Tattoo Machine! Yeah!

A Little History

On December 8, 1891 Samuel O’Reilly was given a patent for a tattoo machine based on Thomas Edison’s electric pen. 
Although it never gained wide popularity, O’Reilly recognized the potential in this device and modified it into a tool that can apply ink into the skin. 

As you can see from Edison’s blueprint, it is nearly identical to O’Reilly’s blueprint of his tattoo machine.

How Does it Work?

The concept behind the design is actually pretty simple. A tattoo machine utilizes an electromagnetic current to create and break a circuit repetitively and rapidly, while moving the needles attached to the machine in and out of the skin.

To dissect it even further, the following list explains the specific roles of different parts within the machine.

  1. When power is delivered to a machine, two iron rods surrounded by wire coils are turned into an electromagnet which in turn produces current.
  2. The current is then set to be received and passed through a capacitor. When it reaches its limit, which is indicated on the side of the capacitor, that amount of electricity runs through a spring screw.
  3. The spring screw serves as the contact point to allow the current to flow into two springs.
  4. The front spring passes the current to the armature bar which  is pulled down towards the coils, naturally bringing the attached needles along until it taps into the skin.
  5. The downward motion of the armature bar causes the spring to disconnect from the screw above and that causes the electromagnetic field to collapse momentarily.
  6. With no electrical current flowing, the spring attached to the armature bar moves back to its natural position and when the front spring reconnects with the screw, the electromagnetic field is re-established.
  7. This process is repeated continuously in a rapid speed. 


Deciphering a tattoo machine in such detail showed me that although this invention comes from the most simplistic of origin, taking it apart and putting it back together is the best way to figure out how they actually work. 

“Pay attention to what you pay attention to” is something the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal, an American author, once tweeted. 

If I say I love something;
I’m passionate about something, I have to spend time studying it. It’s a simple idea but an easy one to miss.

What is something that you are passionate about, or even just something that holds your interest but never end up doing?


Haram Ahn is an artist living in St. Louis, MO. Haram is currently preparing for her tattoo apprenticeship at Ragtime Tattoo.  Read more

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