How to get a traditional hand-tapped tattoo

Updated June 20, 2018

Tattooing is becoming more and more popular across the UK, but the traditional, “hand-tapped” method of tattooing isn’t widely practised. Modern tattoos use an automatic tattoo gun, which makes the entire process a little bit easier, but doesn’t reflect the somewhat brutal history of tattooing. In the past, anything from shark’s teeth to rose thorns were used as tattoo needles, but the traditional hand-tapped method (which uses a needle pushed through a stick and another stick to tap the needle in) is undergoing a renaissance. Finding a tattooist who uses the traditional method is the most challenging part of getting the tattoo, but you’ll also need a design in mind before you book your slot.

Choose a design for your traditional tattoo. Think about what you would like tattooed and where you want it to be on your body. You can get a hand-tapped tattoo suggested by the tattooist or from his or her library of pre-set designs, but if you want something unique it’s better to think about designs and settle on something you really want. Simple designs are common with hand-tapped tattoos, but a good artist will be able to complete more complex ideas.

Search for traditional-style tattooists in your local area. Use a website like Ink and Iron (see Resources) and enter your postcode (to the right of the screen) to look for tattooists close to you. Read the information for the different tattooists and see if they mention traditional hand-tapped tattoos. Phone the number provided for a tattooist and ask if they provide the service or know any local tattooists who do if you’re struggling to find any. Google search “hand-tapped tattoo” followed by your location if this doesn’t work. Shops such as Spikes Tattoo and Piercing in Wolverhampton and Tizzs in Lewes have specialist hand-tapped tattoo artists.

Find upcoming tattoo conventions. Conventions happen across the country throughout the year, with options in places like London, Manchester, Brighton and Doncaster (see Resources), and these often feature numerous artists. Do some research and see if any nearby conventions have artists who specialise in hand-tapped tattoos. The various event websites ordinarily have lists of artists who will be attending upcoming festivals. You can also use online tattoo event calendars like the one on Total Tattoo (see Resources) to find upcoming events.

Book your slot with your chosen tattooist. You can turn up to festivals and try to get an impromptu slot with one of the artists, but it’s much better to book in advance and discuss designs with the artist. Attend the event or go to the tattoo shop on your agreed date at the time of the booking to get your tattoo.

Things You'll Need

  • Design/tattoo idea
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About the Author

Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.