Meeting Dale and Iain was a real pleasure, two quality guys who are really passionate about what they do. Rotary Works are a great small machine company doing a quality product at a fair price which is something we really like to promote and for such a small company they are building a very diverse range of products.
Interviews – Ben Lakin
Photography – Ben Lakin
How long have you been tattooing and how did you get started?
I’ve been tattooing for almost 17 years. I got started through my dad. He’s been tattooing forever. I started tattooing to help him out with walk-ins.
How long have you been at the studio?
Since 1997, the shop was open 22nd February 1997.
And how did you get into machine building?
It started when I met Andy Barber and saw that he was using rotary machines. I’d never seen one before; I’d heard my dad talking about them, but I’d never actually seen one. I wanted one, but no-one was selling them. I couldn’t get a rotary from anywhere, so it thought ‘Bollocks to it, I’ll make my own’. So I did.
It took forever! I spent two years designing a double-cam system and eventually I showed what I’d done to Andy Barber. He pulled out a big case, took out a double cam rotary machine and said ‘Look what I’ve got!’
“Why didn’t you tell me?!” I asked.
To which he replied “You wouldn’t have figured it out yourself otherwise, would you?’”
I thought, ‘Cheers for that!’
It grew from there. A few years later I designed the cam system I use now and put a pre-made needle bar on it. It just developed – evolution.
Of course, with your first machines you needed to make your own needles. When pre-made needles became popular you had to redesign your machines. Tell us about that time.
Making needles was always a pain, particularly for a ‘walk-in’ shop as ours was at the time. We would make needles for three artists, 100s of them each week. We would make them at night when the shop was closed, sitting there for hours with the flux and the rest of the kit. It just didn’t make sense when you could buy pre-made ones for £50 a box. So, like most artists, we eventually swapped to pre-made. This was around 2002 or 2003 when I was making one or two rotaries, and of course, they didn’t fit a standard needle bar and so the pre-made needles didn’t fit either.
Eventually, I designed a rotary machine that used a coil needle bar, just so that I could use pre-made needles. A couple of the artists in our shop started to use them and they gave me lots of feedback and suggested that I start to sell them. I still wasn’t really interested in producing them for sale, but eventually I bit the bullet and made a load for the Brighton convention. I didn’t think there was a market for them, but it seems I was wrong.
And it took off from there?
Yes, that was the start. A few artists picked up my machines and it went crazy from there. It just got bigger and bigger. Designs starting coming into my head and I was catering for more people and different designs.
How is your working day split now? Do you do more machine work or tattooing?
At the moment, I’d say its 70% machine building and 30% tattooing although now I have Iain on board that should change. I still want to build machines, but I want to re-focus on tattooing because that is where my main love is. To be honest, I enjoy doing both, but having a family with two kids; tattooing AND building machines just doesn’t work.
You can’t do everything yourself. It was only me doing everything until Iain came along a couple of months ago. Iain takes over much of the building so that takes a lot of the pressure off. I shouldn’t complain because I get to do something I love.
So Iain is becoming more involved?
Yes, Iain is doing about 50 -60% of the machine building and he’s involved in the design process too. The realism machine was designed by us both and the spring machine that’s coming out soon was too.
The spring machine is a good example of how we work well together. We’re both tattooists so we put our heads together and came up with something we think will work. The spring is a really soft black and grey coil machine which should hopefully be good for realism too. That’s our intention anyway.
So where did the idea for that machine come from?
We both do a lot of soft black and grey tattoos so we put our heads together and designed a machine for that use. It’s been a ball-ache so far; a good four months of messing around with the cam system. The development stage has cost a few quid too. The design foundation was based on the idea of shrinking our spring machine – use a different spring, a different mechanism, a smaller motor and bring it down to a smaller frame
It’s ultra-soft hitting and it’s really nice for the soft tones. It’ll be all nicely anodised and a bit posh but it’s something you can put in your hand and work eight hours and it’s not going to bother you.
How much do you think it will cost?
It should be around about £200 -£210 mark, inclusive. We tried to make it even cheaper, but because of the complicated mechanisms we literally couldn’t do it. So instead, we’ve just tried to keep the profit down and make it an affordable machine. We don’t really want to go over the £200 mark if I’m honest. We don’t want to take the piss.
It’s a very fair price. Some of the mass-produced machines cost £400.
We’ve been told for months that it’s way too cheap. When our ID model machine came out, people said we should put the price up and we would sell more. I couldn’t get my head round that. It’s a psychological thing I guess; people think if it’s expensive then it must be better. But a machine is only as good as the person using it, no matter what machine it is. I think we all know that.
What do you think sets them apart from other rotaries?
They are built by a tattooist for tattooists. I know how they work and the mechanics of them. They’re an affordable tool, too. You can stick it on the shelf and after six months pick it back up. You can’t do that with many machines.
Who has influenced your growth as a machine builder?
My dad – the mighty Mr Dave Diamond. He used to run me round the country to find motors, to speak to other tattooists and get information about building them.
Another big influence is Andy Barber. He showed me so much about tattooing and about respect for the industry. He showed me how to put a machine together and gave me loads of information. Even now he still gives me knowledge. If I have a problem with a machine I’ll go speak to him. I class him as a good friend and one of the best people I’ve ever met in the industry.
Which other machine makers do you rate?
I don’t use any other rotary apart from mine. I’m not being big-headed; I just don’t feel the need to spend money when I make the things!
Also, I think that I tend not to look at other people’s rotary machines because I have a tendency to be stubborn. In my head, I don’t want to look at them or pay too much notice as I don’t want to be influenced by anyone else’s building. I want my product to be unique. I don’t want anyone saying ‘Oh you copied so and so.’
When I designed the ID machine I based the design on my dad’s coil machine. I asked to copy one of his frames so that I could make a rotary of it, and that’s where it came from. There’s nothing in the world like it, but some idiot on Facebook said I’d copied the Firefly. I’d never heard of a Firefly so I Googled it – turns out the Firefly is a copy of the Dragonfly and it’s nothing like the ID.
As for coil machine builders, I rate Xam and Tim Hendricks. They are amazing in my opinion.
All part of the service!
What can people buy from you?
We have a large range of machines – it’s probably best to take a look at our website.
What about servicing and new parts? Do you have a plan in place for people buying your machines?
The machines are guaranteed for life. If there is a problem with any machine I am more than happy to repair it or send new stuff. Most times I’d rather have the machine back so that I can service it. I’ve always offered this service. I stand by my machines.
And if people need to contact you for info or advice?
They can contact me on the Rotary Works Facebook page or go through the website and email from there. Or they can contact me at the shop; I’m here six days a week. Also, if people want to come into the shop and test-drive the machines then they are more than welcome. We’re based in Woking, Surrey, so we’re quite near to London.
Any interest in building coils?
No, it’s not for me. There are thousands of amazing coil builders. Overpriced, but amazing. Let them do what they do. I know rotaries. It’s what I’m good at so that’s what I’ll stick with.
Lastly, I know that you’ve also made foot pedals – is that something you’re going to continue?
Yes, Iain and I are working on a few designs. We have designs for foot pedals and machines that we are developing and testing at the moment. In the next year, they should go into production so it is going to be busy. It’s just a case of having the time and the money to do everything that we want to do.
7 Victoria Way