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Mike Drexler Tattoo Machine Builder
Interview by Adam Lauricella
In February of 2011 I headed out on a day trip with some colleagues to the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention. I was looking for inspiration and a tattoo machine. I wasn’t sure who I would come across but I was hoping something would catch my eye. Lucky for me, something did.
As I crept through the packed aisle searching for a new tattoo machine, I looked up and saw this very minimalist banner. It was reminiscent of images you might find on the pages of a vintage Sears and Roebuck catalogue. Hand Made Machines was written at the top, the builders name on the bottom? Mike Drexler.
“Drexler…I know that name”, I thought. Mike’s name has been thrown into the mix from time to time when talking about bright spots in tattooing. Most recently Mike was a resident tattoo artist at Flyrite Tattoo in Brooklyn, NY. At 38 years old he has taken on building full time to meet the demand of his well-crafted machines. The first thing I noticed was how clean and well crafted his tattoo machines were; the second was how approachable he is.
In talking with Mike while running his machines it took almost no time to realize I was to be heading home with a cutback liner, simply named the “model 7.” The model 7 is a no nonsense liner, fast and constant with a nice hit. The machine, like his entire current line is flat black. The coils are cleanly wrapped with oxblood gaffers tape. Some coils were wrapped in navy blue other hunter green, but my new coils were a deep maroon. If Owen Jensen and a Spaulding Supreme had a baby, it would be the model 7.
Mike is based out of Brooklyn, NY; but he splits his time upstate in West Hurley, NY. West Hurley is a small little hamlet just outside Woodstock, New York. It is there that most of the building is done. Mike has a machine shop on the property of his home. That shop is about an hour from my tattoo parlor, Graceland Tattoo. As far as tattoo equipment goes, it’s the closet thing to “buying local.” That sealed the deal and I carried around my new liner inspecting it periodically as I spent the rest of my day at the convention.
Over the last 8 months Mike and I have stayed in touch. I later went on to by a shader from him. He walked into Graceland Tattoo carrying a rifle case. The case was stockpiled with an arsenal of machines; it was there that I found my color packer. One that is dependable and versatile. It’s known simply as the model 3 shader. All Drexler machines have a model number and that’s all. In an age where clever machine names are important to marketing a product and a smart way for builders to stay fresh in the minds of would be buyers (which is legitimate and refreshing in its own right); there is something comforting in the simplicity of a model number. In talking with Mike, and getting to know him a bit, I was invited to come up to his machine shop and check out the scene. Something I couldn’t pass up.
After shooting North up the NYS thruway I found myself turning onto a narrow, unpaved road. I rounded the corner of this country road to come upon a beautiful piece of property which surrounded his home and work shop. I was met at the driveway and welcomed in by Mr. Drexler.
One thing that is immediately recognizable is how organized and methodical Mike is. His work space is an impressive one man operation. He had a table neatly packed with side plates, base plates and spring shelves all waiting for some welds. Mike has his tools and equipment set up like a circuit. There are all the necessary tools needed to make hand made tattoo machines. All of Mike’s equipment is well maintained. His belt sanders, grinding stations and drill presses line the walls. When Mike is in his shop it’s all business, no distractions. There is something calming about his work space. It’s a world on its own; independent of anything else…private.
He took me into his home where he had a power supply set up and a well worn binder that looked like the Dallas Cowboys playbook. It was packed with hand drawn blue prints for his entire line of tools. He admits design, technique and approach to building keeps him up some nights. Mike has a quick wit and a scientific brain. He is meticulous in his approach to machine design and building. Drexler can almost sense your question before you ask it. It’s not done in an over bearing way, rather, you can tell he’s interested in his interaction with you.
Mike validated different frustrating experiences I’ve had using different machines through out the years. He had a lot of answers and some great insight. I will be clear, I am NOT a builder. My questions come from the perspective of a tattooer, someone who loves a well-crafted machine. After having some light shed on different technical questions, I had a chance to ask some other questions. The Q&A I will share with you now. I think Mike Drexler has an important voice in tattoo machine building and in some circles, there is little known about him or his machines. His machines are widely used in Europe, an exploding market. Yet this American builder should be on the tip of every tattooer’s tongue and if you don’t own a Drexler machine it should certainly be on your short list.
A- When did you begin tattooing?
A-At what point in your tattoo career did you make your first machine? What prompted you to do it?
MIKE- I started ripping machines apart and rebuilding them from the start.
A-Do you still have that first machine?
MIKE- The first machines I built are in a drawer somewhere alongside many
A-When did you decide to focus on machine building as a serious trade? Has it taken you out of the tattoo making game?
MIKE- Not long after I got the workshop up and running and all the kinks
A-Do you have a machinist or fabrication background?
MIKE- I was always handy with tools. I built a lot of skateboard ramps in
A- Could you describe your tattoo machine building style?
A-One thing I really love about your machines are the frames. They are fresh designs but are still familiar… “Instant classics.” Can you briefly describe the machine frame design process?
A-Do you have any thoughts on the up swing of “builders” out there?
MIKE- There sure is a lot of "builders" out there. I am not sure how they
A-Where do you see your machine builds heading in the future?
MIKE- In the future, I see some small tinkering leading to some small
A-How can people get in touch with you?
MIKE- I can be contacted through Facebook at:
www.mikedrexler.com is up, but out of date and currently under
You can also stay connected on instagram @drexlermachines
Interview by AdamLauricella.com
TattooNOW TV: Tattoo art at its finest! Filmed at Off the Map Tattoo
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