Pulse Tattoo

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06 May By In Workshop

Springs break for a myriad of reasons. Fundamentally, all things break because you place physical stress on the bonds, causing them to separate . The stress can create fissures, or fractures and a vibrating tattoo machine will exploit them more quickly. Metals have a certain amount of ductility, or flexibility, that allows the bonds to shift among atoms, but if you keep working the material, you will break more and more bonds until the fractures spread right through the system and the two sides separate.

It has been my experience that most rear springs break because of being overworked. They just get bent up and down too much or over bent when springing the machine. This causes the spring to weaken and then the vibration on the stress point causes the micro fissures to spread and then the metal to fail. This will usually happen quickly with really overworked springs, although it can happen anytime.

The other popular reason is too much tension on the spring.  It takes more magnet to pull it down and then returns with more force than needed and will again weaken at the stress point and break. Both of these problems will be hastened when using cheap springs as well.

There are many other reasons springs can break, and most of these will cause habitual breakage.

Small burrs in the rear spring deck or debris will cause fractures to a spring. Always make sure the deck is flat and clean. Sometimes running your finger over the surface won't tell the whole story. Run a fine flat file to make sure something small doesn't exist. Also check the leading edge of the deck (see arrow). I have seen burrs on the edge that create problems and you couldn't feel them when running your finger over them. Always go slow with a file, you can create all new problems if you just go hacking away at the rear deck.

Another culprit can be what you are using as a rear deck clamp. Nothing adds more interest and character that that exotic coin or washer, but many times they are not as cleanly cut and sanded as they should be and can be hiding those burrs and and spurs that will damage a rear spring. Many of their under-surfaces are also not flush so they can create a problem down the road.

Chemicals will do a number on your springs, and your machine in general. Most of what you use to clean your stations and your tools can be highly corrosive to metal. Be aware of what you are cleaning your machines with and steer away from things that can corrosion. Also be aware of water. Metal and water are not friends, oxidation can happen overnight and jeopardize a spring quickly. I have seen a few rigs in my time that were rusted just on the underneath of the spring. Always make sure you take some time each week to look over your machines and have a maintenance schedule to clean them. Don't just wipe them down, and never be afraid to take them apart and clean them thoroughly. You will always learn something putting them back together and getting them tuned back up to where they were. Trust me the more confidence you have in your machines it will completely transfer to your tattooing.

Some more deck problems I have seen are frames that have chemically treated finishes. Those chemicals, and the process to get some finishes contain acids and corrosive compounds. These can eat into springs, so always make sure that the decks are cleared out of that finish. Steel wool and emery cloth will usually take you down to the steel and save your springs. The above pic shows a deck that has been chemically treated with something corrosive. You can see the oxidation on the frame and it will quickly affect your spring.

The deck in the lower picture is a super uneven platform to place your flat spring onto and then clamp it. All those transition are going to cause a lot of flex under your deck clamp that will put undue stress on different parts of the spring.

Here is a sneaky one that can be a definite spring breaker. A-bar is hitting on the rear coil first. I know this is a tattoo machine 101 no-no, but a machine will run hitting on the rear coil. This can also happen if parts are swapped out (new a-bar, springs, coils) and the machine is not re-set up and tuned to accommodate the new parts. Again hitting on the rear first and having the flex over the front coil will cause all sorts of different stress point to form. This one will break springs consistently. The picture above is exaggerated for my point, many times this can happen because people are trying to get that back coil right as close to the a-bar as possible. This is one of those builder things, people love to hold your machine up and judge you by how close you can shim that rear coil up. Judge it on how it puts a line in, not how much daylight is peeking through the rear coil.

I love hand made tattoo machines. They are works of art and I can appreciate something that is crafted as a piece of art that is going to be used to create art. That being said, I love machine made springs that are punched out on a die. Way back in the day I used to hand punch / hand cut springs for our early machines. My hands were always cut up, and I once smashed my foot because I threw the spring punch after it pinched me. I would do a batch of springs and after all the work some of them would be jagged and uneven and downright ugly. When you cut one right it felt good, but not all hand cut springs are created equally. Cutting, bending, punching, sanding and filing can create all sorts of micro fractures and potential fissure points. So hand made springs that break  can often be traced back to the method of making them.


Back when I got started  everyone I worked with used to run their new machines for days at a time, straight because they needed to "break in" the springs. Then some old time tattoo oracle told them to hit the back spring when it was running with a knife to really weaken it up for black and grey. Come to find out that old wizard was wrong and you shouldn't hit your back spring with anything, ever. You also shouldn't run your machine for days on end, a tattoo machine is not a 350 crate motor that has a break in schedule. Now and days if you want  a weaker spring, replace that  20 ga. spring with a 16 ga. spring. Always have some extra springs, especially when you travel. There is not quick fix for a broken spring, be prepared.







29 Apr By In Workshop

This is one of those questions that has a hundred possible answers. All machines are going to create some heat. When passing electricity through a resistance (the wire in this case) the by product is heat. How much depends on the resistance of the wire. The wire naturally heats up, because the energy has to go somewhere, the energy is given off as heat.

 One of the things that helps keep the heat down is the fact that the magnet is not constantly on, it's cycling and that helps the heat dissipate better. You want to avoid machines that heat up because they can run erratic and generally produce poor results. They can skip and sputter and once you move into guessing how your machine is going to react line to line, it's going to be to late for that tattoo.

 Machines that are overheating can be a single problem, or a combination of problems. Always trouble shoot the whole electrical chain and all the components you are plugged into, but for now let's just focus on the machine.

In all my years of building and fixing tattoo machines, these are the most commons problems that result in a machine heating up, or over heating.

Dissimilar metals will cause a machine to heat up. In the case of brass and aluminum machine frames with a steel yoke, the smaller base path creates more resistance and then more heat. Brass is a denser material so it retains the heat, where as aluminum can dissipate it better, but neither creates as clean a path as a steel or iron machine frame. Also using a yoke that has been nickel plated or painted just creates more trouble on the travel path of the electrical current. The coatings will help insulate it as well (keep the heat in).

"If your machine is heating up you just need bigger coils." That is a myth. The idea that bigger coils are stronger isn't true. Coils with more wraps can develop a stronger magnet, but they take more voltage to power them and they can heat up quicker. I usually find machines with larger coil sets are set up with too much spring tension, and are troublesome to get to run smooth. There are many things to do to get a machine to run good and push larger groupings without larger coils.

One of the more popular problems I see is the old ground out. When a coil wire is not insulated properly and touching the frame it will result in the coils heating up and whole frame getting hot. Just a little contact won't ground the machine out so the a-bar just clicks down, but it will cause trouble. This is always the first stop on my check list. It's usually easy to spot, and easy to fix.

Again all parts of the coil wiring needs to be insulated, the wire, the capacitor wiring, the solder connections and the lugs. Make sure it's covered with insulator, shrink tubing, tape, glue, or shellac.

Now if you can't see a wire touching anywhere, and everything looks insulated you have to go next level and take the coils out of the frame. This is a sneaky ground out/ heat up problem I run into from time to time. You can see by the picture on the left that everything looks good and covered, but once you take the coils out just enough of the shrink has work away to cause a blind problem. I also see this happen with shrink tube or tape that has melted, especially when shrink has been shrunk with a lighter. At least use your girlfriends hair dryer to activate your shrink wrap. Be thorough.

Another deeper problem can be in the coils themselves. All magnet wire is coated to insulate it from itself, but if the coating becomes compromised it will cause the coils to heat up. The problem on the left is slight, but that scrape will cause a problem over time. The example on the right it a bit of an opposite problem, this wire is where the solder lug will connect and the coating hasn't been scraped well enough to make a good solder connection. Wire to be soldered needs to be scraped really well or the connection will be faulty. Also don't burn the coating off with a lighter. Most of the time the heat liquefies the coating, burns the dye off, and then dries fast and clear back over the wire. So the wire looks clean, but the temp coat is still there. Pretty sneaky sis...

Even deeper can be a problem at the coil core itself. If the core insulator is breached or scratched it will cause the wire to ground itself out on the core and heat up like nuts. To find this problem, you have to commit to scrap the coils. This is for those who are driven to have the answer. Yeah, I have found this problem more than once.

Another sneaky hidden problem can be the wire that comes out right by the coil core. It is tough to get the insulator to right up to the washer and still bend the wire without having it exposed to the core. Just another spot that can cause heat up trouble.

Some problems artists cause for themselves. Like too many elastics guy. That much needle tension will cause the machine to have to work hard, so ease off the elastics. Also make sure your bars are clear of you tubes and your needles aren't creating too much friction in the tip. I see that with some disposables. If the needle is riding in a misshapen tip will make a machine have to work harder and can heat up.

Painted and powder coated machine look great, but you have to make sure all points of contact are scraped clean of coatings. With out a good connection to the clip cord, the rear spring,  the solder lugs and to the coil cores you are going to get resistance, heat and irregular running machines. Once a coated machine heats up those coating will also act as an insulator to keep the heat in.

Sometimes you just need to turn down the power. I will sometime trouble shoot a problem over the phone and run through 20 things and then I will ask the guy to run the machine for me so I can hear it. Once I hear the weed whacker going on the other end of the phone I try to get them to dial the power back. 

My last favorite heat up story involves those folks who like to "break-in" a machine by running it non-stop for 24-48 hours. It will heat up, so don't do that.












22 Apr By In Workshop

O.K. a couple things to start. #1 No one was angrier than me when I stripped a screw on a machine. #2 No one was more to blame than me because I liked the small button head cap screws, and they strip if you fool with them too much, so that was a double dose of anger. Since I figured out how to solve this problem and we don't use the button heads on the rear decks anymore I have had to find other things to be angry about.

This trick works great.  First you want to clamp down what ever piece has the stripped screw, a-bar or machine frame or coil. Make sure not to just clamp the metal to metal, a vise will damage your machine or macine parts in an instant. Always wrap it or use the rubber clamps like we have above.

Next you need a dremel tool with a re-enforced cutting wheel so it will cut through metal. You could also use a die grinder if you can find a small enough cutting wheel. These are about the size of a quarter. I also think it goes without saying- safety first, goggles and gloves. This wheel cuts through metal, your finger is not made of metal.

You want to slowly and carefully just cut a slot right in the middle of the screw. If you are not paying attention and you are just enjoying the sparks that are flying you will damage your parts. These wheels cut fast, I know because no one has nicked up more parts or frames than me because I was just enjoying the Mad Max spark show, pay attention.

There you have it. You have convered your stripped hex wrench screw to a slotted screw.

Insert a flat head screw driver ( sometimes a shorter shaft gives you more leverage to crack the screw open) and twist it out. Simple and easy, no reason to get angry, or send me angy e-mails anymore.

Now that's one to grow on. 






15 Apr By In Workshop

How do I adjust spring tension? This is a hundred year old question, and I can tell you how we go about it, but the answer is - There is no real formula.  Springing a machine is just like tattooing, I can tell you what to do, but until you have done it a thousand times you just can't understand it. Also, I have done it a thousand, thousand times and I still have bad days when I just can't get it dialed in. This is the great mystery of the dual coil reciprocating tattoo machine. I have seen beautiful machines with excellent geometery that you just can't seem to get the right tension to make the machine hum, just as many times as I have seen a junker run like a top. It's a mystery but we have taken some of the guess work out of it with our tattoo machines.


One of the things that makes our machines unique is the back deck design. The spring sits in the frame, not on the frame, this feature makes adding or removing tension a breeze.


As you can see in the illustration above, the rear deck is channelled out so the spring seats itself into the back deck. This eliminates the concern about side to side alignment, if your a-bar spring rig is straight, it will stay so once you mount it into the rear deck.

The next thing I do is line up our a-bar with our Pulse alignment tool. Now everything is where it needs to be alignment wise. I lock down the rear deck clamp and then I run a sharpie line right across the spring where the deck clamp ends. This is going to help me re-align everything quickly and put my spring back at the correct tension point.

I then loosen the deck screw and slide out the spring / a-bar assembly and swap it to the rear of the deck as illustrated above.

I align the sharpie line with the rear deck clamp, so the line is exposed, just like when it was seated in front. This now gives us a mimic of when it was seated forward, but gives us the headroom to bend the spring without hitting the binder or the coils.

Pressing the spring up adds rear spring tension, pressing it down takes it away. That is all I can tell you. I can't tell you how much or how far or how long. That seems to be the mystery part where you are going to have to put the work in. I can tell you my spring tension is  2mm -3mm in thumb travel, or I could have a tension gauge tell me how many pounds of tension are on my 20 guage spring, but it doesn't insure your machine will run right. This is the tinkering part, the more time you put in the more you learn. This is a great place to experiment with adding tension, and trying different spring combos. Once you get into dialing in your  gap (throw)  and your contact screw, your front spring, your deck angle, the voltage you are running at, the needle group, your elastics and a dozen other factors come into play, everything will impact the tune.

There is no recipe. This is one of the elements that separates great machine builders from good machine builders. The more time in on the bench the better you will get at this. This is why old timers used to put contact point on their springs. When someone like Paul Rogers would roll through town and spring you machines you wanted them to last as long as possible. So by putting that contact point on your spring, it added extra life to that spring. Not running capacitors back in the day would help burn a hole through your front spring quick. So that is the truth of it. Put the time in.

I slide the spring back to it's front position, line up the sharpie line and lock it down. Now I have my spring tensioned and seated at the right stress point. When you tension a spring too much and keep bending it up and down trying to dial it in, the tension point is also where it will shear off and break. Keep a few back up rear springs when playing with tension. Don't get frustrated, it takes time and even after years I can put too much or too little tension on springs. But when I get it right and the a-bar has that slow motion flutter to it, that machine is going to run great for a long time.





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