Southwest Tour: Scrap Tattoo Gun

I had an idea for keeping things interesting on this long road trip through the southwest. I was going to gather a few bits from each hackerspace and build something using minimal tools while we were driving down the road.  I settled on the idea of a really simple “jailhouse” tattoo gun. I knew I could build one from parts I could source very easily and that I wouldn’t need much in terms of tools to make it happen.

Here’s what I had:

  1. leatherman micro multitool (though I only used the scissors).
  2. A roll of electrical tape
  3. a spool of wire
  4. a handful of DC motors (one had a little cog on the end of the shaft)
  5. a battery holder from a handheld fan
  6. a few switches
  7. various pens I found in the vehicle
  8. a short piece of guitar string

I was able to wrap wire around the leads on the motor, through the switch, and to the batteries very easily. The electrical tape ended up holding everything in place quite nicely. Actually the electrical tape was the key player here as it ended up being structural as well. I needed the motor to be perpendicular to the barrel that would hold the needle and enough electrical tape made that happen.

The cam on the end of the motor consisted of a tiny piece of tubing from the ink cylinder inside a pen, taped to the outside edge of the cog that came on the larger motor. A barrel was created out of the rest of the pen and taped into place. The final part was simply bending the wire to fit inside the cam and travel down the barrel, then trimming it at the end so that it wouldn’t stab too deep.

The Tattoo gun works about as well as you would expect. It is extremely difficult to make a strait line and the ink transfer below the skin is fairly poor. Add on top of that the fact that we’re not using real tattoo ink, the results are pretty horrible. As I said in the video, DO NOT DO THIS if you want a tattoo. Go to a professional. You’ll get more hygienic, higher quality, results.

However if you absolutely NEED a tattoo before you reach your final destination, it is possible to cobble a tattoo gun together in your lap out of scraps.

18 thoughts on “Southwest Tour: Scrap Tattoo Gun

  1. This post is simply irresponsible. Hygiene is critical when it comes to tattoos, and even then a crappy setup like the one above is NEVER going to give clean, even results, especially in the hands of someone who doesn’t have a clue what they are doing.

    1. Just to clarify, I’m not claiming Caleb has no idea what he is doing, he is clearly a handy guy and kudos for managing to make something like a tattoo gun while in the car, but the horrific things I have seen regarding DIY tattoo guns, even bought ones in the wrong hands makes me wish this post was a little clearer that no-one should ever do this.

    2. First off, it’s NOT a tattoo gun, it’s a tattoo machine, tattoo artists hate that terminology…

      Not completely true, I’ve seen very simple home made tattoo machines (made from a cassette tape walkman motor, a fork, a pen, a 5v/9v/12v selectable wallwart and small sewing needles) give stunning results in the right hands, some even better than the results with cheap, mass manufactured tattoo machines and needles… Not that I’d recommend anyone try it (for sanitary reasons) nor would I be the guinea pig for an inexperienced “tattoo artist”, but just because something is not professionally made, doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t give great results (in this case, a tattoo)…

      I’m not saying this specific home made (or in this case, car made) tattoo machine will be any good, but some are…

  2. Zak, the same could be said about half the things on HAD. However, this does not make it less awesome. If you watched it till the end, you would have heard the disclaimer and recommendation not to use such hacky tattoo tool on yourself.

  3. That remainds some old history of my friend. While he was in jail in Poland he had some tattoos done.
    They used some wire, that they sharpened on floor so it would be something like a needle.
    But more interesting is hov they made pigment. They gathered some disposable plastic shavers, throw them in tin can and fire them up. While they were burning they covered tin can with some sheet of paper so it would start to smoke. Then they took that black stuff that gathered on paper, and mix it with water so it would be like tar , and voila, black pigment that is still black after 10 years.
    Then just poke your skin with needle and everything is done.
    So that little device is high tech in my opinion :)

    1. The only tattoo I have was done in this exact fashion. Paper was soaked in carbon based hair gel or relaxer(used by our darker brothers) and placed in aluminum foil underneath an expanded inverted paper bag, after being ignited by a piece of paper that had pencil “lead” scratched on it and placed in a microwave to catch it on fire. This resulted in an excessive amount of carbon being deposited on the inside of the down-turned paper bag, and this carbon film was so thick, it was literally just shaken out into a container that contained a small amount of the original hair concoction to slightly liquify it.

      The “artist” then proceeded to tattoo me using a staple sharpened on the concrete floor and sterilized using the same flame that produced the carbon deposits. My tattoo still looks quite nice eight years later… :)

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