When you read forums and browse specialty e-cigarette shops, you’re likely to see rebuildable atomizers (RBA) mentioned frequently. These costly little devices tend to run upwards of $100 — although I’ve found one nice looking model for under $50 — but they are extremely popular among experienced e-smokers for two primary reasons. First, they can help you save money over time because instead of keeping yourself supplied with cartomizers or atomizers, you can buy kanthal wire for wrapping your own coils — this often costs well under $10 for 100 feet of wire. In addition, RBAs make “sub-ohm vaping” possible; using an atomizer with a resistance of well under one ohm — especially with a mechanical mod that doesn’t include any safety features — can generate some extremely large vapor clouds. By “extremely large,” I mean something like this:
[red_box]Warning: I do not use an RBA myself, nor do I recommend that you use one. If you’re looking for information about how to wire an RBA coil, you’ll find it elsewhere on the web. When using an RBA, you run the risk of personal injury and damage to your e-cigarette if you fail to wire and test the coil properly. You should therefore have at least a basic knowledge of electronics if you attempt to use an RBA yourself. As I don’t feel comfortable wiring my own RBA coils, I use off-the-shelf atomizers and cartomizers only. However, the rebuildable atomizer is one of the hottest trends in the e-smoking hobby today and I would fail to serve my readers properly if I didn’t write something about it. This article does an excellent job of covering the safety issues associated with rebuildable atomizers.[/red_box]
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How Rebuildable Atomizers Work
Essentially, an RBA is a device with industry standard threading — usually 510 — at the bottom and two posts at the top. To rebuild it, you take some kanthal wire, wrap it several times around a silica or cotton wick and connect the wire to both posts. After touching both tips of a resistance meter to the RBA threading to confirm that you’ve met the desired resistance and that there isn’t a short, the RBA is ready to use. Just like with a standard atomizer, the wick becomes saturated when you drip e-liquid into an RBA, holding it in close contact with the coil. The resistance of the coil is determined by the thickness of the wire, the number of times it is wrapped around the wick and the diameter of each wrap.
Suppose your RBA has two positive posts and two negative posts — this means you’ve got a dual-coil RBA. Running two coils from the same power source means that the total resistance will be half that of a single coil. Because of the variance inherent in wrapping an RBA coil by hand, checking its resistance is really a required step; the purpose is to check its safety before connecting it to a high-output battery.
As with a standard atomizer, you’ll eventually start to see decreased vapor production as the wire begins to wear out. At this point, you’ll simply remove it, take a new length of silica wick and wrap another coil. Because creating a new coil costs just a few cents each time, your RBA will begin paying for itself after a dozen coils or so.
RBAs vs. RDAs
While “RBA” is short for “rebuildable atomizer,” “RDA” is short for “rebuildable dripping atomizer.” In short, an RBA has a tank for storing excess e-liquid while an RDA does not. You may therefore have to add e-liquid to an RDA more frequently. The trade-off is that you’ll experience less restricted airflow. The cost is about the same; whether you use an RBA or RDA, you can expect to spend anywhere from under $20 to well over $100 depending on the materials used. You can find both types of devices at DirectVapor. I haven’t used any of these products, though. Since I initially wrote this article, though, I tried the VaporFi Volt Hybrid Tank for the first time. The Volt tank has interchangeable atomizer heads like a standard tank system and actually has sub-ohm atomizer heads that you can buy in packs of five. It also has a rebuildable atomizer head that allows you to build you own coils. The Volt is a great product that makes sub-ohm vaping easy; I have used it full-time since reviewing it.
Benefits of RBAs
In the long run, using an RBA will save you money compared to using a conventional atomizer or cartomizer. This is because you only need to buy the hardware a single time; after that, you can buy wicks and wires in bulk — and a single roll of wire is sufficient for wrapping many, many coils.
Even if you choose not to build a rig for sub-ohm vaping, RBAs can also benefit you thanks to the sheer variety possible in wrapping your own coils. When you wrap a coil, you get to choose the gauge of the wire used, the space between coil wraps, the number of complete coils and so on. Over time, you’ll become accustomed to the differences between wrapping techniques and will eventually find your own ideal e-smoking setup. You’ll never again have to worry about variations from one atomizer or cartomizer to the next, because you won’t be using a mass-produced product — you’ll be using something you assembled and tested yourself.
Drawbacks of RBAs
Aside from the technical hurdles to overcome when learning to wrap your own coils, the only real drawback of RBAs is the danger inherent in using them incorrectly. I’m not just talking about the potential of frying the circuitry in your APV, although that possibility certainly exists — I’m talking about maiming or killing yourself or those around you. I hate to be blunt, but that’s the reality. There are people today using RBAs who have no business doing so because they lack even a basic understanding of electrical engineering and are reckless enough to do things such as using an RBA with a stacked-battery mechanical mod.
Just a month ago, attendees of the e-cigarette convention VapeBlast nearly experienced a tragedy when a sub-ohm vaping rig exploded. According to stories posted about the incident, someone was watching a vapor cloud contest when he realized the e-cigarette in his pocket was becoming uncomfortably hot. The e-cigarette in question was an unprotected mechanical mod with a sub-ohm RBA. He threw the e-cigarette on the floor and ran. Shortly thereafter, the e-cigarette exploded. This reportedly damaged both the floor and the ceiling and reduced the e-cigarette to shrapnel. Thankfully, no one was hurt. One day, someone will be and Big Tobacco will use the incident to justify the view that open vaping systems should be banned.
What E-Cigarette Should I Use With an RBA?
In case it isn’t clear by now, I don’t recommend using an RBA at all. If you’re going to use one, your best bet is probably to pair it with a mechanical mod such as one of the devices mentioned on my list of USA-made e-cigarettes. If you’d like to spend a little more, go with a power-regulated mod such as the VaporFi VOX 50. Although it costs $250, my link includes an embedded coupon code good for a 12% discount if you’ve never purchased from VaporFi before. The VOX 50 is the device that I use every day, and I love it. Whichever device you use, make sure that it supports sub-ohm attachments. The ProVari, for example, will not support sub-ohm attachments at any voltage.
[green_box]“Kanthal” is a trademarked term for an alloy of iron, chromium and aluminum. Hans von Kantzow of Sweden is the original developer of Kanthal wire, also known as “resistance wire” due to its ability to withstand high temperatures. Kanthal wire can withstand temperatures above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit without melting.[/green_box]