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It started out simple. I knew Jake was putting out a technique episode looking at some of the Cheyenne rotaries. Jake looks at the differences in the Cheyenne Pen and the Thunder in episode 17. So I got this really cool idea to contrast that machine centered exploration with my own look at something more traditional, custom coil machine building. As it turns out, a tattooer I’ve known literally since my jr. high skateboarding days, happens to be one of the most diverse hardcore coil machine builders in the business. My two-hour facetime interview with Nathan Dietsch ended up being far more than I bargained for. It ended up being part interview, partial catchup of two old friends, and partial drinking from the firehose of the technical coil machine genius which is Nathan Dietsch. As a result, this entry will probably teeter between all three of what I just mentioned.
When I last saw Nathan, he was a light hearted, high GPA skater kid, that I always enjoyed being around. Dietsch originally wanted to pursue his dream of being an Architect. Unfortunately, his already visible collection of tattoos presented several obstacles that eventually prevented his academic pursuits. This was the beginning of a new path, which not only lead him to focus his many years of drawing and doodling into tattooing, but also delving his hands-on technical problem solving mind into what would be his second passion, machine building.
Starting out about 22 years ago, he progressed quickly in his first shop. However, when he figured out how to fix machines on his own and brought in his handiwork, the guys at the shop simply took him to a drawer filled with nonfunctional machines and told him to have at it. He fixed every single one.
Thus began his hands on self-education that would eventually lead him to seek out and obtain guidance from some of the most respected living legends at the machine building end of the business. His experience with John Black consisted of being handed a hunk of metal, a hack saw and a file, then being told he was going to build a Paul Rodgers style machine. Black respected Dietsch so much that he let Nathan put a Rock of Ages back piece on him.
Along with his yearly trip to Mike Schaffer’s shop in Montana, Dietsch also credits Mike Pike and Joey Desormeaux of Infinite Irons as his other major influences and teachers. Another way of looking at it would be that he has both the chops of being self-taught through trial and error, as well as soaking up the wisdom of hanging with the old guys.
When I asked him about how much time he spent between tattooing and machine building, he responded that it was about 50/50. He is very traditional from his refusal to use powder coating to his love of miging, tiging and braising. This attitude carries over to his disdain for younger generation artists who are obsessed with number specs. Instead, he requires that people ordering custom machines tell him whether they want a shader or a liner. They must specify heavy or light, fast or slow, hard or soft and the kind of tattoos it will be used for. He builds it and tattoos with it for a week before the client ever gets it.
When I asked about the base clientele, he broke it up into three categories. He gets a lot of older curious guys who want to see just what the hype is all about. He gets a lot of midrange guys who have specific purpose and get workhorses made to order. Lastly, he gets the occasional younger guys who are mostly curious, usually having seen a Dietsch machine in the hands of a mentor or coworker.
Although he laughs and says the younger guys usually can’t handle the strength of the coils and normally go back to their rotaries, he did want me to state for the record that he has no problems or issues with those using rotaries. He simply thinks coils work better. Sure there are a lot of people doing a lot of really amazing work with rotaries, but it is his experience that the people doing the most quality work are the ones who learned on a coil. From the give that a coil spring allows on the skin to the variations of a myriad of other machine based techniques, Dietsch feels that a true grasp of the fundamentals comes only through solid foundation with a coil.
He sums it up with an illustration of hammers. If you have a 5lb hammer and a 12lb hammer, the 12-pound hammer will break a rock up quicker, with less motion and giving the user greater strength over time. This is why he uses a 13-15 oz machine at all times. It is a matter of efficiency and less wear and tear on the artist.
I’ll close with just a quick look at his general philosophy as an artist. He sees himself as part of a trade, not an industry. Thus his loyalty to the preservation of some of the more fundamental aspects of that trade, such as machine building. He believes in quality work, good customer service and a fair price. He just wants to be a guy who takes care of his city and shows kindness to all the newer guys, with pride and a humbleness that keep his love of his craft ahead of personal gain. In fact, he doesn’t care about money. Jack Rudy once told him, “Don’t ever care about money. If you don’t care about money, it’ll always flood in. If you do care about money, you’ll always be a starving son of a bitch.” So it is with great pride that he professes that he only has two passions, tattooing and machine building. He is just blessed that both happen to put food on his table.
If you are interested in seeing more of his work, contacting him, or ordering what he will probably tell without hesitation will be the best machine you have ever used, then check out the links below.
Also, Eddy Deutsche will be at his shop in January. You know, in case want to make an appointment.
Lastly, remember to check out Fireside Techniques episode 17:
As always, Thanks for your support of the Tattoo Improvement Network.