By Jay Brown
As a machine builder these are some of the things I look for in a machine. And I am not saying that this is it, the gospel, this is just the way I look at it. So the other day I thought to myself, “Man, this would make a great article.” As I started listing candidates for the article I found that the list got long really fast. Thus, I decided that I would stop at 28, because it’s as good of a number as any, and it was enough for a broad spectrum of builders. So here it is, 28 tattoo great machine builders… (If I missed anyone don’t be offended, it’s nothing personal, I just had to think of space. Maybe there’ll be additions in a future article?) So without further ado here they are, starting with historical builders, because they were the pioneers and should be recognized first, (plus I’m a history buff) and then moving to present day. Again this is not a Top 10 list, just a list of great builders, hope you enjoy…
PART III on expanded page…
My name is Morgan Pettit, I tattoo and build machines in Sydney, Australia. I’ve been building machines for sale since 2007, but tinkering with machines and building them for myself and friends as long as I’ve been tattooing, which is 16 years. I started building machines because I was inquisitive about the machines that I used on a daily basis. I was frustrated with how badly the machines I was using worked, and the lack of knowledge and misinformation about machines from the people I worked with. Basically, I wasn’t satisfied by the machines I was using every day. I am influenced by Marv [Lerning], Seth Ciferri, Mike Pike, Mike Godfrey, Soba, Austin Riley and many builders from the past like Mike Malone, Paul Rogers, Bill Jones, and a bunch of others
I got into tattooing in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2001, when a buddy and I attended the Richmond convention, that I fell in love with handmade tattoo machines. I ran into Shaun Anderson and he showed me his Mad Bee and J-Frame, and that was pretty much all she wrote. As soon as I got home, I went straight to my neighbor’s shed and searched through his scrap metal and started cutting out parts. It was a total disaster. But I’d never felt such an urge to do something in my entire life.
I think it’s safe to say I’ve always admired and been influenced by Paul Rogers for his creativity and resourcefulness. He had the ability to take the bare minimum of materials and make something extraordinary. So I got online to do more research about his work, and it was then that I crossed paths with Ernie Carafa. For some ungodly reason he took a shine to me and shared some of his stories and info about Paul and his work. I was thrilled to say the least. Ernie was really instrumental in teaching me about metals in general, and passed along so many little important tidbits of information. He made me step back and really think, and that led me to refine the way I was doing a lot of things.
I’d also have to say I’ve been influenced by Percy Waters, mainly for the pure aesthetics of his machines. The shape of his frames have always been really pleasing to my eyes, and that’s a quality I’ve definitely tried to incorporate into my work as well.
Contact Rob here:
I started tattooing when I was 15 years old. My uncle was heavily tattooed and he is the person that intrigued me enough to build my first homemade tattoo machine. It was 1991 or 1992 (I was 15) and I put together one of my Grandmother’s spoons, a racecar motor, a button, an old guitar string and some superglue. I professionally started tattooing in 1997 and began building machines soon after. I met Carson Vester around the year 2000 and he is the one that influenced me the most in tattoo machine building. Along with Carson, other influences are Scott Sylvia, Juan Puente, Seth Ciferri, BJ Soba Johnson, Justin Martinez, Mike Pike, Damon Burns, Kevin Wathke, and all my fellow builders at Workhorse Irons.
My tattoo career started out, like many, with several years of false starts prior to getting my break when I started working with Ernie Gosnell at Lucky Devil South. Ernie had recently relocated from New Orleans where he owned Electric Ladyland, and together we built his second Seattle shop, a street shop, in South Seattle.
In terms of major influences, Ernie has been my true mentor, teaching me all aspects of the tattoo business, and inspiring me to branch out into machine building, sign painting and pin striping. Through working with him and listening to his stories I became interested in the history of tattooers and tattoo machine builders, and started collecting tattoo machines. The first decent machine I tattooed with was a National Deluxe, and with that machine I saw the performance difference better components made.
I started researching everyone’s components and tinkered with refurbishing machines. Because the National Deluxe was, in essence, a Bill Jones “Jonesy” style machine, I researched his formulas and frame alteration ideas that I found in old pamphlets. His geometry and formulas impressed me, as did the similar formulas of Owen Jensen and Mickey Bee. All three of those machine builders kept their machines simple and straight forward, making quality, affordable machines built by working tattooers -that’s the business model that caught my attention.
After a few years I realized that what I brought to the table was my inborn abilities as a tinkerer –I could keep everyone’s machines running. I started to handcraft my own machines in my shed, using a hacksaw to cut the frames, and researching magnets, doorbell motors and metallurgy at the local library.
Eventually, word of these machines spread and my hobby developed into Paco Rollins Tattoo Machines in 2001. After over a decade in the machine business I still rely on happy customers rather than advertising to spread the word about my machines, and purposely keep the business small, limiting distributors so that I can personally maintain the quality that built the reputation of my machines. I currently own Sea Change Tattoo Parlor on Vashon Island, a small island in Puget Sound located between Seattle and Tacoma. I split my time between the tattoo parlor, the machine shop and the road where I’m hosting a series of Machine Tuning and Truing seminars at conventions and tattoo parlors. I’m also spending a lot of time on my newest project, painting tattoo artist travel trunks, as well as constantly designing new custom machines.
I started tattooing 17 years ago, I would screw with my machines in the beginning just to fine-tune them and customize them, and then as the years would past I would build complete machines for whoever was working at the shop at the time. From there it started to snowball into more builds.
I’ve always loved building hot-rods and motorcycles (anything mechanical) so it was natural to just build machines. I’ve only been building complete machines for 10 years. I’m into finding anything old and incorporating it into a custom build, always hitting a flea market or antique store. My influences are endless! There are a bunch of builders out there that grab my attention, all the ones in this article kick ass! I look up to all of them, it’s one of those things where each person has a style I dig.
Contact Mike “Schaf” here:
307 N. Higgins
Missoula, Mt 59802
Blaque Owl Tattoo
307 N. Higgins
Missoula. Mt 59802
I have been collecting tattoo machines since the year I started tattooing, around 1988… I started with the production stuff that was available at that time, then moved on to Micky Sharpz, and they were better. But when I started getting into hand-mades everything changed, tattooing became fun, and there was instant improvement.
So I started buying tons of machines from everyone out there, some ran killer… some didn’t. And I guess just from years of daily tattooing I really started to try to figure out why I loved some of my machines, and why I hated others? So I started cutting my own springs. For me that’s where it started. Soon everyone I knew was having me tune their machines… That led to assembling machines on to frames I could buy from National, Spaulding etc… and I was building them up for friends.
But… Once I started getting hit up by tattooers that I didn’t know… I soon realized that it was lame and unethical to sell machines that were not actually mine, no matter how well they ran. So I invested in a casting of my own, and taught myself to mill. I am not trying to get rich. I tattoo full-time, and don’t want to make machines for a job. I only make around two or three a month and I am happy with that amount. I have so many influences I really don’t know where to start… I guess, Jason Schroder, Brian Hibbard, Jimmy Whitlock, Seth Ciferri, Soba, Mike Pike…. Shit, anyone in this article really.
[Editor's note: The list complied by Jay Brown will be broken up into four separate blog installments.]
(Jay Brown is a tattoo artist, a machine builder and a contributing blogger for TAM. Jay can be found at A Fine Art Tattoo www.gypsy-tattooer.com and Tattoo Machines by “Peg Leg McGee” www.gypsy-tattooer.com/coinshop.)