How To Put a Tattoo Machine Together

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 15, 2020
    Last Updated: November 21, 2020

Knowing how to put a tattoo machine together is crucial when you begin your apprenticeship or otherwise start to learn how to tattoo. 

A tattoo machine may look like a complicated tool, but fortunately, it’s relatively easy to put it together once you know the basics.

We’ll help you out by demonstrating how to assemble a tattoo machine step-by-step. 


Before You Start

Before you get started assembling your tattoo machine, we have some tips to help you:

  • Get the right tools: Assembling a tattoo machine isn’t a tool-free operation. We recommend that you invest in an Allen key set as well as a small screwdriver. Look at the tattoo machine’s instructions to check if it requires any other equipment.
  • Rubber bands: You should always use rubber bands for the tattoo machine. They prevent the needle from slipping off while tattooing, which could otherwise result in a very painful experience for the client. 
  • Invest in a kit or individual parts: Depending on how experienced you are and how you intend to use the tattoo machine, consider what to invest in. Starter kits have everything you need, but they’re often low quality, resulting in poor tattoos. Individual parts are more durable, and the result is much better, but they can be pricier. 
  • Sanitize your hands: Before you even begin assembling the tattoo machine, you need to sanitize your hands properly. Wash them with antibacterial soap. You can also wear latex gloves, but keep in mind you should never touch the equipment without them. If you do, bacteria can infect the skin you’re tattooing.

How To Assemble a Tattoo Machine From Scratch

Now it’s time to begin assembling your tattoo machine. You’ll find all the steps below:

1. Assemble the Tube

The tube consists of three different components: the stem, barrel, and tip. 

Start by inserting the stem into the top opening of the barrel. Use the appropriate Allen key to fasten the screw. 

Grab the tip, and insert that into the bottom opening of the barrel. Fasten with the Allen key.

2. Install the Nipple

The nipple is the small component that holds the eye of the needle in place. Gently install it onto the armature bar pin. 

There are different nipples available: some are softer than others, which provide a smoother needle hit.

If you use a grommet, insert it into the eye of the needle. They’re a bit trickier to use, but they secure the needle tighter to the armature bar than a nipple.

3. Insert the Needle

Grab your needle and carefully remove it from its sanitary package—gently pull it out, holding the eye, not the tip itself. 

Before you insert the needle into the tube, a good tip is to bend it gently upward, just enough so it isn’t completely straight. This is to compensate for the bend caused by the elastic bands.

Once the needle is ready, insert it into the tube with the needle configuration facing the correct way. Hold the barrel so that it’s facing away from you; find the center and then drop the needle through the opening. Be careful—you can easily damage the needle.

4. Slide the Tube Into the Machine

Carefully slide the top of the tube into the machine. Tighten the fastener once you’re about halfway—avoid going higher, as this makes it challenging when attaching the eye to the nipple. 

Don’t worry, once you’ve secured the needle, you can adjust the length. 

5. Attach the Needle To the Nipple

Pull up the needle and attach it to the tip of the nipple on the armature bar pin. Be careful while doing this as it’s easy to bend the needle excessively. 

6. Adjust the Depth

Once you’ve attached the needle, you can adjust the depth. Do this by loosening the vise, and then lower or raise the entire tube until you have the desired length. Refasten the vise.

Try to keep the length between 1 and 2 mm. Anything over 2 mm could result in bleeding and an unhappy client.

7. Attach Rubber Bands

To prevent the needle from hopping off while you’re tattooing, you need to attach two or three rubber bands. Ring them around until they feel secure—about one or two times, depending on the size.

Assembling the Power Supply

To use your tattoo machine, you need a power supply. These vary in voltages and specifications, and many starter kits include one. However, we recommend replacing it with a better one as they’re rarely adjustable and have a limited power supply.

We suggest that you invest in a device with either an analog or digital display, which allows you to adjust the settings.

Once you have your power supply, you need a footswitch if one wasn’t included. These are inexpensive and relatively straightforward to set up. Ensure that you also have clip cords to attach the machine to your power.

When the above is ready, here’s what you do:

1. Check the Power Supply 

Begin by inspecting your new gadget. Ensure that you use the right voltage—tattoo specific power supplies generally have a regulated control for the fuse and power. Cheaper models, however, don’t have this.

2. Attach the Footswitch

Attach the proper cords, connecting the footswitch to the power supply. 

3. Connect To the Machine

At the bottom of the tattoo machine, you’ll see a clear indication of where to attach the power clip cord. You should see two inputs on the power supply itself—ensure you connect everything to their proper location.

4. Do a Test

Once you’ve connected everything, it’s time to test the machine. You don’t have to tattoo yourself, simply press the footswitch and examine how the needle runs. 

It should vibrate at a consistent speed. If it pauses or stops, the voltage might be too low. Some further tuning may be required.

Conclusion

Putting a tattoo machine together is a reasonably easy process as long as you know the basic components and what goes where. 

While assembling your own tattoo gun, always be careful not to dull the needles. Make sure that the depth is correct and that you secure it with elastic bands.