How to tattoo yourself with a pair of swine branding pliers

The pig tattooing device looks a lot like a medieval tool of torture. And yes, it hurts.

Fashioned out of cold, hard steel, the instrument appears much like a pair of pliers. Except instead of performing the mundane tasks associated with things like home renos or bike repairs, this tool punches holes in skin.

Bolted in the head of the piece is a series of centimetre-long nails, which are used to push ink into the epidermis. This is how Bernard*, a 30-somethings professional, fashioned his most recent tattoo, a small dotted X on his lower, left butt cheek.

The device Bernard used, however, is not meant for humans. This steel flesh clamp is typically found on farms, and is used to give pigs a customized ear branding,

Think of it as an agrarian-borne tattoo – a painfully prairies stick-and-poke process that produces a wickedly distinct permanent marking along with an almost-cheerful mixture of bright green ink along with a crimson smear of blood.

But why would someone put themselves through the motions of what is essentially squeezing a series of nails into their own skin? Already adorned with several tattoos, some professional, some not, I had to ask Bernard the most obvious question: Why tattoo yourself with a pair of pliers meant for branding pigs?

“I’ve had a weird fascination with things that are designed to be functional but have an unintended aesthetic. That’s part of the appeal – the needles that are arranged to form a sketchy letter.”

The pliers are meant for a pig’s ear. So, because of the nature of the clamps, only a few precious body parts can even be considered. Anything that flaps or droops, says Bernard. Like the butt.

“Conceivably, anywhere you can grab a wad of skin. I guess you could always just push the letters into your skin,” he offers.

“Like a thumb-tack.”

Four-letter fun with a pair of pig poke pliers

Bernard was on tour with his band at a club in Hamilton when he first got the idea. Having met a woman with an earlobe punched with her first initial, she revealed that she had done it herself with a pig tattooing device from her family’s farm.

After doing some research, he decided to take the plunge and buy his own swine tattoo kit. Mulling over his options – at one point he considered using the pliers on his knuckles considering the clamp holds a maximum of four letters, which is kind of perfect considering how many fun, cool four-letter words there are – Bernard found himself on the fence. But then, after a few days of indecision, he got drunk and clamped the boar bits into his butt.

“Is there a reason that no one does this? Is this totally not safe to do?”

After boiling down the spikes, Bernard loaded up the pliers using a combination of gloves, tongs and swabs. After applying the pig-poke ink, which looks like a giant green tube of deodorant, he yanked on some flesh and squeezed the pliers as hard as he could, until blood squirted out.

So it hurt, right? You betcha, says Bernard. But not as much as you think.

“They are not inviting,” he says, picking up the pliers. “I mean, It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. At least on the butt. There likely aren’t as many nerve endings on your ass as their are on your fingers.

“It’s a different kind of pain. It hurt more, but it’s so short so it hurts less.”

There are safety concerns, of course. While he took as many precautions as he could, including cleaning the wound with Polysporin, Bernard says he has no idea if there is a correct way to take the boar bits.

In the course of his research he essentially came up empty-handed aside from countless pictures of people tattooing pigs. And apart from the one person he met, Bernard says that he has yet to read any articles exploring pig branding on humans.

“Is there a reason that no one does this? Is this totally not safe to do? I had no idea how deep I was supposed to punch into my skin, or how long I was supposed to squeeze for,” he tells me, after pulling down his pants to show me his tat.

The ink appears to have settled into his skin nicely, and his posterior seems to be as fine as it ever was. Still, after getting tattooed with a pig poker he isn’t calling himself an expert on the subject.

“I was paranoid for several days after, but it all seemed to work out. It’s not something I would recommend, but I guess everyone could use a unique experience in their life.”

*Names have been changed