I hadn’t heard of Wayne Taylor before the first issue of Nine Mag, but I was lucky enough to be introduced to his machines by Bert Thomas while we were down visiting him at Skyn Yard.
I had seen a few other rotaries with a similar concept before, but after speaking to more tattooers about these machines, it became apparent that Wayne was a different kind of machine builder. This is a guy who genuinely cares about what he is doing and makes sure that everything he does is done to the absolute best of his ability, a man with a passion for his work and craft. I went away after my visit feeling inspired that there are some non-tattooers in the industry that care so much about improving on what is out there.
Interview – Ben Lakin
Photography – Rich Luxton
What were you doing before you started machine building?
I’ve done all sorts, usually jobs I’m unqualified for. In the past, I’ve worked in heavy industry as an engineer. I’ve always made things, pulled things apart, fixed things people considered not worth fixing. I’ve worked in an industrial laboratory, paint sprayer, powder coater, all sorts really.
My brother had a piercing studio down in Devon where I’m from about 10/12 years ago, I then decided 8 years ago that I would start piercing as a hobby. At the time, I was working as an industrial paint sprayer but was then made redundant. Fortunately, it was just as Brett and Matt were starting the studio, so I thought, why don’t I start piercing? We realised it was going to be incredibly difficult because the piercing industry was bottoming out. I decided to try and get into the more extreme side of things instead. I was involved in body modifications, suspension. I made some titanium implants and put them in people. In my opinion anything in life is half skill, half luck, it depends on meeting the right people, in the right place and at the right time.
Whilst piercing the boys asked me if I would take a look at their coils. Having some experience prior to piercing with this kind of thing I took a look. I began to make coils but it was a saturated market just like the piercing so I started doing both. The problem I had was the amount of people assembling machines and the low cost of Chinese machines and parts. I was machining and building it all from scratch. For a while, I thought about going back into industry but I kept going.
So how did you move from here to the Rotaries?
The first one was built from a carbon fibre piece I had lying around for ages. It had to be made with carbon fibre to be thin and stiff but to allow it to be face mounted. We had the first one water jet cut which was a catastrophe because it de-laminates the carbon fibre. We bonded it back together just for the concept, we put some pictures up on Facebook and it went BOOM!
The concept for the new ones I’ve had in my mind since last autumn, because tattooing seems to go a bit quieter over the winter months, I was expecting it to go a bit quieter for me as well, but business just got busier and busier, I’m really, really stunned at how it’s gone.
So how did you pick up work at the start?
Andy Dykes and I got talking when I was building coils, he has been a help. If he gets asked for a rotary he sends people my way, if I get asked for a coil I send them his.
Word of mouth though really, when tattooists started to like them intrigue grew.
How do you handle demand?
Everything that I make at the moment I’m reinvesting, if you want 50 motors, sometimes you can get them at 2/3’s of the price but you need to try and get the money together to do it. I’m one of these people that doesn’t like borrowing money,
I never wanted to work for myself. I’ve always thought that there is something to be said for having a pay packet put in your hand at the end of the week. Things are a little different now though.
When I worked in the motor industry I got very friendly with John Gee who was the Draper rep and he told me how John Draper had started the company with a barrow on a market, he never borrowed any money in the company’s history, there are few companies that own everything, they don’t even hire cars, all their rep cars are bought, it’s a great way to do business. Whatever happens to the business, they owe no one anything.
So at the moment I’m desperately trying to save so I can reinvest in newer technology, I never see the point in changing things for the sake of it. I’m going to be doing two types of direct drives, with two different types of motors.
Why the direct drive?
I understand why a lot of people like it, one of the benefits of being an engineer is I find that machine builders that are tattooists tend to be too focused. They look at things within the tattoo industry and they don’t tend to look outside what’s being used in tattoo machines, you can take principles from other forms of engineering.
Brett who used to work with Matt uses a slider type rotary for lining, my problem with going rotary to linear is basically the slide mechanisms, whatever way you look at it, they are incredibly prone to wear. Listen to a piston or slider type machine and it quickly starts to sound like a bag of screws. That’s because the piston or slider is worn and starting to slap about, there is a way of actually fitting piston rings to a machine, it is possible but it’s not something I could achieve. I found something that can be used that wears really well, so that’s something I’m looking to try down the line, doing a slider type machine with improved wear rates.
The parts need to come from America, I tried to get a sample and they referred me to their German branch. They will tell me a price and sell me X amount of them, but won’t give me engineering samples so now I have to order a couple of hundred pounds just for a proof of concept. If it doesn’t work, that’s £200 worth of stock down the toilet! That’s the problem with being in this country, it’s so much easier in America; they have access to a lot more exotic materials, it’s just how engineering’s gone over here.
In comparison to other direct drives what separates yours?
It was designed from an engineering perspective. A lot of people go on about weight, but it’s not weight that’s an issue, it’s balance. I could make my machine lighter, the reason that the brace and the cap is made out of brass, is because it’s adding weight towards the front of the machine to try and offset the motor.
On the carbon fibre machine, because of the length of the shaft that I chose, it was the only way of face mounting the motor, the only other way around that would be to machine a piece of aluminium body that it sits inside, to machine a part like that is expensive and incredibly wasteful. Some people do it like that and there isn’t a problem with it but my machine was designed to be simple and relatively robust.
How long would you expect your rotary to last if it was used as a day to day machine?
I have had to do a few motor replacements. I guarantee them for 6 months. I treat my customers with respect and if a motor or other part needs replacing I will give it to them at the price that I am charged by the supplier.
Some of my clients have some of my earlier machines that are over 12 months old now and they are still sweet as a nut, this is because they look after them and use them at very low voltages. What kills a motor is radial and axial load, putting tipping force on the end of the shaft.
Rotaries get a lot of bad press, they’re not going to live as long as a coil does, but if you have a look at how much a machine will make you over time and if it makes your life easier it’s worth it. I charge people about £45 to replace a motor.
A brilliant tattoo artist will be able to do a brilliant tattoo with a bloody dinner fork and the ink out of a biro but finding the right machine means you have to concentrate less on the physical act of tattooing and it gives you more opportunity to focus on the actual art side of things.
What do you think about some of the rotaries that you see for £400+ on the market at present?
I know a lot of the big names in rotaries do a lot of the work in-house, which means they’ve had to invest in some serious pieces of machinery. One was having a moan on Facebook about the fact their machine was already being ripped off by the Chinese. I was looking through some of their pictures and one of the guys doing the prep for the machine had a box in view with the part number on. If you don’t want to get shafted, get clever.
I had a look at the part number and I was quite surprised, it was a premium DC brush motor, the reason I didn’t use them from the start is for a couple of reasons, one, they didn’t seem to give enough power and torque, two, radial and axial load is what kills a motor and they can’t take the same level of radial and axial load as the cheaper motors can.
The A-max is actually a more robust motor, Maxon never designed their motors for this application so a lot of the time, their motors will be used with reduction gear boxes, so it’s the gearbox that takes the hammering. The motor is just driving a shaft and there is no radial load on it, at all.
Is there anyone in the tattoo machine building that you admire or does it come from more a more engineer background?
When I first started building coils, Roger Rabbit was incredibly helpful, it tends to be a lot of the smaller machine builders try to get together to pool information, Andy Dykes was brilliant too. I did get a lot of stick to start off with especially from the other side of the pond because they say things like “would you trust a chef that hasn’t got any taste buds?’ ‘well yes, if he had somebody tasting his food’ “if you don’t tattoo, how can you build a tattoo machine?” when I get on a plane and go on holiday, the plane was built by an engineer, and not the fucking pilot! Flying’s a very tactile thing, so how can an engineer build an aeroplane?
The only way things progress is from an outside opinion. If you feel the need to ask an engineer why he makes anything, then you obviously don’t understand engineers! Because it’s a challenge, because they can, because they see a way of making things a little bit better. It’s a machine, it interests me, purely because it’s mechanical.
How long does it take from start to finish to build a machine?
A lot of the time is in setting the machinery up, I batch run parts, so I don’t build a machine as such. I will cut the blocks for 10/15 machines, then I will move on to the next stage. After it all gets polished it goes to assembly. If all goes well and I’ve got everything on hand I can do around 10 machines a week, coil machines are incredibly laborious, especially if you build everything from scratch and don’t just assemble.
When I was doing coil machines all my side plates were hand cut. If you’re making a frame by hand it will take you longer to make the frame than it will to make everything else and get it up and running. Going back to machine builders that aren’t tattooists, there is a certain individual that will remain nameless, I have seen two of his coil machines and both of them were put into the workshop for repair and they were brand new. One of them was just a lack of care and attention, a brass cast machine that wasn’t cheap, but it just runs like a fucking nail. It took me about half an hour to get it running right, the coils look like they had been wrapped by a blind kid in a third world country somewhere, they were disgraceful. The frame had been left as it came from the cast; it hadn’t been trued up properly. That is someone that is building for money, there is that old saying that “you can’t polish a turd but you can dip it in glitter”. The other one was stainless steel that he had made, the owner said it had never run right since he had it. I stripped it measured it up, built it back up and s ent it back and said “if you really want a machine that looks like that I’ll make you one because it would take me longer to rectify the faults than it would to make one from scratch.”