Interview: Sitting Down with Brandyn Feldman, Maker of Feldman MFG.
We caught up with American tattooist and machine maker, Brandyn Feldman while attending the 10th NZ Tattoo & Art Festival in New Plymouth, New Zealand. An absolutely wild time with friends old and new amongst the crowds of thousands and over 250 of the world’s best artists in this beautiful coastal city. It’s a great festival with a very fun and friendly vibe and deserves every aspect of its well earned reputation as one of the best tattoo conventions globally held today.
Brandyn shared with us the latest on his machine making world, his restoration project of Paul Rogers machine making shed, the Iron Factory, and some of his approaches to modern machine making techniques.
You can find the full interview on our YouTube channel and we hope you enjoy this cut-down here.
Adam: This is the second time we've caught up. Last time was 2 years ago.
Brandyn: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.
So now you're in the southern hemisphere, this is your first time in New Zealand?
Yeah, that's correct. Yeah.
Do you normally travel or do you enjoy it?
Yeah, I enjoy traveling. I’ve travelled, I've gone to Europe and Sweden, Norway, Germany, you know, places like that.
So you still like that aspect of your job?
Oh, yeah. It's fantastic. You go to a different country where you're miles and miles away and you see familiar faces and familiar craft, and it's pretty cool. And it's noisy (the festival), which is good.
Yeah, we like that noise. There’s a vibe. I mean, it's known as one of the best festivals globally. And what makes a good convention for you?
Man, I have been to so many tattoo conventions in my life. And a convention like this, the convention is where it's at. It's not too big. You can tell that they were meticulous with who they wanted to attend artist wise. And it's just well put together. You want to connect with, you know, fellow tattooers and the public to get tattooed and just learn from one another. It is a great time to, like, connect, you know, and that's what it's all about.
You know, you're a tattooist and a machine maker. What's going on with you and your machine making in the moment that you're enjoying?
Well, number one, I'm enjoying Paul's workshop. So I've restored Paul Roger's workshop, the Iron Factory. And that's been a huge blessing. And just I mean, that's just larger than anything I could ever have imagined.
It's magic, pure magic. So I'm really focused on that.
I'm focused on honing in and looking at some details of frame geometries and the process in which I make parts. And then from there, I think we're going to focus a lot on content and helping tattooers understand coil machines and the mechanics behind them a little bit more. I want to give that information too, to help cultivate more confidence.
I know that I've gone through plenty of shops and there are young artists that really want to use coils and they want to understand the machines.
Yeah, as part of their technique.
But it's difficult for them to learn, right? That information is (not always) available.
Putting that information out there and just helping people understand what it is that makes a coil machine work properly and give them the confidence to have that extra tool in the in the drawer. It's all about your tools and your craft in this business. And to create that, the best art you can so why not know it. It's always been my, I guess you could call it an obsession to really like fine tune the geometry, fine tune, how the machine best operates, how to look into the future of how that machine is going to operate by testing and just trying all kinds of different things and failing a lot too. Failing is really good.
Just because it's a CNC machine, you can still have that handcrafted aspect. And I try to keep that with all my machines and I think the end user can really feel that. So like let's, let's look at let's look at this machine for instance.
So what is this?
This is just what I call a W1.250. So no special name or anything. It's based off of more of a Wagner esque design. And I really like to look at the classic definition frames and like rethink them as much as possible. But when I look at it, I try to I try to think about, number one, what we want people to have a long career. So taking the weight down and balancing the machine is huge. But then how is the frame constructed and what can I do as an engineer and machinist to provide more details and a little bit more specialty to the tattoo machine. So I do that a lot.
Even you can't really see it 100%, but like inside of the frame, it's machined out to properly fit the wires and the capacitor. I do keep my machines very streamlined so I don't have a huge gap in between the inside wall of the machine and the coils.
It's really aesthetic. You know, if it was out here, it wouldn't necessarily change the performance. And design is everything. Everybody loves good designs. I spend hours upon hours designing in CAD. It's of part of being in that creative mindset.
You’ve been a machine maker for how long now?
I started building machines passionately, more seriously in 2005/2006. And I really was exploring manual machining. And if you would have told me that I would have had a CNC machine like that was way above my head. I knew what they were and I had parts made and things like that. But it wasn't until like 2015, 2016 that I really got into the idea of getting a CNC machine and knowing how it even could operate. That's been a career on its own and it's a lot of fun because you know, you can get a part that just is so perfect and that just gets passed on to the end user.
I mean, you make contract screws even from almost from scratch, right?
I take a silicon bronze screw and I just simply silver solder a nut to it. I use the same solder we make needles with silver bearing solder. I neutralize it. I take it to a Ph7, which I use baking soda to do that and just make, you know, make nice parts. And those little things like add up give the end user that specialness.
I could machine that out of solid bronze you know but I really like that handmade aspect and the only reason I make the CNC machine frames with the CNC machine is because I can get it so precise and the geometry so perfect and I mean it can make a frame that's absolutely seamless. But I still add that hand element to it.
So like even with this support bar right here, like I pre drill into the machine before it even takes shape. The first operation I completely drilled through the whole block of steel knowing that I'm going to press that pin in there and then, and then silver braze silver solder it in and that's solder it in there. That makes it so you've got extra support even though it's a solid block, you've got extra support out there and they just run better and it's good for rubber bands as well.
I love it because you can see this is a design here that we've seen before and it's still changing. You're still playing with your designs.
I want the artists to be able to have the confidence to repair a spring or slightly manipulate the machine or clean the machine without feeling that they've lost any magic.
You talked about Paul Rogers shed, so we can't just move on from that. You've got Paul Rogers Iron Factory Shed where he was making his machines from Tom (Beasley)?
Yes Tom got it from Paul.
And you completely renovated the shed? I mean we were talking last night, you've gone to looking at how Paul had it set up and even decorated.
I know it's a passion.
Do you feel that magic when you make machines there?
Oh man it's such a heavy thing to think about. But I got the shed. I was lucky enough to know Tom and I think Tom and Mick, his wife, I think they saw that I could actually do it. And so they were able to sell me the shed and I moved it with the help of some really nice friends in Maryland. And then I underwent renovations. It was outside its whole life. I contacted the original shed builder.
Leonard sheds in Georgia.
And it's still in business?
They're still in business. The man who started it passed away, but they were able to conjure up the old design plans. And the funny thing is, is the name of the shed company is Paul's son's name, Leonard, which is kind of cool.
That model of shed was called the “Convincer”. I don't know why “Convincer”. It's just a little baby shed. They don't make sheds like his shed at all. You can't find it now. But I pulled the floor out because it was rotten. And I had a lumber mill, mill me down the exact size block that the shed would have been made out of. And I remade the floor to the spec of the builder. So I took those plans. I took all the measurements of the shed and I drew it in CAD that way I could properly, you know, make all the cuts and you can park a car on that thing. I mean, it's strong.
I was texting my friend Mike Pike while I was doing that. And so he kind of like went on the journey with me a little bit. But yeah, it was a lot of fun. I rewired everything and I turned the lights on and I mean, you could feel the energy before I ever even did any of that. And I mean, it can live on for a long time.
You've gone through pictures that shed and found the stickers that he had (in there).
Yeah. I was able to find a lot of the details and I'm still working on that, by the way. It's a lot of fun and it's nice to have people come and visit.
That’s great, and you've done some builds in there. Toms obviously been there. Scott Sterling has been there.
They enjoy the hell out of it. And they went there and they knew Paul and I talk to Lance McClain all the time. He's such a wonderful tattooer from Wahiawa Hawaii, Honolulu. And he used to talk to Paul all the time. And I talked to Lance on the phone in the shed where Paul would talk to Lance. And it's just crazy, man. I don't know how to describe it, but it's just like all that time passing. It's phenomenal.
It's a really exciting history. So it's cool to see it with a machine maker also, because you love Paul Rogers machines.
And there is Paul Rogers machines in the shed. I've got a bunch of Paul Rogers machines and yeah, they're hanging right in the shed where he would hang them.
So look, we know you got some super special machines there (Brandyn's machine case) and I know you have some other ones from Sailor Jerry.
Oh right, right. Yeah.
Which obviously has the Australian connection when you think about Des Connolly and Alf Mingins.
So this would be considered an Aussie frame from all the letters I've read and the interaction with the actual design. Des Connolly would have corresponded with Sailor Jerry on this. Sailor Jerry was playing with different geometries and Des was a pattern maker. He was able to make what's known as a match plate. And a match plate is a board with two sides of patterns. Sand is put into what's called a flask and pushed into that flask to create two sides of a mold. It's called a sand cast mold. And those parts were made in Australia.
In Ballarat right, in Victoria?
Yes. That's where a lot of these frames came from, the “Bulldog”. What we know as the “Bulldog”, that that's a name that came from Mike Malone, I've been told, and Sailor Jerry just called them Aussie Frames because they're from Australia.
So and I've heard Des was a true eccentric person, lots of skill and craft. And I believe that this style of frame was one of the first Bulldogs and they just elaborated on it. And I have cast from the original match plate and I can tell you that the original castings had problems. There was a lot of porosity that would happen and the chuck and that was due to the gating and also the degradation of the actual pattern because they were made with wood and plaster and over the years that degradates.
And this is in the mid to late seventies?
Right. Talking about and when the thing about sand casting you got to remember is the patterns have to have a vertical surface. All surfaces had to have some kind of draft because when you when you jam that sand onto the pattern and you flip it, you've got it. There's a cope side and a drag side, and you've got to pull that out of the sand without pulling the sand with it. So, you know, based off of that and then degradation, it's kind of hard to get the pattern that the castings where you want them.
So what I did was this one is machined from a billet and I spent months getting it to where it was as close to the casting as possible. I didn't machine draft into it because you would have machined the draft off anyway, But aesthetically, they are as close to as you can get and they're tumbled in media for hours to get a nice radius on the corners. The only thing that's different about them is it's called as cast. It's the sand pattern. And when the iron goes into the sand, that's where you get that gritty look. Yeah, but this is smooth.
This is a A36 material. It's the closest steel to iron that you can get. It's free machining. It doesn't hold on to the magnetism, It’s a really good material to use. Then the armature bars and the coils are made from literally the same bars of material and I have them annealed. I have a massive amount of this material because you have to buy a lot. And I keep that in the machine shop. And when I make the parts, that's what I use.
They are from your billets?
The billet of the frame is different and that's okay. But the armature bar and the coil cores are literally from the same place. They're annealed at the same time. They're the exact material. I take the springs and I stamp the back spring with a hole and then a blank so I can modify it. And then I also stamp them with a hole in a slot and two different sizes so I could send the end user a spring and they can modify it. And then the front springs. A lot of times I'll surface grind them down. I take a lot of care in the springs and when I shave them down use a surface grinder. It keeps the material cool. So you don't re temper the metal. And then I use Arkansas soapstone to de bur the spring.
And the nice thing is, is you buy a good tool, it's a lifetime purchase, you know, as long as you don't lose it, keep it a nice box. You got something that will last for a lifetime. You know, and that's kind of that's kind of cool.
Every person, every tattooer just is going to be a little different. And I try to build that into what I make. But I know how I tattoo and I just try to keep that in the highest consideration and I just kind of hope that everybody else, you know, can adjust it to their liking or however it goes. The most important thing for me is that they're usable for others. For a long time, I think.
There's a lot going on. I'm really excited about seeing how the artists feel like here in Australia when we try to bring them over. Stoked we had the chance to sit down.
Yeah, for sure.
We're travelling together at the moment, so a few more stops and some fun things.
Yeah. And we're going to roll out some value added content and that will be helpful.
Brandyn, thank you so much.