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 IV on expanded page…
My name is Dano Collins, and I’m an electromagnet junkie. 38 years tattooing, six years building handmade custom machines. Published my book on machine building, The Elusive Electromagnet in 2008. You’re only as cool as your machines!
Contact Dano Collins here: www.OldSchoolIrons.com
I started tattooing back in 1989 in a small town (Population 2000-plus), back then equipment and supplies (well anything decent) had to be sourced back to the States, between faxes, wire transfers, lengthy transit times… Things were a nightmare, not to mention high exchange rates. In about ’93 I decided to have a go at making my own machines, milling frames from alloy and having blanks cast for me. At that time I thought anything I could do to build on my machine base and learn from the tools would not go astray, the Net wasn’t around and neither was a lot of information.
I initially made a few machines for myself and dropped some into a studio in a larger city with the purpose of having someone else give me feedback. When I went into the studio a week later I could hear that alloy singing out back, that artist looked at me and said, “Shit, I’m working three-times faster” and his client’s comment sealed it, “And it is a lot less painful.”
I never really got into any serious machine building until about the mid 2000s. The town I came from went through some major business closures, which saw me taking on fulltime employment with tattoo clientele dropping off, I eventually moved my family with work and to this day while tattooing is still a large part of my life, I only tattoo on the very odd occasion through friends studios’.
This drove me deeper into the mechanics of machines and also into expressing art through machines. The Net proved a huge source of information and history. While I curse the Net in many ways, I also applaud it for helping me learn more of the history and of those who helped pave the way: Rogers, Jones, Waters are but three who inspire me. You cannot beat a classic, and blending/bending their styles creates some very nice machines.
In terms of modern inspiration there are many skilled builders out there today, Aaron [Cain] has done some amazing stuff, his mechanics stand out in any line-up, and in a way has probably pushed me in defining my own organic style. While the likes of Mike Pike, Marv, Morgan and the many other talented guys out there just drive me to do better and continually push myself in terms of my cleaner styles.
Contact Rod Tribe here:
As far back as I can remember I’ve had a great love for anything mechanical. My grandfather, being a machinist and watch repairman, got me on the right track. I could read a set of micrometers at about eight years old and sat for hours listening to all of his tricks of the trade, but he was also a good charcoal artist and so was my mom. She spent countless hours sketching with me at the kitchen table. I don’t think she would have if she had only known what I would do with it.
I started out as a scratcher on friend’s when I was about 16. I had a machine I built from a old voltage regulator, they should have broke my hands. The first real shop I went to work at was in 1996 in Longview, Texas. There I had a friend that had an old Jonesy that he thought was the shit, so I was determined to build me one. That started it for me. There was just something I really enjoyed about building these machines.
I build all my own parts except for some screws and washers. That’s the only way I can control the quality of my machines. All of my machines have 99.8 percent pure iron cores this isn’t the same as 1018, don’t be fooled. All of my springs are cut from Swiss Spring Stock. All frames are cast here in house from mostly bronze. Most important of all, I stand behind them. If you have any problem out of them you can reach me and I will take care of it. I really appreciate all of you who have bought machines and made this possible.
I love my job…
It all started in 1977. For the first 10 years I used several good machines, and some not so good. I tried assembling frames I bought from a supply company in kits. Didn’t do too bad, but still felt there was better, and there was… I just couldn’t get my hands on them. I did some castings and put other companies parts on them, I assembled them and they didn’t do too bad. I found a machinist and tattooed him for years. I asked if he would mill a frame for me, he did it and it was awesome. I did five of them and they got dispersed to friends. I kinda lost the feeling about building machines and it took a back-burner to my tattooing. After over three decades of tattooing, I did several guest spots at shops all over the country, went to one, and it was all over… I felt the building-blood boil again.
The rebirth of Dirty Irons was in full swing and I have no plans on stopping. I have a lot of artists over the years to thank for the push and shove, you know who you are, my hat is off to you.
I have been building for two years, and I guess having an engineering background it was a natural progression in my journey as a tattooer. I wanted to understand the machine better and keep the hand-built method alive with the skills I have obtained over the years. There are many builders that have come before me, past and present, and I pay homage to them all. I’ve mainly been influenced by Jensen, Walker and Waters to mention a few.
I now have designs of my own, developing the guts and bolts style, which has become a solid foundation for my path ahead. I guess you could say I’m the older new kid on the block. I have been tattooing for eight years and enjoy every moment of it. I’m currently working at Bisy Tatts in Hobart, Tasmania.
Contact Jeffery Reilly here:
Phone: 0418 910 829
My name is Donnie Irish, I started my tattoo career in 1997 Hayward, CA. I started cutting springs and tuning machines for local tattooers and it just grew from there , I bought a drill press, then a lathe etc… etc… These days I own and operate my shop in Northern California in the city of Rohnert Park.
Contact Donnie Irish here:
True Luck Tattoo: 707-623-2273
Building machines over four years tattooing seven years. I prefer bold American traditional tattooing. My favorite tattooers are: Cap Coleman, Krooked Ken, Clae Welch, Ryan Gagne to name a few building influences would be Percy Waters first and foremost.
I like a lot of the old timers like Jonesy, Wagner, Zies, et cetera -strictly from a design aspect. But there’s a lot of sick builders these days. Most of the builders I’m into these days are friends of mine. So not only do they inspire me but they are my peers as well. Just to name a few of the guys that are doing next level shit: Seth Ciferri, Mike Pike, Donnie Irish… There’s a couple other guys I have been watching lately that I dig like Andy Bolin and Chris Smith [Workhorse Irons]. And I always liked Carl Marx and Ralfy (Ralfy’s handmades) from England as well. Ralfy builds a mean-ass handmade Percy model A.
So as you can see that there are quite a few talented Builders out there, and there is a rich history in the tattoo machine in the last 135 years. Unfortunately there’s only so much space in an article, as I could of gone on and on. But I think this gives you an idea of some of the great builders out there. With all the crap tattoo machines and knockoffs coming out of china it’s good to know that there is a handful good old fashioned machine builders out there, carrying on a tradition, and keeping the tattoo world buzzing along…
[Editor’s note: This was the last installment in Jay Brown’s Machine Builders’ series. Please see earlier posts below for more information on this topic.]
(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.)