Always keep in mind that a tuned coil tattoo machine is characterized by smoothness. If your machine is exhibiting anything else, check the parallelism of the A-bar to the yoke. If it is not parallel, you need to make corrections.
The way to check the parallelism is by pushing the A-bar itself down-not by pushing the front spring, which will change the tension of the springs and make the machine run differently. To tune the machine to be a liner or a shader, simply bend springs for more tension and unbend for less.
You can also make subtle adjustments to the contact screw. Make sure there is contact between the contact screw and the front spring. Also, make sure there is sufficient tension pushing the rear spring into the contact screw.
As I described earlier, setting the spring tension correctly lets you run a machine catered to your individual specifications. Recheck the wiring of the and foot switch jacks; there may be corrosion. That kind of stuff accumulates when you don’t properly clean and dry your machine.
I recommend using sandpaper to remove corrosion on the clip cord ends as part of a regular maintenance schedule. Don’t forget to check the front coil as well. If you use tape as a muffler, clean the gummy stuff off the A-bar and the top of the front coil. Blast it with some WD-40 and put a fresh piece of tape backup.
Also check the condition of the threads on the contact screw to make sure they are not stripped. If your machine’s not running, more often than not you’ll find it’s because the contact screw is not touching the front spring. It’s common knowledge that electricity will not flow unless a circuit is complete, so make it a habit to ensure that the contact screw is touching the front spring.
If the stroke drops periodically, check rubber band tension. A tight rubber band will create more resistance, cause the machine to work harder, and ultimately, lead to its cutting out more frequently. Also check the rear spring. Too much tension will cause fluctuation in stroke when you turn down the power.
To decrease tension, bend the rear spring until the amount of tension you’re comfortable with is achieved. If your power won’t turn on, recheck the fuse in the power supply and replace it if need be. It’s always a good idea to keep a lot of these fuses around.
Always replace a damaged fuse with a new fuse of the same rated value. These stats are usually engraved on the side of the fuse. Fuses absorb any overload to prevent any damage to the power supply itself.
Some power sources don’t need one, but it’s still a good idea to keep one on deck. If the wire inside a power supply is broken, spend a few quarters to replace the fuse.
The Machine Frame
When checking frame infrastructure, first make sure you’re looking at your machine head-on, from the front. Make sure it’s balanced. There should be a straight vertical line down from the contact screw through the front spring and the nub on the A-bar. Using an eye loupe helps with this.
The needle bar should run through the center of the tube, and the needle into the tip of the tube. Next, turn the machine to look at it from its side. Make sure that the needle bar runs through the center. It may even be a little behind center of the tube, but it should never run on the back of the lobe-only the tip of the needles should touch this.
This all refers to the general construction. I’ve have seen some cool unorthodox frames that operate up to par, but don’t confuse yourself in the beginning-stick to standard, stock equipment. Also turn the machine to look at it from the rear.
Check that the rear spring A-bar and front spring are straight. If you continue to use the coil-based machines, at some point you’re going to experience closed circuits. This happens when any of the electrical circuits come in contact with the frame. Just make sure no terminals or wires touch metal.
Watch your A-bar, because if it’s touching the front coil, it cannot move up and down. I repeat: leave a space between the A-bar and the front coil. It needs room to go up and down, kids. Keep it above the coils, never touching them. The contact screw must be touching the front spring.
Again, always check for metal touching metal, because grounding is the most common reason machines don’t run. Look for exposed wires, and keep your eyes peeled for wires broken inside the insulation at the ring terminals or at a coil base. Go to your local Staples, pick up one of those gas dusters (sometime called air cans), and hit your equipment every so often.
At no time should any debris collect on your machine. This is likely to hinder performance if you do not monitor it very carefully and consistently. If you’re not using a machine with rolled springs, check the ring tension. If it’s loose, replace it.
Get in the habit of checking the condition of the acrylic ball, or “thread protector,” for the contact screw. You’ll see it; it’s that little duzamajigger inside the upper binding post.
Recheck and tighten all securing screws. I’m partial to the hex ones for ritualistic reasons, but in terms of mechanical effectiveness it doesn’t matter which types of screws you use. Just make sure they’re not loose.
Recheck the small space between the rear coil and the A-bar. Shim the front coil if necessary while maintaining the parallelism. It’s also possible to adjust the rear spring with a shim between the frame and rear spring Do this only if needed.
Make sure there are no spring bends under any shims used in any part of the machine, especially the spring saddle and armature bar. Scope out the soldering of the wire that connects the terminals on the binding posts, coils, and any other area where you may have whipped out the soldering iron. The know-how to use that, and a Dremmel, are good things to have under your belt as a tattoo artist.