by Shane Eubank January 11, 2021
There are three main types of wire commonly used in vaping. Kanthal was the first to be widely used followed by Nichrome and Stainless Steel. All of these are alloys and therefore come in different variations. There have been other wires used for brief times but they quickly fell out of favour due to their properties. Titanium can off-gas toxins, and Nickel has a ridiculously low resistance. Don’t use these wires. They were used in early temperature control devices but now Stainless Steel can be used in the newer TC mods.
“Kanthal” is actually a trademark owned by the Sandvik Group but the name is widely used for the same wire produced by other companies. The most common of the Kanthal wires is A1. It is still a very popular vape wire due to its durability, strength, heating and resistance properties. It’s used by professional coil builders, DIY people, and is in millions of factory made coils for tanks. Kanthal is the only one of the three wire types that is magnetic.
Nichrome wire is extremely popular, especially amongst the coil building crowd. It’s a little softer than Kanthal and less springy making it a little easier to work with. The resistance is also lower for the same wire size compared to Kanthal. Several alloys of Nichrome are made but N80 is the most popular and N90 has some fans as well.
Stainless Steel is also produced in many variations with SS316L the most common variation in vaping. Stainless is even softer than nichrome and quite easy to work with. It’s the only one of the three vape wires that works with current temperature control devices. As well, it’s arguably the most photogenic with the widest array of colours for those coilporn shots.
None of these alloys were created for the purpose of vaping. They have all been around for a long time and can be found in many other applications. For decades Kanthal has been used in industrial heaters, toasters and kilns and nichrome is the heating element in blow dryers and many other industrial and consumer products as well.
American Wire Gauge (AWG) is an index system of the cross-sectional area of round wires. It is the system for all types of round wire, regardless of diameter. It is important to note it does not apply to other shapes like square wire or flat ribbon.
Increasing gauge numbers mean a decreasing diameter of the wire. As the AWG number increases, the diameter of the wire decreases (but the resistance increases). For reference, an 18 gauge wire has a diameter of 1.02 mm while a 40 gauge has a diameter of 0.080 mm (about the thickness of a hair). A typical Alien coil may have 26g cores and 36g wrap.
Typically wire is made by pulling a bar of metal through a hole in a die or something called a draw plate. It is repeatedly pulled through decreasing holes until it is the desired thickness. The machines that produce and spool wire must be tuned extremely well. It’s impressive to see thousands of feet of something so small like 40 AWG neatly wound on a spool. Many wire brands are produced at the same factory. There is often debate over which brand of wire is best, but the fact is they may be the same wire with different labels. There are very few factories worldwide so if you see “Bob’s Better Wire”, Bob may only be producing the label.
How do you know if you have good wire? Most importantly, the coils you produce should ohm out very close to what you calculated. Wire from a good supplier should also be clean. After running long lengths through your fingers, good clean wire will leave very little if any residue. The quality of the spool is important too. Smooth sides and a notch for trapping the wire end make working with the wire much easier. Regardless of where the wire was produced, how it is spooled is critically important. Any kinks or overwraps can ruin your build after all the time and effort you put in. Good wire suppliers do all their spooling and respooling with computer guided machines.
Working with wire and making your own coils can be a lot of fun, especially if you can avoid some of the hassles. Here are a few simple tips that may help……
Straightening - easiest to stretch wire from 26g-30g by hand, 24g and thicker easiest with twist method on a drill
Cutting - Don’t use your flush cutters for anything else. They will get knicks that hamper clean cuts. Cut-offs can fly fast and far. Position your fingers so that one is touching the piece to be clipped, keeping it from flying to some unknown spot. These little pieces are horrible to step on, so keep track of them.
Spools - You really want to keep that spool from unwinding in a fury. Most wire spools have a slot cut in them to hook your wire in for storage. If not, bend the lead over the edge and a good piece of tape will hold it in place. Spool tamers or elastic bands work well too.
Decores - If you plan on making a lot of Aliens, use Kanthal for preparing your decores. Eventually all wires break from being placed/removed from the drill chuck repeatedly but Kanthal will last much longer.
Holding spools - Any uneven friction or tension on your fuse wire can spell disaster. Consider how you hold the spool. Spool bobbins (or other holders) are a huge help making sure your build goes smooth.
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