
will have to determine by what works best for you. A stiffer or hard front spring will only stay
closed (the amount of time it touches the contact screw) for a short time while a lighter of softer
front spring will stay closed longer. The softer more flexible front spring has bowing effect when
it hits the contacts screw. As it hits it will flex to a certain point, then it has to flex the exact same
amount before disengaging from the contact screw. This causes a longer closed time. So you can
see that a stiffer spring has less flex therefore less time closed. The average measurement of the
front spring is 1 12 inches tall, 12 inch wide, and is tapered from 12 inch up the spring to the
tip. So the taper will be one inch long leaving a spring base of 12 inch. The taper makes the front
spring more flexible allowing for the proper closed time, it also acts like a buffer allowing the
smoother operation of the machine. The front spring screw hole should be drilled at 5/16 on an
inch from the bottom and centered. Most front springs will come flat from the supplier so you
will have to but a bend in it yourself.
There are two methods of though on this subject; The first is called rolling, this is where you
bend the spring using just your fingers. Rolling leaves no clear line of angle so it is impossible to
get the proper angel of bend every time. The second method is creasing. This is strongly
recommended! The easiest way of doing this is by taking a pair of pliers and grabbing the back
by the fork (where the screw goes). Make sure your grip is a little toward the tip, or in front of
the fork. Level the pliers to the back and slightly bend upward.
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The crease should be exactly 12 of an inch forward leaving 1 inch bent. You want a bend of 15
degrees for the best performance. You can measure the degree with a simple protractor. The back
spring is measured 12 inch wide, 1 12 inch tall, and will have two holes measured at 5/16 and 1
1/16 of an inch from the bottom. The back spring will have no taper. Once the back spring is
attached to the armature bar and the spring saddle on the frame, you will have to bend the back
spring to give a 4mm air gap from the bottom of the armature bar to the top of the front coil. This
must be 4mm without anything touching the front spring; it should stand at 4mm on its own.
Sometimes there isnt enough room for the armature bar to move away from the coils heads. This
can be fixed by putting a thin washer between the spring saddle and the back spring. This will
provide a better back pressure for the stroke of the machine.
The measured distance of the back spring once on the machine is actually the distance from the
armature bar to the spring saddle; this is because this is the only section of spring that will be
flexible do to the rest being tightened down to the machine. Really, to get the best operation of a
tattoo machine, the armature bar, front spring and back spring should be view
as one component simple because the three part working together is the basic function of the
machine, and all three parts have to work in unison. Some examples of voltage versus spring
gauge in my opinion. Front Spring Rear Spring Coil to A Bar gap Voltage Use .013 .015 3mm
6.5 .014 . 016 2.4mm 5.6 Grey shading, .016 .016 2mm 5 Color Shading, .022 (standard) .019
(standard) 5.4 Darker lining .019 .019 2mm 5 Softer lining When putting this assembly
together, remember that the easiest way to make sure its set right is to look inside the tube hole
back at the armature nipple, kind of like a gun sight. The armature nipple should be the full
length of the hole. If you see more of the armature bar then you need to move the armature bar
closer to the spring saddle or the back spring closer to the spring saddle. Sometimes you need to
adjust both to get it just right. Make sure that your armature bar is directly over top of your coils
head as well, if its a little to the right or left the needle bar will rub the side of the tube causing
the needle to shake. You can also make an armature adjustment tool by cutting a slot wide
enough for the armature nipple in the end of an old or unused tube. Then slide the cut tube into
the vice, all the way to the armature bar till the armature nipple fits in the slot.
Question #5 - How do i clean my tattoo machine?
When machine cleaning the entire machine should be disassembled. You Want to rubber band the
coils together. If you move them too much you will Weaken the coil wires until they break. Lay
every part of the machine on a Paper towel then spray with your bleach and water mix. Let them
soak for About a minute to ensure and viruses are killed. After soaking, clean every part of the
machine with a paper towel and rubbing alcohol. Make sure to get all of the bleach off because it
will make your machine rust. Remove any rust or rough surfaces with a high grit sandpaper such
as 2000 grit. Use the same sand paper to polish your coil heads and tip of your contact screw. I
Personally prefer a buffing wheel, like you find on a grinder. If any screw or washers have any
rust on them, then you need to replace them. Apply new masking tape on the armature bar, if you
choose. Then reassemble your machine. Be careful not to force any of the screws, you dont want
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to strip them or scar up the metal. Always use the proper tools, if you try to force something or
rig up something that doesnt belong there, you will damage something.
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