When things just don’t seem to be going well all you need is a bigger hammer right? Well that seems to be what the engineers think anyway. A tattoo machine is a tool, a tool with a specific function. We as tattooers are the craftsmen that use those tools, and they either work or they don’t right? Well no, you’re going to have varying degrees of success with every tool. It’s the job of the engineers to dial that tool in for peak performance. There are many ways of changing the characteristics of a tattoo machine to change the performance. I am going to explain the favorite and most common feature I’ve seen made to machines to obtain “optimal” or “peak” performance.
The title may suggest where I’m going with this. The most common trend I see in the latest greatest tattoo machines are harder hitting, or high torque machines. I distinguish between the two because they are not the same. So when is “ a bigger hammer” the right tool for the job? Well that’s the thing with bigger hammers, they’re rarely the right tool for the job. Roll your sleeves up, lets get in to it.
Your linework isn’t solid and your color isn’t going in, gotta hit that skin harder right? It’s just like that tendency of tattooers to just add voltage and speed when things aren’t going well, so just a few clicks up on that voltage and we think we’re back on road. Let’s discuss what makes a machine hit harder. There are more than a couple ways, one is by using a motor with a lot of torque. This doesn’t add force all on it own of course. There is a relationship between speed and mass which contributes to force. A high torque motor has power, that power can easily spin large offset cams to obtain a lot of speed. And because they are high torque motors they are less likely to slow down when they encounter resistance. So that addresses power and speed, but what about mass? Mass is the other part of that equation, the head of the hammer. Well the truth is the mass of many of these high torque motors is quite low. I’m speaking of the spindle mass and the counter balance and cam weight. All the spinny bits that have energy as they spin. Because the mass is low the movement relies on that torque and power of the motor to add what the mass isn’t contributing in order to get a hard hitting machine.
There’s another way to add force. That is by adding mass to the movement. Speed and mass together give you force. But as I said earlier, a bigger hammer is rarely the solution. I’m here to tell you that simply making a machine hit harder is not the answer.
It’s true we pick up a machine and use it, and we desire a certain feedback from it, we want it to deliver a certain force to know we are doing what we intend to do. An engineer who doesn’t tattoo might take in all the feedback from all the artists using a product and conclude that the machine needs to have more punch, it needs to hit harder. The easiest and most robust way of doing that is to put a more powerful motor in it and a longer stroke. More power, more speed, more force.
The problem with this solution is that the more powerful motor and longer stroke has just as much power coming back as coming down. This configuration has just as powerful backstroke as it does a downstroke, and the high torque of the motor has ensured that the speed will stay constant making a dynamic stroke impossible.
Adding mass to the movement adds force to the downstroke, but that mass slows down as it encounters resistance. So instead of speeding down and speeding back the needles speed down with a lot of force and come back slower. This is a dynamic stroke, this is the ideal stroke for efficient tattooing. The needles come down with speed and force to penetrate the skin and withdraw from the skin more slowly giving those needles ample time to open that cavity for ink to get pulled in.
You can hit the skin as hard as you want but if the needles are recoiling out of the skin as fast as they are coming down you will have issues. This means you will be hitting the skin much more than you need to for linework and shading both. If the needles aren’t hanging in there long enough to deposit the ink efficiently you will have shiny, raised linework that spreads and blurs quickly after healing, you will have long heal times with hazy and less vibrant color, and you will have a lot of issues tattooing thinner or more sensitive parts of the body. And you’ll still be tattooing slowly because the machine just isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s very important to know that tattooing quick and efficiently comes from having a machine that is designed to tattoo quick and efficiently. It’s a combination of force and other factors because force alone is not the right tool for the job.
Thanks for reading, as always I hoped I gave you some useful information and some things to think about.