This is a blast from the past we found while we were clearing out all the old parts and tools in the workshop. It is a vintage tattoo machine, a Hildbrandt from 2004. The frame was a cast iron frame. This old tattoo machine was found amongst the frames and parts we used to use to build cast iron frame machines. The process we would use to make the frame was called lost wax casting.
Lost Wax Casting Tattoo Machine
Same process my brother Mark uses to make jewellery. We make a rubber mold of the master frame. Pour in molten wax into the rubber mold and compress it. Put the cooled wax, now formed into the shape of the frame into an investment powder flask. Process the investment powder into liquid, pour into investment powder flask. Allow the investment powder to dry and solidify. Heat the flask to allow the wax to drain out. We now have the form of the frame in the solidified investment powder contained in the flask. Put the flask into a centrifugal casting machine. Superheat the iron into molten iron. Wind up the centrifugal casting machine, pour in the molten iron and let the machine whip the iron into the flask, filling the shape of the frame. Bust the flask open and chisel out the iron frame. Sand and polish the frame, oil finish it and we are done. Doesn’t sound that complicated while I’m describing the process in words, but this whole process takes roughly 2 days to finish.
Why are our Current Tattoo Machines so Different from our Old Tattoo Machines?
I would have loved to build all our Hildbrandt’s using this lost wax casting method. All of our old tattoo machine frames came out perfect and if it wasn’t perfect, we could sand and refinish them until they were. I purposely chose master frames that were thick so I had a lot of room to sand them down. Lost wax casting however, was time consuming. There was no way a lost wax cast iron tattoo machine can sell for $49 or even $100. Not using Canadian labor costs at least. So we ended up opting to go with the laser cut machine to make our frames. This reduced the time it needed to make a machine by a lot. Also, since the laser cut machine is computer programmed, the margin of error is low. Therefore reducing the need to spend time sanding frames down and balancing them.
Nostalgia with an Old Tattoo Machine
This old tattoo machine is not for sale. I’ve decided I’m going to keep this little gem for myself. After searching through the entire stack pit (the place we throw everything from bad frames to frayed wires) I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the very last of the cast iron machines I’ve ever built. Maybe I might do a tat or two with it just for kicks.