Thought I'd give an update on my vaping adventure. I've gone pretty far since my first steps back in March.
The main things I've learned since then are that there's a world of difference between the small, simple versions sold in chain stores and the better setups, and that no matter how far you progress, you'll still need to keep a supply of paper towels on hand. Leaks, accidental spills, messy refilling procedures, and a bit of vapor collection all make for a bit of a mess.
The smaller devices typically come as an integrated unit containing a battery, switch, protection circuitry, and a fitting to attach the replaceable parts. The smaller cigarette sized ones last a very short period of time. As little as 45 minutes. Some intermediate size devices have capacities of 6-10 hours for a normal smoker, but they're too large to hold between your fingers as if they were a cigarette. Many of them also have too small a voltage and current capacity to effectively vaporize enough liquid. The bottom line is they're okay for short period of time, or casual vaping, but it's hard to replace smoking with one of these.
Larger devices usually have removable batteries that you charge in an off the shelf charger. A few have integrated batteries and charging circuits that you can recharge off a USB port. They tend to come in tube or box shapes. Some incorporate sophisticated voltage controls, including the ability to vary the voltage for a stronger or milder hit and to better control the flavoring. Others nice features include LED displays, and liquid feed systems.
Just a bit of background and terminology...The basic concept behind an electronic cigarette is that a wire is heated by electricity, the heat evaporates the liquid, and the vapor is inhaled.
The basic parts of an e-cigarette are:
- Battery. This supplies energy to heat the coil. Different batteries supply different voltages and may have limits on the amount of current they can supply.
- Mod. This is the term for a home-made device or modification. It's synonymous with the main casing that holds the battery, switch, and any protection circuitry or feeder system. Smaller units tend to contain the battery, so you'll need to replace the unit when the battery fails.
- Atomizer. This is a coil of nichrome or kanthal wire that heats up when an electric current flows through it. The coil is typically wrapped around a wick that supplies a constant flow of liquid to the hot coil.
- Liquid compartment. This varies from a ceramic cup and some mesh, to a tank & filler system. In some devices, the liquid compartment is incorporated into the atomizer device.
- Mouthpiece & air tube. Air needs to flow past the coil to allow the vapor to be sucked in. The conflict between an air tube and the liquid flow is a critical part of any design.
From a practical standpoint, you'll keep your mod forever or until it breaks. Batteries might last 6-12 months or longer. Atomizers and cartridges will need replacing every week or month. Anything beyond these components is probably optional, or part of a more sophisticated system.When buying parts, you need to always be concerned about the fittings. The screw fittings are more or less standardized. The most prevalent fitting is a 510. There are about a dozen different fittings in use. There are adapters that allow you to fit one type onto another.
e-cigarette liquid is generaly composed of:
- PG: Propylene glycol. This, along with VG is the main component of the eliquid. PG is good at holding onto flavors, and provides a nice throat feel, but the vapor is thin. A few people may have allergies or reactions to PG.
- VG: Vegetable glycerin. VG is thick, and so is the vapor it produces, but it's not as good as PG at holding flavors. Balancing the thickness of the liquid between PG and VG can aid in flowing the liquid and preventing leaks, as well as providing a good combination of thick vapor, flavor, and throat hit.
- Nicotine in PG or VG solution. Obviously optional. This is generally provided to consumers in 3% to 10% solutions. A final eliquid is specified in milligrams per millileter (same as g/L). A typical heavy smoker might be comfortable with an 18mg/ml solution, or 1.8%.
- Flavorings. Although tobacco flavorings seem the natural choice to new vapers, more experienced vapers tend towards fruit, bakery, candy, drinks, spices, and other flavors. There's even a crab flavored juice.
- Sweeteners & other additives are sometimes added to some juices to enhance the flavoring.
There are many types of atomizing parts. It should be noted that any part with a filling can hold onto flavors, so you tend to use them for one flavor throughout its lifespan. Although atomizers don't have the filling, they still have a small wick and a metal mesh, and certain flavors will persist. In short, you'll probably want one of these for each flavor you vape.
- Atomizer. This is the simplest device--a coil wrapped around a wick, often with a ceramic cup and metal mesh to hold a few drops of liquid. They're the most sophisticated devices in terms of design, and tend to be more expensively made than other devices. To use them, you drip a few drops into the atomizer tube, then vape 4-5 times, and refill. Despite the low capacity, this is popular because it provides the purest flavor of any method. Their lifespan tends to be a week to a month, though they can go in minutes if you abuse them. Many people clean and even rebuild them to last for months.
- Cartridges are a separate part you attach to a specific atomizer for the purpose of holding the e-liquid. They're often disposable, and come prefilled with liquid. They tend not to work very well because the interface between the cartridge and atomizer is difficult to implement.
- Cartomizer. A combination of cartridge & atomizer in one package. This is one of the most popular parts used by experienced vapers. Cartomizers typically hold about 20 drops of liquid, but larger ones are available. They eliminate the need for constant dripping, but still have limited capacity. People tend to fill several cartomizers with different flavors for a day's outing, and refill them every day. Cartomizers tend to last a few days to a week, but are comparatively inexpensive.
- Tank cartridge. This is a cartridge without filler. It attaches to a specially built atomizer. They tend to not be very good for the same reason as cartridges--the interface between the atomizer and tank are problematic.
- Cartomizer tanks. These are large reservoir tubes, with a cartomizer inserted inside it. They have the advantage in capacity, and the tank ensures the cartomizer is constantly wet with liquid. They do require the cartomizer to be cut or to have a hole drilled. You can buy them precut, but many people cut or drill them by themselves with very simple tools.
One key to a good vaping experience is matching the voltage to the atomizer. Atomizers (cartridges, cartomizers, etc.) are typically specified by their electrical resistance. You want to match this to the voltage your battery delivers. One basic idea is that it's the wattage (the amount of heat delivered per second) that matters. If you like a stronger hitting, larger plume of vapor, you'd use more wattage, or vice verse... always being careful that if you use too much wattage, you can get a burnt taste, or burn the wick (leaving it with a permanent burnt taste, so you'll probably want to throw it out) or destroy the atomizer. Another important factor is that the wattage can affect the flavoring--some people even use a variable voltage device to dial in the right voltage for a particular juice or mood.
Picking a Starter Kit--an Example
It's hard to give advice for a starter. Whatever recommendations I make will be wrong for some people. You're also certain to advance beyond any starter, but it's better to get a feel before spending more money. I also don't like to recommend specific product names. With all those caveats, here's one example of a potentially decent starter set. You can put one together yourself, or start with a "starter kit" special. The assumption is that you're a heavy 1-2 pack a day smoker that wants to quit smoking entirely fairly quickly.
Just for the record, some current common recommendations (January 2012) for all-in-one units include K-Go, E-Go (3.2V, which I don't like), and Riva.
A "mod" device (that take separate batteries) that takes a normal 3.7V lithium battery is a better bet to start with.
Search some of the e-cigarette forums for more comprehensive current recommendations.
Prepare to be frustrated at first, until you find a combination that works for you.
Don't get locked into any one device, and don't order too much of anything at once. This is a good reason to stick with 510-compatible hardware. Most of the parts are interchangeable if you replace something or order a second device.
Better to try small quantities of different things, especially different liquids and cartomizers and atomizers.
A good starter kit will include at least 2 high capacity batteries (1000 or more mAh each, or 3 at 650mAh), 10 cartomizers (two 5-packs of different resistance), 2 atomizers, a drip tip, and a few sample liquids.
The extra battery allows you to continue vaping while the other battery is charging.
For a 3.2 - 3.4V device, you should stick with 1.5 to 2.0 ohm cartomizers (LR or low resistance).
For a 3.7V device, you can try up to 2.5 ohms, but 1.8 to 2.0 is probably the sweet spot.
I suggest you stay away from higher voltages to start with, unless you get a variable voltage (VV) device.
Don't invest too heavily in hardware at first. Until you get a feel for things, you're likely to make mistakes. Go slow, and don't be over-concerned about quitting all at once. Most important, remember that each of us has different tastes, preferences, and life styles; and our tolerance, habits, and reaction to addictions both physical and psychological are going to be unique.
For a heavy smoker, I'd recommend getting at least one bottle of 24mg liquid, one of 12-15mg, and the rest 18mg.
Get a variety of flavors, maybe 5-10, for a total of 30 - 100ml. This is probably a 10-30 days supply.
I suggest you include:
- at least 1 non citrus fruit flavor, e.g. apple or pear,
- at least 1 tobacco,
- no more than 2 heavy/dark flavors, such as coffee and chocolate, and
- at least 1 bakery or drink or (light colored) candy flavor.
This will give you an idea of the range of flavors, and keep you away from making big mistakes.
For example, the heavy & dark flavors are often difficult to replicate, hard to vape, and clog the devices.
Also, this gives you a good sampling of what the vendor is producing.
If you like something, try a bit more in that area.
Don't go overboard ordering large quantities before trying a few other vendors.
Different vendors tend to produce good flavors of a certain type.
You can buy tanks for your cartomizers from $5 up to $50 or more. Or you can make them from $2 syringes. If you find you like dripping, you can get an attachment that holds a bottle for you and works off your existing device and attys/cartos. If you decide you want to try a bottom feeder box mod, your attys and cartos will still work, and maybe even the batteries and charger if you start out with a mod. But these are more enhancements than basics. The real basics are matching a cartomizer or atomizer with the voltage and juices you like. The device is less important--its main function being to supply a voltage, but it also effects the amount of airflow, which can, unfortunately, make or break a device for you. Still, IMHO, you can learn enough playing around with these cheaper parts to make much better decisions on where to go next.
There's also a huge variety in cartomizers & atomizers, such as rebuildable, modular atomizers, and huge cartomizers that hold up to 5ml of liquid. It's also a great year for vaping technology, with many exciting new innovations expected to come to market or mature, and a highly competitive environment that holds great hope for low prices and higher quality.
Nicotine is a dangerous poison. Be careful about splashing drops in your eyes, and be quick about washing any spills off your hands. At normal vaping levels, you probably won't get poisoned, but if you make your own liquids and work with higher concentrations, even a few drops or a small skin-contact can be extremely dangerous and potentially deadly. Lock all your liquids away from children. The yummy flavors are very attractive to the young, and make no mistake--nicotine is very dangerous.
My vaping gear
Rear, left to right:
- KR-808-D1 Elite with Clear And Easy (cone shaped) Tank. A sleek design, larger than a cigarette, with a special cartomizer that has no filler material. Offers a cleaner vape, though they're expensive and don't last long. Uses an 808 style connector, but in a wider body style.
- Ego-T with 510 to 808 adapter and Clear And Easy Tank. A 1000mAh Ego-T battery. Shown here with an 808 "Clear and Easy Tank" mounted on an adapter.
- Ego-T with Drip On Demand Kit. The DoD kit makes dripping into an atomizer easy. An occasionaly squeeze of the bottle keeps the atomizer wet, and suction does the rest.
- LavaTube (variable voltage) with VapeMate dripper attachment. The LavaTube allows the voltage to be adjusted up to 6V. Shown here with another dripper-bottle attachment for easy drip-style vaping in an atomizer.
- Provari (variable voltage) with 5ml Torpedo Tank. The Provari is expensive, but well made, and features a tightly regulated power supply, variable up to 6V, and a 2-digit LED display that shows voltage, atomizer resistance, battery voltage, and error codes.
- Ego-T with VPX Cartomizer Tank. A 3ml carto-tank mounted on a more-or-less standard 1000 mAh battery.
- Boge Revolution (version 2). This is a cheap, self-contained "bottom feeder". It contains a 10ml refillable juice bottle. When your attached carto or atomizer goes dry, a few squeezes sets it right. This is good for 2-3 days of vaping.
Front, left to right:
- CE2 cartomizer, cut open to fit a tank. Instead of a filler, this carto features a long wick inside a hollow tube. It's often used in tanks with the tube cut away, where the wick stays submerged in the tank.
- Boge 510 cartomizer, with hole drilled for VPX tank. This is a standard filled carto. The hole in the tube allows liquid to wet the filler material inside the carto.
- 510 extender/adapter. Adapters allow you to use parts meant for different devices with different fittings. They can also extend for length, or provide a sealed or more open airflow.
- XL clear cartomizer. Just another cartomizer. This one's clear.
- Ego Booster. An attachment that varies the voltage on Ego-T and other batteries.
- screw-on Voltage meter attachment. To view the actual voltage the battery delivers, either loaded (with the atomizer in place) or not.
- Sharpie paint pen, for marking atomizers/cartomizers
- Atomizer internals. Note the coil surrounding the wick, how the wick extends into the metal mesh, the ceramic cup, and the metal mesh that holds additional liquid.
- Cartomizer--view of the filling and the air hole.
- DIY liquids--left: flavorings, center: menthol crystals, right: basics (VG, PG, nicotine) along with "sweeteners"
- Some DIY supplies for measuring and storing liquids: bottles, funnels, graduated cylinders, measuring cups, droppers, very small measuring spoons, and syringes. For mixing very small amounts while testing flavors and blends, thick (18ga or larger) blunt end syringes are the best tool.