Parts and Ambition

This project began in 2006 in a small upstairs apartment on Seymour Street in Muncie, Indiana. Citrus Brown and I had returned home from a night out socializing at the Fickle Peach and after settling in, began to look for something to do that didn’t involve going back outside or spending money. Citrus, true to his nature, found a bone to chew on, leaving me to fend for my own entertainment.

It didn’t take long for me to notice a stripped down tattoo machine frame that had been on the work bench awaiting a rebuild. It was one of the first machines I had acquired; a Jonesy rip off from a tattoo supply warehouse that was popular in the 1990’s. The frame was originally a raw steel alloy with no coating or paint. After a thorough cleaning and drying, I pushed some candle wax into the threaded holes of the frame to preserve their functionality after the paint job I was about to apply. Within minutes, I had a can of bright yellow spray paint on hand and carefully hanged the frame from a light fixture by a wire coat hanger. Two coats of paint later, this machine project would be put on hold for some time as I had more pressing issues to attend to.

I wasn’t happy with the paint job I had applied; there were a few fish eyes and after careful evaluation I determined that I could have done a better job. My original intention was to sand it down and repaint the frame. It sat in a toolbox drawer until last Tuesday evening, waiting for my attention to fall back upon it.

Any Tuesday in December at most studios I have worked in is usually a slow day and last Tuesday was no exception. Two hours before closing time, I found myself wanting a fast project that didn’t involve spending money. As I pulled open the top drawer on my toolbox, I noticed the old yellow frame sitting among other frames and machine parts I had collected over the years. Suddenly the coating of yellow didn’t look as bad as I had remembered. I decided to use it without repainting, although time spent bopping around a drawer full of other metal frames had added a few scratches. If I could make it run smoothly before time to lock the studio for the evening, the Earl Scheib paint job wouldn’t bother me.

In minutes, I had all the parts I would need gathered on the work bench and carefully removed the wax from the threaded holes of the frame. I keep binding post insulators on hand in a 35mm film canister and dumped four of them out to use. The binding posts I would use were a set that I had obtained some time ago, for which machine I can’t remember. I selected them from the others available because they were brass; I wanted all the hardware to match the tube vice I would install. A set of coils with U.S. dollar wraps had been hanging out in my parts drawer since being removed from a knock off dial frame bought from a traveling salesperson passing through Muncie years previous. They were the correct height for the frame, 3.5 cm cores, so they were enlisted to become the magnetic powerhouse that would drive small round needle groupings into the skin of my clients. Beneath the coils I placed a thin steel yoke. The yoke is unnecessary on a frame constructed of ferrous metal but I installed it anyway as a matter of personal preference.

When building tattoo machines, I wire the capacitor independently from the coils. It is the intelligent way to approach wiring; if the capacitor fails, one only needs to replace that component instead of the whole electrical system of the machine. On this occasion, I installed a 47μF 50v capacitor because I intend to use the machine to drive small round needle groups, commonly known as “liners” or “rounds”.

The armature bar I selected fit perfectly at 4.5 cm in length and a weight of 13.5 grams. I normally cut my own springs from blue spring stock or feeler gauge but I was racing the clock and chose to use commercially available prefabricated springs I had on hand. They are blue spring stock and both front and rear are 19 gauge. After attachment to the bar and careful alignment, I tightened the small screw that completed the armature assembly. Then I selected a small rubber o-ring and stretched it between the front spring and the armature bar. This step isn’t necessary but it does make for a smoother cycle as the front spring is stabilized by the o-ring, effectively reducing chatter. I always use a drilled hollow screw to attach the rear spring to the deck so I selected one of the proper length for the frame and put it to use.

The frame originally had an outdated and often frustrating to use chuck style tube vice. It is a small metal collar chuck that can be tightened or loosened with a key style set screw that sticks out the front of the machine frame. They are a total pain in the ass to use and I had removed the collar years ago in anticipation of the rebuild that was now underway. The grandfather of a friend I worked with in Muncie was a skilled machinist and had produced for me a small brass piece in the shape I needed to make a superior functioning tube vice using the original threaded hole in the front of the frame. I selected a vice key screw to complete that part of the assembly and set about to plug the clip cord in and fine tune the machine.

Upon pressing the foot switch, the machine hummed quietly without producing sparks, a good indicator that there were no shorts in the circuit and the capacitor was working as expected. I turned the rheostat on the DC converter box slowly up to 9.25 volts, a good starting point for the tuning process on this particular machine. Adjusting the angle and height of the contact screw, I worked carefully to find the combination that provided the amount of throw I prefer with sufficient power to drive the needle groups I intend to use with the machine.

The project was finally finished! The following day, my first appointment required the use of a tight round needle group so I was able to test my results in the field. It worked beautifully; my lines were crisp, clean and consistent.

Adorn Your Corpse!

© David Rynes and King David’s Tattoo, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Holiday at Mom’s

It had been a couple years since I last made the long drive across Kentucky to my Mom’s house in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. I had no appointments and my Queen Malisah also had open days on her normally full calendar so we loaded our two Staffordshire terriers, a cooler and lightly packed bags into the Buick and set forth for a few days away from our offices and the apartment. My Mom’s house is situated halfway up a steep mountain in the Clinch River Valley, perfect for hiking the back country as there are no trails. The rough terrain and fear of wildlife keep all but local hunters from straying off the roads in this region; each year I go I always hear the same ominous sermon, “The copperheads are worse this year than ever before.”

This season, snakes and bears were not the obstacle that prevented our ascent to the top of the hill. Instead, it snowed enough to make climbing too dangerous to attempt. Having reached the crest on previous hikes, I knew the challenges ahead if we had tried to claw our way up in the cold snow. We held off disappointment with the reasoning we can always try again in the spring, also our route home would pass a state park in Kentucky that has trails more easily traversed in snow than the wilderness that is Mom’s backyard. Focusing on the positive, we made preparations for a small Thanksgiving dinner. Since it was only Mom, Malisah and myself, we baked a five pound turkey breast instead of a whole bird. Cornbread, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and a vegetable tray served as sides. It wasn’t a grand buffet but it was more than enough for the three of us to have a great dinner, turkey sandwiches the next morning and still leave Mom enough leftovers for another meal or two.

We spent a couple days catching up on stories about family and making sure Mom didn’t need anything done around the house. Her advanced age often prevents her from moving furniture and other maintenance projects that require younger eyes and physical strength. Of course, no trip to Mom’s is complete without looking through the numerous photo albums. My Mom is the keeper and guardian of many volumes of the pictorial history of my family; she has photos of relatives who lived many generations before herself and the collection spans the ages to include her current grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is always one of my favorite things to do when in the home of my elders; each photograph takes me back to the time and place even if it was before my time. Long dead relatives share their experiences in a single frame; context clues remind me what my own childhood was like, whom was in attendance at my fifth birthday party, my nephew and I at the dunes, old neighbors and the cars we drove all still live in the dusty tomes.

The morning came when we were scheduled to return to Indiana. It is always a strange feeling for me; I hate leaving the mountains to return to the fields. Don’t misunderstand me; I love Indiana for a lot of reasons; it is just difficult to leave a place my entire family calls “down home”. Having been born in Chicago Heights, Illinois, during the era my Dad was employed by Ford Motor Co., I do not have the same connection to my birthplace as the rest of my family does to theirs. Reluctantly, I loaded the car and did the customary once over of the guest room to ensure we weren’t leaving behind a phone charger or stray pants. The dogs were excited to be on the road again; they only know the adventure of new sights and smells with no care of road conditions, speed traps or public restrooms. After a cup of coffee, a shot of Jagermeister and a hug from Mom, we were off.

The ride home was graced with the nicest weather we had seen since leaving the Hoosier state a few days before. Our anticipation for hiking grew and we hurried on north to Slade, Kentucky where I had hiked a few times before. I had told Malisah about the naturally eroded sandstone bridge at the top of the mountain; that was our destination. Upon arrival, we parked the Buick and applied harnesses to the dogs. We started up the trail head and noticed a large sign full of rules and regulations. Being experienced hikers, we figured the rules were posted so freshmen would know not to burn down the forest and walked past the posted commandments as though they were in a foreign language. A short distance later, we crossed a small suspended bridge over the river and started the path up the mountain to the sandstone structure.

That is when we noticed the entire trail was littered with regulatory signage. NO drinking, NO fires, NO camping, NO terrorism, NO soup for anyone! What the hell happened to this place? It had been years since I camped and hiked here but I never guessed it was now under what I assumed was North Korean Management. The most troubling sign read this: “NO DOGS”. Now I knew just how full of shit this place was. I’ve been a responsible outdoorsman my entire life. Never have I encountered a dog free state park with dog free trails. Not wanting to cause problems, we decided to quietly and quickly leave.  Just as we reached the bridge back over the river, a seriously overweight park employee in a jeep pulled up, blocking our path back to the vehicle. He was the type that wanted to be in law enforcement his whole life but his love of butter and pork chops was stronger than his need for authority over his fellow man. Pathetic. As he rolled out of the vehicle, he was sternly reprimanding us for ignoring his signage about the dog free zone we were in. “It’s $1000 fine per dog!” he exclaimed. Nearby signs reported a $500 fine for defacing the sandstone structures; the anti-dog signs listed no monetary penalty. I have serious doubt that the state of Kentucky, backward as they may be, would care twice as much about a well behaved, leashed dog on a trail than vandalism of a natural structure in a mountain park. This pork-n-bean eater was hoping for a bribe.

Having been faced with government employees before, I am experienced in walking away from them when they make unreasonable demands or other nonsense. I told him we had just seen the signs and were compliantly leaving. He would get no money from us as we were just passing through and did not respect his authority. We calmly walked back to where our trusty Buick was parked and left without so much as giving our names. It was a disappointing outcome to say the least. I had hoped to share pictures of our hike and stories of how beautiful America is when one escapes the highway by a few hundred yards. Instead, I have shared a well written however dry story of a trip to my Mom’s house. At least the rest of the drive home was free of hassle. A safe return was made, the apartment still intact, the cats alive and well. The next day would bring our usual round of appointments at work, laundry and other day to day banality that composes the song of our lives.

sharks  Our dogs napping on Mom’s kitchen floor. Arwen Brahms and Captain Martin.

© David Rynes and King David’s Tattoo, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.



While organizing the drawing room in my studio, I found some classic tattoo flash a friend had given me some time ago. It was a set from The Zeis Studio, a graphic design, tattoo and equipment supplier in Rockford, Illinois. Packaged with a catalog of mail order lessons, machines and other items of the trade, it all came in an envelope post marked Nov. 14, 1969. I would guess my excitement easily rivaled that of the original addressee on the same date 44 years ago. After choosing a few sheets to frame and hang in the lobby, I set about redrawing some of the designs that I was most drawn to. My progress efforts are in the photo posted below. The goal is to complete a series of 6 images based on the designs Milton Zeis produced at his studio. I am using Mars 700 series technical pens, black ink and soft pastels. The finished drawings will be scanned and made available as prints on my Society6 page. 


From now until the end of December I will be offering great discounted prices on any traditional style/theme tattoo!

Adorn Your Corpse…in a traditional manner!

© David Rynes and King David’s Tattoo, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


lust for literature

The priest said all he had to say;

believed her bones in place would stay.

So it caused him much dismay

when her corpse up and danced away.

The grave released its captive pearl;

away in darkness she did whirl,

smiling with what’s left of lips,

wisps of hair and swaying hips…

Ashen skin and still of heart,

pale glass eyes reflect

the lust for life that brought her back for

more stories to collect.


© David Rynes and King David’s Tattoo, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.