Body Piercing Needle Physics

I have discussed the angle of nostril piercings pretty thoroughly in my previous blog entries.  In most instances, perpendicular piercings are going to look best and heal best.  With the exception of nostrils pierced with rings, in which case my client and I agree to deal with longer healing times and more complications so the piercing is aesthetically perfect for a ring.

So, now all that we, the piercers have to do is set the needle at the right angle and push, right?  Problem solved!

Unfortunately, no.  

Needles are not push pins.  Let’s look at a push pin:

The arrows represent the pressure from the cork board, which is equal on all sides.

When you press a pin or thumbtack into a cork board to hang up a sick punk flyer or a Garfield comic strip, you put pressure directly at the back of the pin, and the pin hits at the perpendicular surface and goes straight in.  The pressure acting on the pin is equal at the top and the bottom (and the sides), and this aids the pin in going straight.  

Now, let’s look at a modern piercing needle.  This is totally different.  It is essentially a metal tube cut at an angle and sharpened (there is much more to it than that, but let’s not get distracted in this blog entry).  That cutting surface presents a problem. 
The arrows represent the drag pushing the needle in a downward angle.

Here’s what beginners think a needle does:

Here’s what it actually does.

The pressure from the tissue on the cutting surface pushes the needle “down”.  I was introduced to this idea at the Fakir Intensives in 1999, and they call this needle drift.  I’ll be honest, it was 2 years of piercing in a busy shop before I really understood what was going on.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, to pierce at a 90 degree angle, the needle needs to go through like this:

Of course, this is very easy to visualize on a 6 gauge needle. It is exceptionally challenging to accommodate for this on an 18g needle.  I have demonstrated this showing the bevel facing up, but it is the same no matter which way the needle bevel is facing.

How does a piercer manage to get angles perfect, given this challenge?  This is where I like to point beginner piercers toward clamped piercings.  Clamped piercings give us visual cues to make sure we are holding our needles perpendicular to the tissue.  Also, when we visualize our exit, we tend to hit it.  (I did, in fact, just say something nice about clamped piercings.  I should have asked some of you to sit down before I said that.)  

As a brief aside:  this concept is introduced in the Fakir Intensives Basic Piercing Intensive, yet year after year I find piercers who aren't familiar with this concept (and who also feel the Fakir class isn’t worth their time).  It was Ken Coyote who taught me this on my second day of piercing education, and I am lucky to have had the concept introduced to me so early.  Long story short: the Fakir Intensives is worth your time if you are a piercer.

In addition, at the Association of Professional Piercers Conference June 8-13, 2014 there will be a class on needles called Needles: the Cutting Edge.  This class will be taught by Luis Garcia and Brian Skellie, and I would strongly suggest it if this blog is intriguing to you.

I don’t intend to answer the needle drift issue in this blog, I merely want to introduce the concept before I start approaching actual piercing techniques.  I will be demonstrating how to avoid needle drift for perpendicular piercings, and how to use it to our benefit when we do angled piercings for rings.  I will also be posting technique videos.  These blog entries haven’t been about health and safety, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be demonstrated.  To my colleagues: if you have comments or critiques on health and safety, placement, or technique - let’s discuss them!  I would very much like this to be a learning experience for all involved, myself included.

Full Disclosure: I am an instructor for the Fakir Intensives and I am also teaching classes at this year's Association of Professional Piercers conference.  Why do I include this disclosure?  This is a critical thinking skill: a healthy dose of skepticism should be applied to claims made by salespeople (like me, in this instance).  I think it is ethical for me to explain that I have a vested interest in people attending both the Fakir Intensives and the APP conference (even if I don't benefit financially from them).