The Changing Role Of The Autoclave For Tattooers | Fireside Blog
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The Changing Role Of The Autoclave For Tattooers | Fireside Blog

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As many of you know, Jake recently left his long time tattoo shop home at Underground Art to continue providing you with quality content. Although he did not open his own shop, he still needed a place to work, so he had to get his new studio space approved and licensed as a tattoo shop so he would have a place to work on people as an artist and also film the work he does to provide new and informative goodies for you. One of the things that came up in our conversation was the fact that the health inspector was pretty happy that Jake had a setup that did not require her to inspect an autoclave. This got me thinking about the fact that I also don’t have a setup that forces a need for on location sterilization either. So as luck seems to deal it to me, all the other kids are at the tattoo convention this weekend, while I am sitting here writing about autoclaves. Why? Because I like you people that much and because I’m just that nerdy.

So let’s look at the very important history of that well used Pelton and Crane sitting in the back of your shop. As many of us know, one of the reasons that tattooing was historically considered a dirty thing on the fringes of society had to do with the fact that up until about 20 or 30 years ago, hepatitis was a pretty well accepted risk that went with entering the ranks of the inked underworld. By the 80’s you really saw a turnaround with the whole industry. In many places the tattooers themselves were becoming progressively self-regulated ahead of and often shaping the rapid rise of licensing and legislation taking hold. At the forefront of the bootstraps of safety was the autoclave.

Tattoo shops use the autoclave to sterilize used needles and tubes that have come in contact with blood and contaminated surfaces. However, as more and more artists are gravitating to supplies and setups that are pre-sterilized and disposable, we have to question the role of this faithful and steadfast device in the future of tattooing. As Jake described to me, the health inspector was extremely pleased to not have to deal with the time and energy involved with spore testing and test running an autoclave, since Jake uses disposable cartridge grips, tubes and needles that are also premade and pre-autoclaved. This saves a headache for both the artists/shop owner and the inspector.

If you read one of my previous entries on machines, you may recall that I discussed the decline in machine making being taught to the younger generation of artists. Although machine making is a skill readily passed on, especially with the increase of rotary machines, I’d still be hard pressed to find a tattooer from any generation that didn’t have to put in their time with a soldering iron and a needle making jig. Needle making is an art form by itself. However, needle making is a very time consuming practice that doesn’t exactly balance out. Most people just spring for a fractionally higher expense of premade as opposed to the time consumed in needle making. Most artists I come across have been doing the premade needle thing for a while. It is only over the past decade or so that tubes and grips have finally joined their pointy companions in the land of convenience.

Disposable tubes really first became popular with cosmetic tattooers. However, for the general tattoo industry, the earlier plastic grip/tube combos didn’t provide the counterweight to the heavier coiled machines used by artists. It was a desirable paradigm to have everything premade and pre-autoclaved, but it was just a matter of time before the industry caught up. Starting with disposable tubes fitting reusable metallic grips, the industry is really taking a foothold with the disposable status as rotaries provide a more balanced setup.

I’m guessing I don’t really have to make a case on benefits here. However, the other thing we have to look at is legislation and the role of piercing in the continued need for a shop to maintain and use an autoclave. As many of us can attest, there are some pretty crazy laws out there that are often not balanced with common sense. So as usual, the comment lines are open. We’d love to hear from you. What are the laws like in your state? Would they require you to have and maintain an autoclave, even if you don’t actually need one? For shops that also have piercers, how does that effect the prospect of going clave-free? Any other thoughts on the pre-sterilized and disposable direction? Favorite brands and suppliers?

Till next time….

-Art

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