Over two years ago the ecig world was introduced to the rebuildable atomizer. At the time it seemed to be a passing fad for tinkerers. They were expensive, messy, and required a certain amount of skill and patience to even use. While they’re not as mainstream as the replaceable head tanks (RHT) out there (like the Nautilus or Aerotank), as they evolved so has their popularity. Walk into any vape shop and they at least carry a clones. Where it used to be you would never see a RBA in the wild (only at conventions) now 1 in every 5 vapers I meet on the street are using one. We’ve even changed how we categorize these devices. Where RBA used to be the universal name, we now classify them as Rebuildable Tank Atomizer (RTA) or Rebuildable Drip Atomizer (RDA). Today we’ll be breaking down the differences between each type, wicking material, and wire types.
A quick note beforehand- We here at VR don’t suggest anyone getting into rebuildables at the start. A major concern is unless you have a good comfort level of electrical know how, rba’s can be quite dangerous. These devices are user driven. You’re responsible for setting it up properly and knowing the limits of your device and batteries. Improper oxidization of stainless steel mesh can lead to short causing catastrophic failure of a mod. This is more dangerous when using a mechanical or “dumb” mod where the only protection is whatever is built into the battery. Improper coiling can lead to a short as well. Using too low of a resistance coil on a mod (again especially a mechanical) can be downright dangerous if using the improper batteries. Familiarize yourself with a multimeter, how lithium ion batteries work, and what C ratings stand for before purchasing one. The biggest reason people get into them is for cost savings long term (or they have a need to fiddle with their equipment), followed closely by wanting to create huge clouds.
RTA- As the name implies these have a tank reservoir for your juice. They come in two different set ups. Genesis style (the one that started it all) which is a vertical coil set up, or Kayfun style where the coil runs horizontally across the air intake. Genny’s have lost favor over the past year with vapers due to their increased learning curve and tendency to leak. Most people who use RTA’s are using a Kayfun style. The aforementioned RHT’s a very much based off this set up as well.
RDA- Originally designed to be a long term cheaper alternative to drip atty’s, RDA’s have evolved the most when it comes to rebuildables. No longer are they single coil limited airflow simple designs. RDA’s have multiple coil posts (usually 2 are the minimum), adjustable massive airflow, heatsinks, and large bore drip caps to give you as much vapor potential as possible. In other words they are the go to atomizer for cloud chasers. Another change from their infancy is they no longer are restricted to a horizontal set up only. They are a few vertical coil RDA’s on the market.
So what type is right for you? Depends really on what you want. Each type has their pros and cons, and certain versions are easier to build than others.
Genny’s are the easiest to refill and rebuild (once you’ve mastered the technique), but have the worst track record when it comes to leaks (the Kraken being one of the few you can lay on it’s side without losing all your juice). The biggest con with Genny’s is the hot leg issue, usually off the positive post. This can be fixed if you back loop your coil around the post (working on a better video showing what I mean), but it’s caused many a person to give up on them before they ever get their first puff. If you’re a fan of vertical coils and not a dripper though they are your only choice.
The Kayfun style has almost no leaking issues. Dramatic pressure changes (like on a flight) or taking too many dry hits are the only way if you’ve properly set it up. The drawback is the set up time. On a majority you have to completely tear it down and remove all the juice to change the wick and/or coil. It’s not something you can do in under 30 seconds. Once you’ve mastered making a coil (which they now sell a tool specifically make one for those who had trouble with the screw driver method) they’re very easy to get up and running. That really is the only con, which is why the Kayfun style has been the go to RTA over the last 18 months.
When it comes to the RDA’s they’re very model specific on their pros and cons. Some have a friendlier deck than others, some a higher amount of airflow than others, etc. It really does depend on what you’re looking for. The universal pro is they have the highest vapor production potential and flexibility of all the devices mentioned thus far. Universal con is you have to constantly add more juice (hence the name drip atty). This isn’t a fill and forget set up.
Once you know what type you’re going with, the hardest decision with RBA’s comes in price. Top end ones go for as much as $200+ and chinese “clones” can be found for as little as $10 from vendors. As we’ve already shown before, price does not necessarily dictate performance though when it comes to vaping. There are some very good clones out there at reasonable prices. Once you’ve made that choice, now you’ll also need to decide what wiring and wick material works best for you.
There are 3 major wire types on the market today for vaping. Nichrome, Kanthal, and Nickel. Nichrome is usually around 80% nickel and 20% chrome. It’s been used for years (1905) for heating elements in electrical applications. The big drawback is it’s very delicate and for those with a nickel allergy, there have been reports of this wire causing a reaction. Has a lower resistance than Kanthal, but not the lowest on this list. Kanthal is the most heavily used of the wire out there when it comes to vaping. It’s 55-65% iron, 20-30% chrome, and 4-7.5% aluminum. It’s the strongest of the materials on the list, has the highest resistance, and the lowest allergy potential. Nickel should only be used by people using a DNA40 based device. It has a very low resistance, is very fragile, and is downright unsafe to use on any device that isn’t temperature controlled. Again- DO NOT USE NICKEL WIRE UNLESS YOU HAVE A DNA40 DEVICE. What gauge wire you chose depends on what application. 32 was the standard for a long time, with more powerful devices or running at a higher wattage you’ll want to go a bit thicker (lower gauge). On my Provari with a ZAP for example use 32g, Kayfun with a micro coil 28g (1.4 ohms), on my DNA30 with a Kraken 28g. Remember the thicker the wire, the lower the resistance. You’ll also see a number of twisted wire set ups out there (like a Clapton) using a mix of types and wire sizes. We do not advocate sub-ohm’ing here at VR. It should only be done by those who know the risks and limits of their devices, so won’t get too far in depth on the more exotic set ups.
This lead to the wicking material. There are a lot of options out there. You can use silica (fiber glass), cotton, rayon, ramie, stainless steel mesh, ss cable, ceramic, list seems endless. The most popular out there is organic cotton (the first of the cellulose based wicks on the list). Cheap, quick wicking, easy to get, and easy to manipulate this is heavily used for RDA’s and Kayfun style RTA’s (mainly horizontal set ups). The big draw back is you do have to change it quite often and can be toxic if burnt. Silica was one of the first materials used, requires no preparation to use, but also doesn’t perform as well in a vertical set up. Ecowool is the most popular form used which is of the braided variety. Stainless steel works great in a vertical set up but you requires the most prep time. If you get it in sheets you’ll have to cut and roll it yourself then oxidize it using a blow torch (like the ones used to make crème brulee) otherwise you run into serious issues. SS cable is usually used in conjunction with the SS mesh on vertical set ups and has better wicking potential, but is harder to oxidize properly and cut (you need cable cutters). Again mainly used in vertical set ups. Straight ceramic is very brittle (your pv/rba might survive a drop, the ceramic wick won’t), expensive, item specific, and requires a large break in period before they work correctly. Not to mention there have been a lot of health concerns regarding its use. The alternative is XC-116 (also known as Ready X Wick) which is a soft ceramic material, much like ecowool, but still has the same health concerns as the hard variety. Rayon and Ramie are cellulose based cotton alternatives. Ramie is one of the strongest natural fibers, has a higher heat resistance than it’s brethren, but also is harder to find. Rayon wicks the best of the 3, but at higher cost. You can also use hemp, bamboo toothpicks, pretty anything that will absorb liquid and handle the heat from the coil. These are just the mainstream options.
We’re not going to guide you on which RBA to buy, we here at VR have our favorites but as with all things vaping comes to down to personal taste. We’ll gladly give suggestions if you want, just ask in the comments section or contact us direct. There’s no perfect device out there, just one that’s perfect for you. You can also look through the many reviews on Youtube, or ask around at your local brick and mortar to find the one that you might think fits your needs. What will do is if you’re having issues with any device you’ve gotten is help you to get the best experience possible out of it.