Tattoo artists take pride not only in their designs but also their machines—and master builders customize their tools of the trade in the same way gearheads tinker with their prized motorcycles. Rider and builder Tommy Haley crafted the coolest moto-inspired iron we’ve ever seen by incorporating an Indian motorcycle engine cover into his latest coil machine.
We still make stuff with our hands. Craftsmanship is a point of pride in the tattoo industry. Back in the day when everybody had to make their own ink, needles and machines, tattooers mailed each other tattoo designs and that’s how the artwork evolved. Now, in the digital age, we have embraced social media as a venue to swap ideas on tattoo art, but tattooing remains one of the few businesses in which we all still work with our hands. Robots aren’t going to replace tattooers and you can’t order a tattoo off of Amazon Prime to have it delivered by a drone. Some of the finest tattooers in the world still make their own kits and are as proud of those creations as their artwork. One such craftsman is Tommy Haley of Blood Money Irons. He’s put in a decade and a half to tattoo artistry and making his own beautiful machines, which then make incredible tattoos. He’s had his hand in tens of thousands of tattoos.
Haley has logged about the same amount of hours on a motorcycle. “Riding is the rawest thing I can think of,” he says, “it’s wild when your hair is moving and it hits you that it’s just you and this machine, your bike.” In order to bond his two passions we asked him to create a tattoo machine out of an Indian motorcycle part. A bike and tattoo machine are fairly similar in that they both require expert engineering and give us a thrill. “I am excited about this project of taking something that isn’t traditionally a tattoo machine and making it into one,” Haley says. “Indian is a legendary brand and to inject its DNA into tattooing is an honor. When I was a kid, I remember seeing a picture of an Indian motorcycle and I was overcome with respect for the clear dedication to the craft of engineering I saw in that motorcycle. That moment still stays with me.”
The result is a gorgeous machine, but much like an Indian motorcycle, its brilliance isn’t just in the appearance. “I’ve seen tattoo machines that look cool but if it doesn’t function correctly it is a waste; you can have the most badass bike in the world but if it doesn’t run good you have nothing,” Haley says. “I pride myself on more than the aesthetics. To me, function is the form.”
Yes, this baby hums like a classic Indian Motorcycle V-Twin engine. What tattoo does Haley think should be the first made from his machine? “Forget about the overall tattoo design, the first thing tattooed with this machine will be a solid black line,” Haley says. “While Indian makes sleek bikes they all start with a strong foundation—and the foundation of every great tattoo is the first black line.”