The most essential tool to the process of tattooing is the tattoo “gun”. This tool will be the most expensive piece of equipment that a tattooist will own. As a service to you, the aspiring tattoo professional, I offer this instruction on how to make a tattoo gun from common household objects for the purpose of practice. I will cover the parts list, proper sterilization technique, construction, and finally proper maintenance and pre/post practice sterilization. This instruction for the Jailhouse-style (referring to the origin for this device) gun is for use on a non-living practice medium only; such as a piece of leather.
A mechanical pencil with eraser will serve as the body of the gun, a servo motor (found in a cassette player) will drive the needle which we will fashion from a large-sized paper clip. A metal spoon will serve as the cradle to hold the motor which will be powered by a UL rated power supply such as the plug-in adapter of a CD player. An emery board will be used to sharpen the needle, while electric tape will be used to hold it all together. You will need scissors to cut the tape as well as for stripping the plastic insulation from the power supply. Lastly, 70% rubbing alcohol will be used in the sterilization process.
Let’s start preparing our parts to be sterilized. The mechanical pencil will serve as the body of the “gun”. Starting with an empty pen; carefully remove the pen clip, and the plug that holds the eraser. Keep the eraser for another portion of the “gun”. Next, bend your metal spoon into an L-shape with the bend happening just before the bowl of the spoon. Then, take the paper clip and unwind it so it is as close to straight as possible. Make sure that when straightened that the needle is at least half an inch longer that the pencil itself. You will need the extra length to attach the needle to the motor.
Sharpen one end of your paper clip with the emery board by rubbing the edge, wiping away excess dust as you go. To obtain the servo motor from the cassette recorder, unscrew the backing of the recorder. The motor is easy to spot; it is a small silver cylinder about the size of a quarter. Carefully remove the motor being careful not to break the lead contacts.
Making sure the UL power supply is unplugged, cut the male plug (the end of the adapter that does not plug into the wall) from the adapter. With the scissors carefully expose an eighth of an inch piece of copper wire from the exposed end of the UL power supply’s cord.
We have all the components of our tattoo gun, but they need to be sterilized. Boil the spoon, body and needle parts for 10 minutes and then move them to a cooling bath of 70% rubbing alcohol and water. These sterilization steps condition the artist to get into the sterilization habit, which is necessary and vital to the health of the profession.
The construction phase begins by securing the spoon to the mechanical pencil. Tape the long end of the spoon to the mechanical pencil with the bowl of the spoon facing toward you. This will be the back of the machine. Next, we tape the servo motor to the bowl of the spoon. Face the motor with the lead contacts facing the back of the machine, the drive shaft of the motor will stick out a bit from the front of the machine. Push the eraser onto the driveshaft of the servo motor, the placement should be to one side to allow for the cranking motion that will create the proper oscillation for the needle.
We are nearly complete, there are only two steps left: securing the needle and attaching the power supply. Bend the needle half an inch from the dull end and then slide it into the mechanical pencil tube. The tip of the needle will jut out from the end of the pencil. Take the bent end of the needle and push into the eraser opposite the side that the driveshaft of the motor is secured to. To give your gun the power it needs to move, take the exposed copper ends of the lead wires from the power adapter and tape them to the contacts of the servo motor. Soldering these points together is preferable but electrical tape works very well, cutting the tape into smaller strips with your scissors will make wrapping the lead wires to the contacts easy. Make sure that you cover the connections completely, as to avoid electrical sparks. Test your gun by plugging in the adapter. If properly secured, the servo motor will work instantly driving the piston and needle at a high rate of speed.
The maintenance/post sterilization phase is last. The eraser will last for approximately thirty hours of tattooing; it will need to be replaced regularly. The needle will need to be replaced every three to four weeks. Replace the tape around the contacts once a month, making sure to do so only when the machine is unplugged. After working with your gun, disassemble your machine and repeat the boil/alcohol-water bath procedure in the construction phase. Post sterilization is further conditioning for the artist; I cannot stress how important it is to sterilize your equipment before, during and after every tattoo job.
You have completed collecting the parts, sterilization, construction and maintenance phases of this project. These steps will condition you to take care of your equipment and prepare you for the technical aspects when you decide to buy a real tattoo gun. Your clients are entrusting you with their lives, now is the time to create strong work ethics to secure your place as a true tattoo professional.