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Free Hand and Minimalistic Piercing Methods

This might be a little bit more inside baseball then a number of my other piercing blogs but from time to time I do get clients asking how I do a type of piercing or asking why I think it is the best method. I decided after a couple of recent conversations about Free Hand and Minimalistic Piercing Methods that I should write something on the subject. My goal is not only to explain my opinions on the subject but to help educate those thinking about getting a piercing and some of the risks and advantages involved.

If you look at the history of Body Piercing as an industry it all started with Jim Ward's Gauntlet way back in 1975. Employees and associates like Elayne Angel, Fakir Musafar, Mr. Sabatian and Doug Mallory helped to not only perfected most of the methods, piercing placement, and jewelry but help to educate the industry that exploded in the 1990s. They through trial and error laid out the basic methods of piercing and the equipment used to do them. Many of the first professional piercers either were trained by Gauntlet or were semi self taught through the how to articles in Jim Ward and Gauntlet's Piercing Fans International Quarterly. 

When I began piercing professionally in 1994, there was already a set method and set list of equipment used for the various piercings that I was trained to do. At that point it was the Pennington Forceps, Foster Forceps, Needle Receiving Tube, Hemostats, Taper Pins, Ring Opening Pliers, Ring Closing Pliers, Calipers, Cork and of course piercing needles. In addition the uses of surgical scrubs like Betadine, sterile gauze and cotton tip applicators. For the most part in the years that have followed not much has changed in my list of tools or the basic procedure in which I preform a piercing. The well thought out methods and techniques were designed to increase the success of the piercing and reduce the risks to the health of the piercer and the piercee. 

Now I don't do everything exactly as I was trained to do them. Over the years I have adapted my methods, not only to improve the effectiveness of my piercings but also to adapt to the ever changing different shapes and sizes the human body presents. The reality is that often the most tried and true method of piercing a part of the body isn't the best choice when nature throws you a curve ball when it comes to the anatomy you are presented. Some placements just wouldn't work or would be altered greatly with the uses of forceps.

Free hand piercings and minimal piercings are not a new idea or cutting edge. In fact they have both been around in some form since the first time someone slipped on a pair of gloves, punctured a part of the human body and slide a piece of jewelry. If you really want to dig back into the history of modern piercing, you might want to dig out some of the old PFIQ how to articles and some of the early Gauntlet how to videos. I have to admit wincing while watching a Prince Albret piercing done extremely slowly without a needle receiving tube in one of those early videos.

The fact is that tools and the uses of them was added to piercing procedures not only to make piercing easier but to increase safety and improve the outcome of the piercings. I understand the ideas behind freehand piercings and doing the piercing with the least amount of items possible. The idea being that with less items involved there is a reduced chance for cross contamination. My biggest question to this is, Don't you have a sterilizer? I mean if you are taking the correct steps to sterilize your equipment before using them, what is the issue?

The other point that is brought up is that altering the shape of the piercing, can effect the placement of the piercing or cause damage to the tissue. To this I have to say, that marking the placement correctly in the first place will allow your to clamp the piercing area correct to insure that the placement is correct. What's that you don't mark the piercing? What? Are you aware of the fact that the simple act of reclining or sitting up can greatly effect how the body sits and the piercing area can completely change. It is why we mark piercing that are effected by the stance of the piercee like Nipples, Navel, Labia, and Guiche with the piercee standing. The reason is simple those parts of the body rest completely different when the person is sitting or laying down. 

Don't get me wrong I think there is a lot of thought that have gone into their methods but I've also noticed when encountering a number of those piercing without marking and without tools, there is an altitude that some how the uses of tools or the important step of marking the correct location of the piercing, is some how less skilled or beneath their greatness.  The word cocky comes to mind and I'm sorry to rain on the parade but that is dangerous and a bit unethical when you are taking another person's health and safety in your hands. It's like this, I can drive a car without a seatbelt just fine but regardless of how skilled I am as a driver, there are events outside of my control that could cause an accident and it's in my best interest to wear a safety belt. Also I could drive with my knees or with my eyes shut but it wouldn't be safe.

With that in mind I thought it might be a good idea to list some of the tools, items and their methods as a reminder of why they were used in the first place. 

  • Surgical Scrub - Applying it to the surface of the area that is about to punctured to decrease the chances of foreign pathogens that the piercee has encountered being introduced into the piercee's body and causing an infection.
  • Marking - Making a mark that will not change regardless of the piercee's stance to insure that the placement is straight and correct. Also to show the client to make sure not only that it is the correct piercing but that the placement is what they desire.
  • Forceps​ - Though not useful in areas of the body that it will effect the shape of the piercing area. Where they are useful, they flatten the tissue producing a faster and less painful piercing, line up the piercing markings to insure that the placement is correct, supports the tissue and allows the piercer to move and adjust the tissue to insure the placement is correct. The other thing that must be considered is the fact that it does reduce the likelihood of a needle stick by allowing the piercing to move and adjust the piercing area with no direct contact or fingers in the way of the piercing. Not using forceps can also slow down the speed of the piercing and require the piercer to pierce at a much slower rate.
  • Needle Receiving Tube - Adds support to exit point of the piercing in areas where a cork can not be used but doesn't slow down or impede the piercing. Also allows the needle to travel through tight areas of the body without causing damage to the skin surrounding the piercing area. For example a number of ear piercings and genital piercings. Not using a NTR can also slow down the speed of the piercing and require the piercer to pierce at a much slower rate.
  • Cork - Supports the exit area of the piercing to all the needle to cut through the tissue instead of tearing the tissue. Protects the piercer against needle strikes. Not using a cork can also slow down the speed of the piercing and require the piercer to pierce at a much slower rate.
  • Hemostats - Allows the piercer to grip jewelry in tight areas of the body and move or close jewelry more quickly then they could by hand.
  • Ring Closing and Opening pliers - Allows the piercer to open and close larger gauge jewelry without causing additional stress to the piercing or increased pain to the piercee.
  • Taper Pins - Has a great deal of uses beyond it design as an aid stretching piercings and inserting jewelry of a larger gauge. Including a tool for inserting internal labret studs in part of the body where the piercing needs to be done in the opposite direction by pushing the needle out with a taper pin and then inserting the thin end inside the Labret and inserting the jewelry in the opposite direction of the piercing.  Also used in the rare cases where the jewelry and the needle separate during the jewelry insertion.

I have to stress something that concerns me the most and that is the needle stick. This is a extreme risks to not only the health of the piercer but to that of the piercee. One needs to that a piercing needle is in fact a hypodermic needle that was designed to inject fluids into the body and extract them. So when a piercing needle goes through the body of the client and then punctures the piercer's finger or hand, a couple of things happen. The first is that the needle that has been contaminated by the piercee, is directly injected into the piercer's blood stream. Thus introducing foreign pathogens to the pierer. At the same time, the needle will draw blood from the piercer and contaminate the needle. So a needle stick puts both at risk.

Call me a zealot but any precaution that will reduce the likelihood of a needle stick should be without question taken. The small likelihood of a client being contaminated by a pre-sterilized item and the risk of a needle stick caused by increasing the likelihood of putting fingers in harms way should be considered. Also I should say that in close to 19 years of piercing using the corks, forceps, etc.. I have had 4 needle strikes. That is one for every 4.75 years and in every case the cause was something that I didn't predict happening.  Almost in every case it was that the client reacted to the piercing in a way that I didn't foresee. I attribute my track record to not only my own skill but to the methods developed by those that came before me. 

So what does all this mean as a piercee or client? Well, ask your pierce about their methods and what precautions they have taken to insure your safety and their own. A ethical piercer will not only take the time to explain their methods but should have a well thought out reason behind this. I like to walk my clients thorough the procedure and explain what I'm doing and the reasons behind the action.

I want to point out one last thing and understand that I don't feel this is always the case but it should be considered. Removing tools and items from the piercing procedure reduces the cost of doing the piercing and the amount of work needed to disinfect and sterilize items and tools. Body Piercing is a business and one of the things that life has taught me about businesses, is often they cut overhead and then come up with some justification for the reduction of overhead. Maintaining tools and stocking items cost money. Sterilization of tools and items cost money in the form of disinfectants, maintaining and testing a sterilizer and the sterilization pouches. 

In conclusion, consider when either getting a new piercing or performing a piercing the risks involved with limiting the uses of tools and other items that may make the piercing not only better placed and less painful but also may greatly reduce the risks to the health of both involved. A piercing can be a life changing experience but it shouldn't be a life threatening experience.