Vaping wire can seem bewildering at first. Here’s a straightforward introduction to the most common wire materials to help you choose what wire is best for you.
In the beginning there was Kanthal, vapers saw it and knew it was good…thus it became the wire of choice for coil builders, and everyone rejoiced. Then temperature control vaping came along and Kanthal just didn’t cut the mustard any more – a new slew of vaping wire came onto the market and things got a little more complicated.
So lets simplify the world of vaping wire. We’ll examine the pros and cons of each material, and tell you when you should, and shouldn’t, be using it.
For the sake of clarity we’ll just treat each resistance wire type on its own merits – as a single strand rather than the exotic multi-wire combinations you can find in coils like claptons, aliens and so on.
There are certain ‘rules’ that apply to all wires regardless of the material they’re composed of.
The first of these is wire gauge, or the actual diameter of the wire. You’ll see this value expressed as a number followed by either GA or AWG. The higher the number the smaller the diameter will be; or alternatively, the thinner the wire. For example 28GA wire is thicker than 30GA, but thinner than 26GA. Common wire gauges for vaping range between 22 and 34. All you need to remember is that the lower numbers represent fatter wire than the higher numbers regardless of the wire material.
Why is the thickness of vaping wire important? This is where resistance comes into play. As wire size increases its resistance decreases and it requires more power to heat it up. For example, a five wrap coil using 26ga wire will have a lower resistance than the same coil wrapped with 32ga wire.
Not only does thicker wire require more power to heat, it also takes longer to heat. You will most often hear this called ‘ramp up’ or ‘ramp time’. Basically, this is just the time between firing your mod and the coil reaching the temperature required to vaporise your e-liquid. This isn’t usually a big issue with single strand coils but with exotic multi strand coils it becomes increasingly apparent.
The increasing popularity of temperature control over simple wattage mode has inspired a new breed of vaping wire materials, these are intended for use in temperature controlled vaping. As well as the basic characteristics described above ‘temperature wire’ is chosen for another feature – its Temperature Coefficient of Resistance, more commonly referred to as TCR.
TCR sounds very complicated, but put simply it is just the increase in resistance of the wire as it heats up. A temperature control mod reads the cold resistance of your coil and what material the coil consists of. As you fire your mod the coil heats up and resistance rises, your mod then uses the TCR of the wire type to figure out exactly when the coil is getting too hot and automatically reduces the amount of current going into your coil to prevent it from burning.
So, onto the specific wire types:
Kanthal is the trademark name for a family of iron-chromium-aluminium (FeCrAl) alloys used in a wide range of resistance and high-temperature applications. Ideal for use in vaping wire Kanthal has a high maximum operating temperature, a high melting point and is highly resistant to oxidisation. Widely available and affordable Kanthal is generally the first wire type that new coil builders encounter. It is very durable and its elasticity makes it easy to work with. Despite its pliability Kanthal retains its shape well when formed into a coil, making wicking straightforward.
Kanthal is only for use in wattage/power mode. The resistance of Kanthal remains static when heated, making it next to useless for temperature controlled vaping as its TCR curve is more or less non-existent. Another advantage Kanthal has is that it contains no nickel. Contact allergies to nickel are common, and although there is no evidence that vaping with an alloy containing nickel can aggravate an existing allergy some people prefer to avoid it altogether.
- Easy to work with
- Holds its shape
- Wattage mode only
- Contains no nickel
The wire that started it all, NiChrome is a nickel-chromium (NiCr) alloy suitable for wattage vaping. Like Kanthal it is resistant to oxidisation when heated, but has a slightly lower maximum operating temperature and melting point. The resistance of a NiChrome coil will be lower than a similar coil made of Kanthal meaning that it heats up faster giving a faster ramp time. Like Kanthal, NiChrome is very elastic and holds its shape well making it very easy to work with.
The lower maximum operating temperature and melting point of NiChrome means that a bit more care is needed when dry burning a NiChrome coil, try to pulse the coil at a low wattage rather than blasting them with a shedload of power in one go. This also means that as a coiling material Nichrome has a slightly shorter lifespan than Kanthal. Finally NiChrome contains nickel which some people like to avoid, however it contains no iron which some people claim makes NiChrome a cleaner tasting wire than Kanthal.
- Fast ramp up time
- Easy to work with
- Holds its shape
- Lower melting point
- Wattage mode only
- Contains Nickel*
Perhaps the most functional and versatile of vaping wire Stainless Steel is a Chromium-Nickel-Carbon alloy graded according to its content ratio. Pharmaceutical, medical and food grade Stainless Steel (316) is the most commonly used type of stainless steel wire used for vaping. Stainless Steel is malleable and easy to work with, retains its shape, heats up and cools incredibly quickly. This means ramp time with Stainless Steel is minimal and coils made from Stainless Steel are long lasting and durable.
The best feature of Stainless Steel is that it is useable in either wattage or Temperature Control mode. This makes it incredibly convenient for people who like to switch between modes as there is no need to change coils. Another attractive aspect of Stainless Steel wire is that it appears to enhance the flavour of e-juice. Many vapers claim that SS adds a crispness and clarity to the flavour of their e-liquid. This is perhaps why Stainless Steel is quickly becoming one of the most popular materials for use in vaping coils. Many manufacturers are now using SS316 as the go-to material used in their stock coils. However, those with a nickel allergy should be aware that Stainless Steel wire does contain some Nickel.
Stainless Steel overview:
- Can be used in wattage mode or in temperature control mode
- Fast ramp up time
- Strong but easy to work with
- Holds shape well
- Very long lasting and durable
- Said to give enhanced flavour
- Contains Nickel*
- Cheaper than other Temperature Control wires
Pure Nickel wire, or Ni200, was one of the first wires used in temperature controlled vaping due to its very low resistance and extremely high TCR. Nickel is the Usain Bolt of vaping wire with a virtually non-existent ramp time. Due to its sensitivity to heat Nickel should never be used in wattage mode as it has a low melting point. Nickel should only be used in Temperature control mode with a compatible device that can apply the correct TCR setting for the wire.
Nickel wire is very soft and springy, this makes it very hard to work with. Wicking Nickel coils can be frustrating as once mounted the coils can easily be pulled out of shape. Building with Nickel can therefore be problematic, however many swear that it is the very best wire for use in Temperature Control mode. Lastly Ni200 wire is made from…yep…Nickel! Unlike Stainless Steel and NiChrome alloy wire, in which Nickel is not the primary material, Ni200 wire is pure Nickel and if you are likely to have a reaction to Nickel then you might want to avoid this wire.
- Incredibly fast ramp up time
- Very low resistance
- Low melting point
- Only for use in Temperature Control mode
- Very soft and springy
- Difficult to work with
- Doesn’t hold its shape well
- Reduced coil life span
Another relatively new material for vaping in temperature control mode which is quickly winning fans for coil use. Titanium is made from pure titanium and has roughly double the resistance of Nickel. This means that fewer wraps are needed to reach target resistance yet Titanium heats up very quickly, minimising ramp time. Titanium is much easier to work with than Nickel, and holds its shape well once made into coils and mounted. Like Stainless Steel wire, Titanium is also said to ‘bring out’ something in the flavour of your e-liquid that other vaping wires lack. Again the nature of this flavour enhancement isn’t wholly clear. I guess it’s a case of try it and see what the fuss is about for yourself.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that there is some controversy surrounding the safety of the use of Titanium wire in vaping.
The first concern is that Titanium can be heated up to the point of ignition, and when Titanium ignites it cannot be extinguished by any conventional means it just has to be allowed to burn out.
The second concern is that Titanium can form Titanium Dioxide when heated to high temperatures. This is seriously harmful if inhaled and should you use Titanium for building and see that white powdery deposits have formed on the coil then you should stop using it immediately. Titanium Dioxide only forms at very high temperatures (1200°F/600°C) which are unlikely to be reached while vaping. If your mod is doing its job and applying the correct TCR then there should be no danger. However, when dry burning coils temperatures can easily exceed 1200°F, and for this reason you should never dry burn Titanium wire coils. Better safe than sorry!
- Use in Temperature Control mode only
- Higher resistance than Nickel
- Easy to work with
- Holds its shape well
- Quick ramp time
- More expensive than other vaping wires
- Nickel free
- Caution advised with regards to potential toxicity and fire risk
*Note regarding Nickel content in vaping wire – the mention of nickel content of these wires is for fullness of information only. Many surgical instruments, and the cutlery we eat with, are made with Stainless Steel. Nickel allergies are usually contact allergies and there is no hard evidence that using a nickel containing wire for vaping purposes will cause a reaction.
Each type of vaping wire has its merits and finding the right wire for you can be a case of trial and error.
Your choice of coil is a major factor in your vaping experience. Many people never stray away from using stock coils. This is no bad thing, there are some excellent flavoursome stock coils available for most popular tanks and they are very convenient to use in comparison to building your own. However building your own coils can be hugely satisfying and allows for precise micro-management over every aspect of your vape. Experimenting with different wire types, gauges, coil diameter, wicking and coiling techniques gives a coil builder the opportunity to tweak everything from wattage, ramp time, flavour, temperature until their vape suits their needs perfectly.
Choosing wire can be a overwhelming and hopefully this guide will help to clarify the differences between the wire types and point you in the right direction.
Of course the easiest thing to ask when looking for a wire to suit your build is whether you’re going to be using wattage mode or temperature control mode. This effectively cuts the choices you have to make in half. Kanthal or NiChrome for wattage vaping, Nickel or Titanium for TC vaping…OR if you want to hedge your bets then Stainless Steel suits both styles.
Additionally please be safe when coil building – always test the resistance of your coils before firing and use a calculator such as Steam Engine to help you build safely to your desired resistance. If you are planning to build a coil for use on an unregulated mechanical mod then you MUST understand the principles of Ohm’s Law to ensure that your build is safe to use with your batteries and device. If you do not understand this then you are putting yourself, and those around you, at risk. DO NOT take chances!
Hope this quick guide to vaping wires was useful. By all means feel free to add your own thoughts and comments as you see fit.
Have you got a go-to wire you love building with? Tell us why!
Be safe when building, and vape on!
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