Dickie Golden is our first featured machine builder from outside the UK. Dickie is currently creating a stir with his machines over in Germany. Specialising in custom one-offs, his work is really worth checking out. His machines definitely have a different feel to them and, from what tattooists have told us, they are great to work with too.
Interview – Ben Lakin
Photography – Dickie Golden
Where did you grow up?
I’ve lived in Coburg (Germany) since I was five and I’ve spent most of my life here or in nearby towns.
What was your first experience with tattoos?
I think the first tattoo I ever saw was a guy at the beach when I was five or six. He had the Lacoste crocodile on his chest. I started reading tattoo magazines when I was 14 or so. I got my first tattoo a day after my 18th birthday.
What was your background before you started building machines?
I’m a trained car mechanic and worked in factories. Seven years ago a friend of mine who tattooed me regularly asked me if want to try tattooing. That was the beginning. I never did that many tattoos and only did simple stuff like tribals and stars and all that shit in the shop.
What made you decide to build tattoo machines?
A few months after I started tattooing I bought my own machines. But as I’m a car mechanic I thought I would try to make my own. I bought a drill press and a grinder and had some old tools from my grandpa. I bought the coils and cap and all hardware from a supplier but the frame I did completely from scratch. That was the only time I bought coils. All other coils I ever used were hand-wound by me. That was about six years ago.
What came first, coil or rotary?
Coils. When I started I didn’t even know about rotaries. Then I planned to make some rotaries for a while, but never found the time. I think the first rotaries I did were two and a half years ago.
How did your first machine turn out?
(Laughs) I would say pretty funny. I still have it and it runs pretty ok. But it has shims everywhere you can imagine.
There are not many people building both coils and rotaries, but that’s what you do. Why did you decide to do that? Is there one that you prefer?
I like challenges. Without that, my job wouldn’t be the same. When the scene asks for handmade rotaries I will make them.
I like both. Coils are more challenging and more work, but I like working so that’s OK. Rotaries are not as much work and give me the chance to sleep sometimes. Rotaries just work when you plan them right. I couldn’t say that I prefer either.
How much of what you do is done from raw materials? What do you source in?
I don’t order that much. I wind my coils by hand. I braze all frames and sand almost every frame by hand. But as I’m building a pretty huge number of machines every month I had to decide to get some stuff made long ago. So anything that gets milled is ordered in. Sideplates are laser cut. Coil cores I get from a machine builder in the US. But the main parts which make a handmade tattoo machine are handmade by me.
How long does the average build take you?
The build itself takes four to six hours. But a customer may have to wait two to three weeks for his machine. It depends on how much I have to do at the moment.
Do you build machines to order?
I mostly do. I build machines for conventions too. But most customers want something custom made.
What kind of stuff have you built for customers?
As I have a great range of different frames most people just tell me which colour, coil covers and what adjustments they want. I used to take requests for special stuff, like one guy who wanted to have his machine look like a tree stump, but I don’t really do that anymore. It takes too much time.
Do you offer an after service for your customers?
Sure I do! I give a lifetime guarantee on the coil machines. Customers only pay shipping. Parts and work is on me and is something that has worked great or me through the years. Customers pay for the shipping cost and the parts, the work is on me.
On the rotaries, it’s hard to give a lifetime guarantee as I don’t build the motors myself. But I use only Faulhaber motors, which is the market leader for micromotor systems, and they have a super long running time (average 3000 hrs). I think using only high-quality parts is the best service you can give.
Who has inspired you over the years?
Most of all Dennis El Hombre Invisible (Germany). He always inspired me and always will. But I also like the builds from Lucas Ford (Canada), Mike Shaefer (USA) and John Clark (USA). Very unique machines with amazingly smart ideas.
Do you sell mostly in Germany or are your machines more widely received around the world?
Hard to say. I sell a lot in Germany because I know many people here. But I also sell machines around the world. I don’t know where I sell more.
You now sell your machines through suppliers. How do you keep up with demand?
I work hard and I sleep less.
I don’t have that many suppliers. I sell most of my machines directly to customers. Up to now it hasn’t been a problem to keep up the demand, but we will see what the future brings.
Do you have any plans to do anything other than machine building?
Spend more time with the kids, eat healthy food, drink less alcohol and maybe sleep some more. (Laughs)
I started a new project a few weeks ago building big wooden lamps with traditional sayagata and other patterns. At the moment, it’s only a sideline to machine building. But maybe someday I will do more of that stuff.