Let's talk about parts, baby. Let's talk about you and... your coil tattoo machine! Before you ever begin tattooing with it, you're going to need to make some adjustments. The longer you use your coil machine, the more likely you are to need to replace at least one part, if not several. In this guide, we'll walk you through identifying the major components of your coil tattoo machine and how to replace each critical part as needed. Anytime you see a "Learn More" link, you can click through to read a full-length article explaining particular coil tattoo machine parts in detail and how they interact with a coil tattoo machine overall.
Coil Tattoo Machine Parts
Coil tattoo machines have lots of nuts and bolts that you may need to replace at some point, but those tend to be fairly self-explanatory. Just unscrew the old one, and screw in the new one as needed. If there was a washer in between a bolt and your machine frame, make sure you put it back or insert a new washer before inserting and tightening the new screw; those layers of insulation are important for maintaining a proper electrical circuit when the machine is running. As for the rest of your coil tattoo machine, you need to know the major components before you begin tinkering with them. Take a look at the diagram and numbered parts below to familiarize yourself with the critical components of your machine:
Explanation of Numbered Coil Tattoo Machine Parts
- Tattoo Machine Frame - All other parts are attached to the tattoo machine frame, so it's the core of your coil tattoo machine. Whenever you bolt other parts to the frame, you typically need a washer in between the screw head and the frame to ensure that electrical current stays where it needs to--running between the contact screw (#5), armature bar (#6), springs (#8), and coils (#2)--and doesn't charge the frame itself and cause a short.
- Tattoo Machine Coils - The tattoo machine coils are what make your tattoo machine run when you connect it to a power source, as long as the contact screw (#5) and front spring (#8) are touching. Most coil tattoo machines have two coils, but there are also some that run with one or three coils instead. The components of a coil include a cylinder that's shaped like a spool of thread, a metal washer on the top and bottom, a highly-conductive cylindrical core made of a material like steel or iron, magnetic wire (usually copper) that's threaded up through the central conductive cylinder and then wrapped around the outside of it in 6-12 layers, attachment points to connect the coils to the tattoo machine frame, and sometimes an outer protective layer that covers the layers of magnetic wire. The image to the right gives you a closer look at tattoo machine coils. Learn More About Tattoo Machine Coils
- Front Binding Post - The front binding post has two purposes: to attach one of the coil's (#2) electrical connectors to the frame (#1), and to hold and allow you to adjust the position of the contact screw (#5) so it lines up nicely with the front spring (#8) and touches it.
- Back Binding Post - The rear binding post attaches the coil's (#2) second electrical connector to the frame, completing a circuit when the machine is powered up and the contact screw (#5) and front spring (#8) are also touching.
- Contact Screw - The contact screw completes a circuit when the coils (#2) are charged with electricity and the contact screw (#5) and front spring (#8) are touching.
- Armature Bar - The armature bar pulls tattoo needles back out of the skin after the electromagnetic current from the charged coils (#2) pulls it down and breaks the circuit by disconnecting the contact screw (#5) and front spring (#8). The armature bar is then released from the coils when the electromagnetic field collapses. During this cycle, the rear spring (#8) does the heavy lifting, pulling the armature bar back up and extracting tattoo needles from the skin. Learn More About Armature Bars
- Armature Bar Screw - The armature bar screw attaches the front and rear springs (#8) to the armature bar (#6), finalizing the armature bar assembly. There should be a washer in between this bolt and the springs.
- Front & Rear Springs - There are two pieces connected to create the spring assembly that attaches to the armature bar: a front spring and a rear/back spring. Before you turn on your machine, the front spring and contact screw (#5) should be touching so that when you deliver electricity to the machine by connecting it to a tattoo power supply, the two parts will create the circuit that powers the machine. The front spring also acts as a shock absorber for the armature bar (#6) while the machine is operating. The rear spring regulates the movement of tattoo needles and lifts the armature bar at the end of each cycle, pulling the attached tattoo needles out of the skin. The diagram directly above more clearly shows how the front and rear springs interconnect with the armature bar. Learn More About Springs
Again, there are other components to a coil tattoo machine, including the various nuts and bolts, washers, and the pieces you attach right before you use your machine (e.g. tattoo grips, tattoo needles, a power cord, etc.). However, the components detailed above are the core components of every coil tattoo machine. It's important to familiarize yourself with these parts and the way they interconnect so that you can comfortably and accurately replace parts as needed. Learn More About Small Coil Machine Parts & Accessories
Replacing Coil Tattoo Machine Parts
Now that you have a general understanding of the core components of your coil tattoo machine and how they interconnect, it's time to dig into how to replace each part. You can read through this section in its entirety for a full education on replacing the main components of your coil tattoo machine, or you can skip to specific sections when replacing a particular part. The sections are laid out in the ideal order you would follow if building a coil tattoo machine from the frame up.
Note that you should have a set of Allen keys in different sizes and an armature bar spring flake adjuster handy before you begin, as these are critical tools for adjusting your coil tattoo machine and replacing parts. You'll need certain coil machine parts, too, depending on what part of the machine you're adjusting. For instance, when attaching binding posts, you also need washers and an Allen key.
How to Replace Tattoo Machine Coils
The diagram below shows you how to set a pair of coils into your tattoo machine frame, bolt it to the frame from underneath, and line up the two coil connector wires so that they can be properly anchored once you re-attach the front and back binding posts. All frames are different, but there will typically be two holes on the bottom to settle the coils into, a hole on the top left of the frame to attach the left coil connector and front binding post, and a hole on the bottom right to attach the right connector and back binding post.
After settling the coils into the frame with washers in between, you should screw the coils to the frame loosely by hand. Then, once you've confirmed that the coil connectors are lined up well with the appropriate holes on the frame, press the coils down against the frame as you tighten the screws underneath with an Allen key to ensure that the coils don't spin.
Note: Sometimes it's best to wait until both your coils and armature assembly are attached to the frame before inserting the washers between the bottom of the coils and the machine frame. If you put them in initially and have to keep moving things around to get your alignments right, the washers may fall out and become a nuisance.
How to Connect Springs to the Armature Assembly & Mount it on the Frame
You may need to pair front and back springs of different thicknesses at different times depending on the type of work you're doing. Thicker springs create more tension and cause your tattoo needles to move up and down more forcefully. You can adjust the tension and stroke length to achieve different effects. For example, when doing smooth shading work, you'll want a lighter spring tension (.016" - .020") paired with long strokes. Most tattoo artists find that a .016" front spring and a .020" back spring paired together are ideal, because that combination makes tattoo needles change direction more smoothly. Learn More About Coil Machine Springs
When changing springs, you'll need to gather together your preferred front and rear springs, the armature bar, an armature bar screw, a washer, a spring flake adjuster, and an Allen key. Once you have all your parts and tools together, walk through these steps to replace your front and rear spring and complete your armature bar assembly:
- Bend Your Front Spring. Front springs are typically sold flat. You'll need to make a crease in the front spring roughly 1/3 of the way from the right side that connects to the armature bar. The front 2/3 of the spring should be bent upwards at a 20⁰ to 40⁰ angle. You can bend it more if needed once the armature assembly is mounted to your machine frame, so don't worry too much about creating a perfect angle initially. To bend the spring, place it on the edge of a counter with 2/3 of the pointed tip hanging off the edge. Hold the base down firmly with one hand, and bend the tip down gently with your other hand. Alternatively, you can use a spring flake adjuster that has a spring bender on it to bend your spring more easily and precisely.
- Line up the Armature Assembly Parts. Lay the armature bar in your spring flake adjuster. Set a washer over the hole in the top of the armature bar, and loosely screw in the socket cap screw. You want the screw to stay in the hole, but allow room to slide in your front and rear springs. Slide the front spring under the washer so that the pronged back cradles the screw (see #1 in the diagram to the right below). The bent tip should be pointed towards the tip of the armature bar. From the opposite side, slide the back spring in so that its pronged arms lay over top of the front spring's pronged arms while cradling the screw from the other side (see #2 in the diagram below). Once the parts are lined up where you want them, use an Allen key to tighten the screw a bit more. If needed, shift the springs a little so they're lined up straight with the armature bar and hugging the screw tightly. You may need to slide the front spring forward some so that its crease doesn't get trapped under the washer. Once everything is where you want it, tighten the armature bar screw the rest of the way. Remove the armature bar assembly from the spring flake adjuster, flip it over, and confirm that the bottom of the screw is relatively flush with the bottom of the armature bar. If the screw is lined up well, it will reduce unwanted vibrations while you're tattooing. The completed assembly should look like the image immediately above.
- Mount the Armature Assembly to the Machine Frame. Screw the back side of the back spring down against the frame on the right side, behind the coils. Your goal is to get the armature assembly to sit perpendicular to the coils. You'll need a hex screw and washer to attach the armature assembly to the frame. Tighten the screw partway down while the armature assembly is sticking out backwards behind the frame. Then, swing the armature assembly around and line it up right where you want it, over top of the coils, before you tighten the screw down the rest of the way.
If you need to bend the back spring, pull up on the front of the armature assembly as needed. If you bend it too much, loosen the screw securing the assembly to the frame, swing the armature assembly around so it's sticking out behind the frame again, and pull down on the front of the assembly to reduce the bend. Once you have it where you want it, swing it back around so it's lined up as shown in the image above, and then tighten the screw again.
After you've finished assembling your coil tattoo machine, you can change the bend on the front spring and/or adjust the height of the contact screw as needed so the tip of the screw touches the tip of the front spring.
How to Attach Front & Back Binding Posts & a Contact Screw
For this part of the coil tattoo machine assembly process, you'll need front and back binding posts, two flat washers and four shoulder washers to insulate the coil connector wires from the frame, a contact screw, and your partially-assembled frame with the coils and armature assembly attached.
Unscrew the two parts of the back binding post. Slide a shoulder washer over the back part of the rear binding post, insert it into the frame from behind or underneath, depending on where the hole is on your frame, add another shoulder washer to the screw on the other side of the frame, slide the right coil connector wire loop over the screw so the washer is between the wire and the frame, add a flat washer, and then screw on the front part of the rear binding post. Make sure everything is aligned well, and then tighten the binding post down the rest of the way. Note: The shoulder washers are very important; without them, the wire would touch the frame and cause a short that would make the armature bar stick when you try to use your tattoo machine.
You should attach the front binding post in the same manner as you did the back binding post. Slide a shoulder washer over the back part, thread the screw through the front binding post hole from the back side of the frame, add another shoulder washer, slide the left coil connector wire loop over the screw, add a flat washer, and attach the front of the front binding post loosely. The hole in the front binding post should be positioned at a slight angle so that when you insert your contact screw, it will be angled down toward the front spring.
If your contact screw has a point on it, you may want to file it flat. A flat screw tends to create a softer connection than a pointed screw every time it meets the front spring while the machine is running. Different artists have different preferences with this, so just do what's best for you. Thread the contact screw through the hole in the front binding post (see the close-up of a contact screw in a binding post shown to the left above). Adjust the height of the contact screw, the angle of the binding post, and your front spring as necessary to get the contact screw to lightly touch the tip of the front spring. Look at the machine from the side to make sure the contact screw, front spring, armature bar, and front coil are all aligned vertically. If anything is off-center, you can add an extra washer as a shim in between the front binding post and frame to adjust the alignment as necessary. Once you're done, your coil machine should look something like this:
If you want to see how to attach binding posts to a coil tattoo machine frame, check out this helpful YouTube video.
Coil Tattoo Machine Parts, Tools & Other Tattoo Supplies
You'll find all the coil tattoo machine parts and tools you could possibly need in our Tattoo Machine Parts section. For tattoo grips, needles and other accessories, visit our main Tattoo Supplies section. When placing orders under $100, please shop in our Retail Store. For orders of $100-$499.99, you can shop in our Wholesale Store to take advantage of the reduced prices we offer tattoo artists. When spending $500 or more, shop in our Distributor Store to enjoy the absolute lowest prices we offer industry professionals.
Good luck tinkering with your coil tattoo machine! Have fun, but pay close attention to the fine details as you replace various parts to ensure that your machine performs optimally. If you need additional help replacing any tattoo machine parts, check out the other articles in our Tattoo Information section, like our Tattoo Machine Coil Basics article.