An easy guide for learning the basics of vape wires

Getting to know the types of wire used in vaping

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vaping-Wires-together

Vaping Wire Introduction

Welcome to Vaping Wire 101.

The intent of this article is simple: To introduce you to some of the most common types of vaping wire, and discuss their uses and characteristics. Some wire is used for vaping with wattage, some with temperature control, and one type we’ll talk about can be used for both.

The goal here is not to overwhelm you or mire you in technical data but to give you a high-level overview, and just maybe help you decide which wire type suits your vaping style best. The focus will be on single strand wire – no exotic configurations like claptons, aliens, tigers, staples. I will try to keep this as simple as possible.

Wire gauge, resistance, and ramp time

There are some basic characteristics that apply to all wire, regardless of the composition of the wire.

The first basic characteristic of any wire, vaping or otherwise, is the actual diameter of the wire which is commonly called the wire “gauge” and expressed as a numerical value. The actual diameter isn’t really important. What matters is that as the wire gauge number increases, the wire diameter gets smaller. So, 26 gauge wire is thinner than 24 gauge but fatter than 28 gauge. Common gauges of vaping wire from smallest to largest diameter are: 32, 30, 28, 26, 24, and 22. There are others of course, even odd number sizes.

Second, as the wire size increases the wire resistance decreases, and generally it takes longer for the wire to heat due to the larger mass of the wire. Thin gauge wires like 32 and 30 will be higher in resistance but will heat faster than 26 or 24 gauge wire.

You may have heard the term “ramp time”. Ramp time is the time it takes for your coil to heat to the temperature required to vaporize your e-liquid when you fire your mod. Ramp time is generally more noticeable with exotic multi-strand wire coils like claptons, but as wire size increases ramp time can also become more apparent with simple single wire coils.

Temperature control (TC)

In basic terms, temperature control mods rely on a characteristic of your vaping wire to detect when to regulate the current and wattage delivered to the coil. Wires suitable for TC are chosen because of their Temperature Coefficient of Resistance (TCR).

OK, I promised to keep it light, so here goes:

The TCR of the vaping wire is the increase in resistance of the wire as temperature increases. The mod knows the cold resistance of your coil, and the material you are using. The mod is also smart enough to know that when your coil rises to a certain resistance (as temperature rises) that the coil is too hot, and it reduces the current to your coil as required to prevent burning.

Simple, right?

OK, on to specific wire types.

Kanthal

Kanthal-vaping-wire

My first foray into building coils was years ago when I was using 28 and 30 gauge Kanthal wire to rebuild the coil heads for my Kanger Pro Tanks.

Kanthal is ferritic iron-chromium-aluminium alloy with good resistance to oxidation, and commonly used for vaping in straight wattage mode. Kanthal is a great place to start if you are just getting into rebuilding, dripping, etc. It is easy to work with yet stiff enough to hold it’s shape when formed into coils, which comes into play when you wick your coils. Kanthal is extremely popular, and I still use Kanthal wire as my primary wire when building single wire coils.

Kanthal is inexpensive and widely available at most vape shops, online shops, and even ebay.

  • Variable wattage
  • or mechanical mod vaping
  • Easy to work with
  • Holds shape
  • Wide availability
  • Inexpensive
  • Not compatible with TC

Nichrome

nichrome-vaping-wire

Another type of wire well suited for wattage vaping is Nichrome. Nichrome wire is an alloy composed of nickel and chromium, and may also contain other metals such as iron. Fun fact (maybe – Wikipedia): nichrome has been used in dental work, such as fillings.

Nichrome behaves very much like Kanthal, but has a lower resistance and heats faster that the same gauge in Kanthal (faster ramp time). Like Kanthal, it is easy to coil and holds its shape well when wicking. Nichrome has a lower melting temperature than Kanthal, so you need to be careful when dry burning your coils — they will burn open if you aren’t careful, and I’ve done it. Start low and pulse the coils. Don’t rush into it and hit them with max wattage while dry.

One other possible downside of nichrome wire is the nickel content. I have used it, but folks with nickel allergies may want to avoid using nichrome for obvious reasons.

Nichrome is less common than Kanthal, so some may need to shop for it online.

  • Faster ramp than Kanthal
  • Easy to work
  • Holds shape
  • Nickel content
  • Lower melting point
  • May be hard to find locally

Stainless steel

stainless-steal-vaping-wire

Stainless steel is the most unique of the wires we will discuss here: it can pull double duty and be used for straight wattage vaping or temp control vaping (if your mod supports it — older mods do not). I have used dual-coil stainless steel builds to review TC mods since I can use the same build to test either mode. It really makes life easy if you switch between TC and VW often.

Stainless steel wire is an alloy composed primarily of chromium, nickel, and carbon. There are many variations (grades) of stainless steel, expressed numerically. Again, in the name of simplicity we won’t get into the differences between grades. The intent is to compare and contrast with other types of vaping wire. I personally use 316 which is the medical, pharmaceutical and food grade.

Stainless steel is easy to form and holds its shape well. Like nichrome, it offers a faster ramp time than Kanthal.

Another wire that is not very easy to source at vape shops. Check online.

  • Does double duty: VW or TC (with compatible mod)
  • Faster ramp time than Kanthal
  • Easy to work
  • Holds shape
  • Nickel content
  • May be hard to find locally

Nickel

Nickel-vaping-wire

Nickel wire, also referred to as Ni200, is generally pure nickel. Nickel wire was the first wire used in temperature control.

I have a couple of spools of nickel that are collecting dust, mainly for two reasons.

First, nickel wire is soft and can be difficult to work into uniform coils. Once mounted, the coils can easily deform when wicking.

Second, it’s pure nickel. I’m not a tinfoil hat guy, and I don’t have a nickel allergy, but I am uncomfortable vaping on nickel wire. I know that some of the other wire I use has a nickel component (stainless steel and nichrome) but it is not the primary component.

Nickel wire may still be very popular with TC enthusiasts and is easy to find locally but for me, nickel wire is just not worth the hassle. As with anything, it’s a personal choice.

  • Does TC
  • Easy to find locally
  • Hard to form
  • Doesn’t hold shape
  • Nickel content

Titanium

titanium-vaping-wire

The last wire we will look at is titanium, which is another TC wire, composed of pure titanium.

There is some controversy surrounding the safety of titanium wire when used for vaping. My understanding is that it can release a toxic component (titanium dioxide) above 1200℉ (648℃). Also, like magnesium, if titanium ignites it is extremely difficult to extinguish. Some shops will not even sell the wire due to liability and safety issues.

Note that folks still commonly use it, and theoretically if your TC mod is doing it’s job you should never have to worry about combustion or titanium dioxide poisoning.

I’ll admit that I have used titanium for TC, with no fires or other ill effects. It is easy to work into coils and easy to wick. I have not been able to find titanium wire locally, but I have stopped using it anyway. I figure it’s not worth the bother when there are simpler alternatives that suit me (stainless steel and kanthal).

  • Does TC
  • Easy to work
  • Holds shape
  • Can be toxic
  • Fire risk
  • May be hard to find locally

Final thoughts

Really, the bottom line is that your choice in vaping wire is an important variable in finding your vaping nirvana. In fact, it’s one of the components that has a great impact on your vaping experience. The choice is yours, ultimately. Obviously though, TC wires (except for SS) must ONLY be used with mods that have TC.

Varying the wire type and gauge allows us precise control over ramp time, current, wattage and ultimately the pleasure we derive from vaping. Besides all of that, I enjoy the pursuit of the perfect vape by varying the number of wraps, coil diameter, and wire type. Once I find something that works with a particular atomizer, I jot down the specifics and save the specs for future reference.

I have noted above that some of these wire types seem difficult to find at B&M stores, but all are readily available online. Lightning Vapes is a reliable Ebay seller, and kanthal can be purchased from TEMCo directly, or on Ebay.

Finally, some valuable information can also be found at www.steam-engine.org. Steam Engine allows you to enter various values (wire type, gauge, number of wraps, diameter, etc.) to predict coil performance. It’s like an Ohm’s Law calculator on steroids, for those of you craving more detail.

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Gary Joseph
Gary is a retired technical writer residing in the metro Detroit area. Besides vaping, and writing for Vaping360, some of his other interests include motorcycling, watch collecting, bicycling and fitness.
  • Damien

    Thank you for this informative article! What about Clapton coils? What are they made of and how do they stack up against the rest?

    • Gary Joseph

      Thank you for the kind words.

      I’m not an expert on clapton wire, but here’s what I do know:

      Clapton wire is frequently a single core of 24ga wire wrapped inside a strand of 32ga or 34ga wire. A fused clapton is pretty much the same, with two parallel wires at the core, giving the finished wire a flat appearance (rather than round).

      Originally clapton was made with kanthal, but now some folks use various combinations of nichrome, stainless steel, and kanthal. It seems that the only limit is the imagination of the person spinning the wire.

      Personally, I take the easy way out and buy my kanthal clapton wire premade on a spool. I can buy 15 feet for around 10 bucks locally, so it’s not worth the bother to make it myself – and 15 feet of wire makes a lot of coils.

      As far as performance, clapton wire gives you a lot more surface area than a single strand coil, so you get more juice evaporating and a denser, warmer vape with more flavor.

      The “penalty” when using clapton wire is that you will likely need to run the build at higher wattage than a single strand coil of the same resistance – the larger mass of the clapton is more stubborn when heating and will require additional wattage to heat quickly – which means that your battery will run down faster.

      • Damien

        Ah, I see. Thank you very much for the additional information! 🙂