Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How the Modern Tattoo Machine works! A quick explanation in theory.

In order to fully comprehend the marvel that is the tattoo machine, we must understand how it
works IN AND OUT. I feel this is a necessary preface for this instruction guide and if you feel you know
HOW a tattoo machine works well enough feel free to skip ahead.
Tattoo machines function with electromagnetism, as it may well be known. The coils are
magnetised by the electric current running through them, which magnetically attracts the armature bar to
them (thus pushing the needle), which disconnects the electricity to the coils, their magnetic feilds collapse
and the armature spring pulls the armature back into contact with the contact screw (i.e. electricity) which
recharges the coils, the magnetic fields expand and the process repeats, extremely fast-somewhere between
60 and 150 cycles per second. There are a few technical terms that I have to run by you: when you pass
electricy through a conductor you create a magnetic field, we learned that in second grade with the battery
and the nail with the coiled wire around it picking up paper clips (the same priciple in application in a
tattoo machine) and the reverse is also true, that is when you pass a conductor through a magnetic field you
produce an electric current in the conductor (a principle applied in DC generators, alternators, etc.). When
you have a COIL of wire, however, and introduce an electric current into it, magnetic lines of force (force
fields, the rainbow pattern magnets make with iron filings) emerge and "cut through" the coils of wire (or
collapse into them when the current is DISCONNECTED as well), which produces a voltage spike in the
conductor of the coil which can be damaging to certain sensitive electronics. This principle is called "self
induction", as it is a self induced voltage spike. If there are two coils together (as is the case on a tattoo
machine) and one is connected or disconnected to power, the magnetic lines of force from that one will also
produce a voltage spike in the ADJACENT COIL, a principle called "mutual induction". Both of these
principles are constantly interacting on your tattoo machine, creating voltage spikes every time power
connects and disconnects for every pulse! That is why you use a capacitor on your machine to make it hit
harder: The capacitor serves a few purposes in electronics-it can function as a small battery that only holds
a charge for a number of minutes, which is not applied on a tattoo machine. The other functions are Radio
Frequency Interference filter (also not applied) and it filters out voltage spikes, which is what it is used for
in this application. In this way, it filters out spikes in the voltage that would otherwise create opposing
magnetic fields and dull out your machines' performance. Thus the capacitor will make your armature bar
drop and bounce back without hesitation due to opposing magnetic fields, which will result in your
machine "snapping" or hitting quickly and hard. If your capacitor is too big, your machine will get real loud
and ragged sounding, which it may do with a smaller capacitor already -that's okay; as long as it is tuned
correctly and you won't be causing any additional stress on your machine. My mentor explained it this way if
you were going to be punctured by a needle, would you prefer it to be on the skin and given pressure
enough to pierce the skin, or would you rather it come AT the skin at full speed and "pop" in and back out?
The capacitor creates the latter scenario..

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