How To Put a Tattoo Machine Together

Written by: Pete
Last Updated:

A tattoo machine is made up of a multitude of complex components. One of the best ways to amplify your skills as a professional tattoo artist is to learn how to assemble a tattoo machine. We’ve put together this handy guide to get you started.

Related: Best Tattoo Machines

Before You Start

Prior to working on your machine, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Ensure the entire area is sanitized, including your hands. You should never work with your machine in an unclean area, or handle your components with unclean hands. After washing your hands and the area properly with antibacterial soap, put gloves on while you are working to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • Get the right tools, clean them, and lay them before you. You will require numerous tools to assemble your tattoo machine, including an Allan key, a screwdriver, and independent tools unique to your brand of machine. You can find the equipment requirements in the information packet of your machine. Make sure you sanitize all these tools before working with them, and have them laid out in an easy-to-access format.
  • Additional needs such as rubber bands, tubes, needles, nipples, and a dime (we’ll explain this later!) will help you be prepared for on-the-spot adjustments. Rubber bands are only necessary for coil machines, which is what we will be focusing on in this article.
  • Are you using a kit or individual parts? A kit usually comes ready for a quick set-up and includes instructions in the box. They can sometimes be of low quality, but are great learning tools for taking apart and putting a machine back together. Remember that if you are working with individual parts, you should read the instructions for each piece.
  • Never use dirty or unsterilized needles, even if you’re just practicing putting your machine together.

How to Put a Tattoo Machine Together From Scratch

Once you’ve laid out your equipment and sanitized your space, it’s time to get started on putting your coil tattoo machine together.

Assemble the Tube

A stainless steel stem, grip, and tip make up the tube. Regardless of what needle you are using in your tube, the setup would be the same.

Connect the stem and the tip to the grip. This is often tightened or loosened (or set) with set screws. Slide the stem into the back end of the grip and tighten the screw to hold it in place. Do the same thing at the other end with the tip. Make sure the tip is set according to the needle size and type you are using.

Only insert just enough of the stem or tip into the grip for screws to secure them in place. If the screws extend or protrude, you need to align the screws in a way that doesn’t damage your gloves as you’re working.

Install the Nipple

Installing the nipple is the component that is attached to the armature bar prior to attaching the needle. If you are using a grommet instead of a nipple, you would attach it to the needle prior to attaching it to the armature bar.

Insert the Needle

Create a very slight bend in the needle, preventing it from jumping around inside its tube when you are working. With the bar on top and the needle pins on the bottom, bend the needle upwards from the middle just slightly; for disposable tubes, less bend is required.

Carefully insert the needle into the tube with the needle pins underneath the bar. Go slowly to ensure you don’t damage your needle pins. If you feel resistance, don’t force the needle and you should instead remove and reinsert the needle, slowly. A damaged needle can severely damage your client’s skin.

Slide the Tube Into the Machine

Slide your tube into your machine with the opening and tip facing upwards through the machine’s vice, which is the hole or grip of the machine. When the tube is inserted about halfway, tighten the vice. Don’t push it too far into the vice or tighten it too much or you won’t be able to grab the needle to attach it to the armature bar.

Attach the Needle to the Nipple

Grabbing the needle, gently pull upwards and attach the eye hole of the needle to the nipple that is sitting on the armature bar. To do so, you slip it over the peg on the end. Be careful not to put too much pressure or strain on the needle or you risk bending or damaging it.

Adjust the Needle Depth

Once the needle is attached to the nipple and armature bar, you can adjust it by slowly moving the tube vertically until you have reached your desired length for how much needle sits outside the tip. If this is difficult, you can loosen the vice.

Attach Rubber Bands

Attach rubber bands to your coils; using two or three while evenly placed ensures that if a band breaks, you won’t risk damaging the work you’re performing. After this, you’re ready to go!

How To Put A Rotary Pen Style Tattoo Machine Together

Rotary pen tattoo machines are much simpler to set up. They require fewer steps to get your machine running.

  • Use a plastic cover over your machine and your clip cord for hygiene purposes.
  • Improve the grip of your machine. This can be done with optional grip purchases, or wrapping the area you will hold with paper towel and tape.
  • Set up a cartridge. Rotary pens come with cartridges that are tubes, reservoirs, and the needle all in one. You merely have to pop them and lock them into place to start working.
  • Adjust the needle depth if necessary. Cartridges are often automatically adjusted, but you can manually adjust the depth of your needle with the twisting of the base of your pen.

After this, you are ready to power on and go!

Assembling the Power Supply

While you won’t be building your power supply, there are certain components necessary to have it running smoothly for your tattooing session.

  1. Check the Power Supply
    Plug in your power supply. Make sure all the buttons are working properly. Ensure the display is clear to read and easy to understand.
  2. Attach the Footswitch
    This is what will power your gun. A power cord connects directly from the footswitch into the power supply.
  3. Connect to the Machine
    Using a clip cord, attach your gun to the machine. There is a very clear indicator on all power supplies as to where this attachment goes.
  4. Test Your Power Supply
    Turn your power supply on and run a simple test. Step on your footswitch, adjust the voltage, and ensure it’s all running smoothly prior to beginning with a client. Vibration should be consistent without stalls or jumping of voltage.

Our Final Thoughts

What may have seemed like a complicated venture prior to starting this article has been broken down for you in simple steps. Setting up a tattoo gun and putting together your tattoo machine merely takes patience and practice. The more you take apart and put together your machine, the faster setup will become.

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