The e-cigarette industry is changing so rapidly that it seems nearly a full-time job just to keep up with all of the developments. Small “cig-a-like” e-cigarettes seem to have hit an all time low in popularity, while many in the vaping community abandon their starter devices in search of bigger and bigger clouds. Lately, many e-smokers who upgrade their devices are choosing mechanical mods.
The History of Mechanical Mods
Mechanical mods are nothing new. They’ve been around at least since I switched to e-cigarettes in 2010, if not longer. The e-cigarettes typically sold at that time offered fairly poor battery life and vapor production compared to today’s e-cigarettes. While it was still possible for many smokers — myself included — to become full-time vapers using these early e-cigarettes, very heavy smokers sometimes found it difficult to get the nicotine needed to fully calm their cravings.
The solution devised by early mod makers was to take the atomizer from a standard e-cigarette, attach it to a much larger battery for more consistent voltage and equip it with a switch for firing. Instead of disposable plastic cartridges that held very little e-liquid, mechanical mods typically used hollow “drip tips” that allowed the user to supply e-liquid to the atomizer directly from a bottle.
What is a Mechanical Mod?
A mechanical mod usually has a tube shape, much like that of a small flashlight. The tube holds a battery, which connects to a fire button — usually at the bottom — and atomizer threading. Positioning the fire button at the bottom of a mechanical mod makes it possible to design a device with no electronic switches, and therefore less chance of failure from repeated use. When you push the button, a metal contact touches the bottom of the battery, completing the circuit and causing the battery to fire. When you release the button, a magnet or spring pushes it away.
Apart from the fire button, a mechanical mod lacks controls of any kind. It operates at just one voltage — the voltage of the battery — and the amount of vapor produced depends completely upon the attached tank or atomizer. With a low-resistance atomizer or tank, more wattage is generated and therefore more vapor is produced.
Benefits of Mechanical Mods
Mechanical mods have become more popular recently because the popularity of sub-ohm vaping has grown. While e-smokers once primarily used off-the-shelf atomizers based on the earliest e-cigarette designs, products now exist that allow people to easily build atomizers to their own specifications.
Why would you do this? For one, rebuildable atomizers can be configured to generate more vapor than any pre-built commercial product. Secondly, building your own atomizer coils allows you to attain exactly the resistance you want, making an expensive variable-voltage or variable-wattage mod unnecessary.
Most attractively for some, using a mechanical mod and building your own atomizer coils can save you an incredible amount of money over time. You can buy a great mechanical mod for under $50, while a power-regulated mod with all of the bells and whistles — the VaporFi VOX II, for example — can set you back upwards of $200. Mass-produced atomizers cost at least $5.00 each and can often cost significantly more. Meanwhile, a spool of heat wire and package of cotton costing $20 or so will give you the supplies needed to build hundreds of coils. Over time, that’s a hardware cost of practically nothing — you’ll only need to worry about replenishing your supply of e-liquid.
Drawbacks of Mechanical Mods
So, we’ve established that mechanical mods cost less than power-regulated mods — and most other e-cigarettes in general. We’ve also established that they can easily generate more vapor when paired with sub-ohm tanks and rebuildable atomizers. Why, then, would anyone not want a mechanical mod?
For starters, there is the real concern of safety. A power-regulated mod comes programmed with a seemingly endless array of safety features. This means that the mod will refuse to work or display an error message if the resistance of the atomizer is dangerously low, the voltage of the battery is too low, the battery is reversed, the voltage or wattage settings are too high, the temperature of the device is too high — you get the idea.
The very definition of the term “mechanical mod” precludes any of these safety features. If you wire an atomizer with power demands that exceed the battery’s amperage capabilities, the battery will fire anyway when you press the button. A mechanical mod will let you drain a battery completely, making charging potentially unsafe. If the size of the tube is right, a mechanical mod will let you stack batteries to achieve a higher voltage. All of these conditions are unsafe and have been known to cause explosions and fires.
You can alleviate potential battery problems by installing a fuse in your mechanical mod. If a short circuit exists or too high an amperage load is generated, the fuse will trip, rendering the mod inoperable until the situation is rectified. However, it has to be said that the fuses of which I’m currently aware will trip at a maximum of 7 amps. This would mean that you’d be unable to use an atomizer with a resistance below 0.6 ohms, although that’s still quite low. The 7-amp fuse is a single-use fuse that costs $6.00. If it trips, you’ll need to replace it. Reusable fuses also exist, but they’ll trip more easily. Although a fuse helps to mitigate the safety issues associated with mechanical mods, they also limit the vapor production you can achieve.
Should I Buy a Mechanical Mod?
If you’re going to be a first-time owner of an e-cigarette, I wouldn’t suggest getting a mechanical mod unless you’re willing to use it with an off-the-shelf tank. Regardless of what any salesperson might tell you about how easy they are to use, rebuildable atomizers are absolutely not for beginners. I recommend the best e-cigarette for beginners elsewhere on this website.
At the same time, not every experienced e-cigarette user is going to be happy with a mechanical mod and rebuildable atomizer, either. I have achieved greater vapor production with a rebuildable atomizer than I have with my favorite tank, the VaporFi Volt Hybrid Tank. However, I use the tank anyway. The difference between the two is only slight, and changing out the coil in a tank requires seconds while fully rebuilding an atomizer coil takes upwards of a half hour.
A rebuildable atomizer also brings additional inconveniences. For one, they tend to be messy. Because of the intense heat the coils generate, you need to keep an RBA very wet to avoid harsh “dry hits.” A dry atomizer coil can also burn a cotton wick in fractions of a second, ruining the taste of the vapor until you replace the wick. Keeping the coil sufficiently wet to avoid these problems can frequently lead to leaks.
Mechanical mods remain very popular in spite of these problems. They’re perfect for people who like to tinker with their gadgets, because the possibilities are nearly limitless when you build your own coils. Varying different factors such as the gauge of the wire, the diameter of the coil wraps or the amount and type of wicking material greatly changes the overall vaping experience, so it’ll never be exactly the same twice.
One also can’t speak strongly enough about the cost savings that are possible with mechanical mods. Between the low cost of entry and the low recurring cost of just pennies for each new atomizer coil, a mechanical mod both produces more vapor — and costs less — than any other type of e-cigarette or personal vaporizer.
So, should you buy a mechanical mod? If you have the time and willingness to learn about atomizer and battery safety, you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty and want to get more vapor out of your e-cigarette while spending less money, a mechanical mod might be for you.
The Best Mechanical Mods
Volcano Pele Mechanical Mod
Price: $139.99 and up | Buy Now
The Pele is quite a bit more expensive than most of the other mechanical mods on the market. However, it boasts something that few other mechanical mods can claim: it’s made in the United States. In fact, it’s the first all-stainless steel mod to be produced in Hawaii. When designing the Pele, Volcano really pulled out all the stops; the bottom recessed fire button locks to prevent accidental firing, and the brass top cap is fully adjustable. The accompanying Caldera rebuildable atomizer is also designed and built in Hawaii. It features a spiral top that allows excess vapor to condense and fall back to the coil, reducing leaks and wasted e-liquid.
Volcano Tephra Mechanical Mods
Price: $49.99 and up | Buy Now
While the Pele is positioned as a luxury item and priced as such, the Tephra series of mechanical mods represent a superior combination of value for money. The Tephra 1 is essentially the same device as the Pele, only without the locking fire button and a more utilitarian design. It also isn’t built in the United States. However, it is a beautiful device and flawlessly machined. It is also supported by the same great Volcano warranty. In addition, all Tephra mods and Cauldron RBAs feature aluminum outer sleeves in various colors that you can mix and match however you like. The larger Tephra 2 uses a super powerful 4.2 volt battery with a capacity of 4200 mAh and 40 amp continuous discharge rating.
All Other Mechanical Mods
Right now, Volcano is simply the best supplier of mechanical mods anywhere. They’ve spent considerable time and funds developing their line of mechanical mods and rebuildable atomizers, and at the moment no one else can compete. However, manufacturers in China have created an enormous variety of generic mechanical mods and you might be able to save a bit of money by buying one. A basic Chinese mechanical mod typically costs the vendor under $20, so you can expect your price to start around $30 or so. Many of these mods are clones of other designs, though, which means that you may have to deal with inferior materials or imperfect machining. Generic unbranded Chinese mechanical mods are, however, the least expensive you can find.