Rotary Machines

The New Generation of Rotary Tattoo Machines Is Here.

shag built rotary tattoo machine

Sweet Shag Built Linear Rotary with Blitz 25 Mag Tube

It goes without saying that the Rotary Tattoo Machine is a misunderstood beast by most tattoo artists. I had a whole lot of trepidation about these crazy machines myself, I mean in the 20 or so years  I have been tattooing the Rotary Tattoo Machine was considered much more of  a novelty or oddity than a practical tool of the trade.

I remember discussions in the early 1990′s  about European tattoo artists (often photographed with the wonky tin-can  looking contraptions in their hands) and their love of the Rotary Tattoo Machine. Now, not to seem crass, but a lot of the tattoos these cats were laying down weren’t breaking any artistic or technical barriers and it seemed, reasonably so, that the rotary was an obsolete tool. It hearkened more to prison style Walkman based tattoo machine then it did to a cutting edge tool for precision tattooing.

On the suggestion of a friend of mine, upon his return from Japan,  I decided to give the Rotary Tattoo Machine another look.  After all, I  had an Eagle 1 Tattoo Machine that I purchased sometime in the blur that was the early 90′s and with some friendly cajoling Josh Hoffman and I decided we would take it for a spin. The results were questionable at first, being a true Rotary Tattoo Machine (meaning that the up and down movement on the needle bar was directly an effect of a small cam on the end of a drive-shaft)  it was very odd to line with.

There was definitely some strange needle wobble at the end of the tube and it seemed like no matter what resolutions we attempted the machine couldn’t keep  up with our hand speed  when  lining a tattoo, but, the quality of the line was undeniable, it was super clean and solid, just too slow for my taste. Josh and I saw a lot of promise with the Rotary Tattoo Machine but we weren’t sold on it yet.

After doing some homework I found an inexpensive and somewhat recommended Rotary Tattoo Machine from Inquisition Tattoo Inc. in New York.

rotary tattoo machine

Nice and Inexpensive Rotary by Inquistion Tattoo, Inc.

This is a decent light weight tattoo machine. It came with an enormous stroke and plenty of torque and for about $170.00 it is the lowest priced Rotary Machine that I own. One of the things I like about this machine is it shaft is attached to sizable brass cam that really has the added benefit of functioning like a flywheel. This machine always has plenty of punch and is very smooth, the drawback for me was the enormous stroke and speed wobble as the RPM’s increased. I had a  machinist friend of mine make me new cam/flywheel with a shorter offset and it was a definite improvement. The lesson  learned with this machine was that the longer the stroke on a true Rotary Tattoo Machine (as opposed to a linear rotary)  the more needle wobble you get, and this can be a problem when it comes to setting up your bar and tube. That needle is moving side to side the same distance as it moves up and down, that being said, if you set up this style rotary machine improperly, you won’t be able to miss it, as the needle bar will knock into the side of the tube and there will be a lot of noise and ugliness.

front view of a shagbuilt Olde English Rotary

The Business End of the Olde Enlish Rotary by Shagbuilt

rotary tattoo machine

Shagbuilt Olde English Rotary..Lots of power.

This “Olde English Rotary” is very mighty, it’s got a ton of punch and is a solid choice for 7-11 mags. It requires a little finesse to set up properly, but it is my favorite true rotary machine. It runs about $500.00 and is a great buy if you like this type of machine.

The Linear Rotary Tattoo Machine

front view of shagbuilt nautilus machine

Front view of a Shagbuilt Nautilus

That’s what I call them anyway. The main difference between a “true” rotary machine and a “linear” rotary machine is simply the side to side forced generated by the rotation of the drive shaft is all but eliminated by some additional mechanics and essentially a traditional up and down motion is the result. Another advantage of most linear rotary machines is the fact that when on standby (not running) the needles are in the “up” position, protecting you and the needle from accidents.

swiss rotary tattoo machine

My favorite machine for 7 mags. The Original Swiss Rotary.

My first venture into this type of machine was the Swiss Rotary Tattoo Machine. All in all these machines are pretty tight, they are made mostly of Delrin and they are light, fast, and punchy. I do most of my small mag work with these machines. They seem to run forever (I have a couple hundred hours on one and i have yet to have any significant maintenance issues). I think the best testimonial I can give this machine is the fact the we have about 5 of them blowing around the shop at any given time. I feel like they may be a little under powered for larger needle groups. You can get these little suckers from Unimax in New York. They run about $400.00. There are a couple Chinese Knock-off versions of this machine…they suck, so don’t waste your money.

I am a lover of the larger needle groups.

I love larger needle groups, 15 mags, 25 mags,  & 45 mags. I think one of the main reasons experienced artists shy away from larger groups is that their favorite  tattoo machine that works so well with a 7 mag or 9 mag will generally “let you down” when its asked to push larger groupings. To this end I couldn’t be any happier than I am with my Shagbuilt Nautilus Machine.

shagbuilt nautilus machine

My Big Mag Blaster, The Shagbuilt Nautilus.

Its simple steel design and powerful motor push 25-45 needle mags effortlessly and I like its retro styling. It runs about $500.00 and was worth every penny.

Lest I fail to mention, the customer service from Shagbuilt is pretty awesome in my experience, I had a small issue with this machine when I first recieved it and it was resolved with courtesy and professionalism and in a very timely manner.

Image of a blitz mfg. rotary machine

A very punchy rotary by Blitz Mfg

I really like this Blitz tattoo machine for middle sized needle grouping (15-25 mags). It’s mostly aluminum and the power from the motor travels down the drive bar is a solid, almost brutish way, its a bit noisier than any of my other rotaries , but that being said it is a really nice tool and its gets set up almost daily.

Unlike most other rotaries I use, this machine has a bit of ” let off ” when the needle hits the skin. It’s kind of clunky and loud, but I do use it a lot.  I bought  this machine from Kingpin in Florida it runs about $350.00. ( as a side note, Blitz Mfg. simply makes the best large magnum tubes available, they feed ink great, if you have been disappointed with the cheap garbage Cam Supply sells, you will be happy with Blitz’s tubes)

Front view of a Blitz Mfg. Rotary

Blitz's Linear Rotary Machine from the front.

2 Responses to Rotary Machines

  1. great lil’ article-curious how you feel about swashdrives…