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November 28, 2018

Vape Wires: Kanthal, Nichrome, Stainless Steel and More

Introduction

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

None of the information should overwhelm you or burden you in technical data. It’s a high-level overview. The focus will be on single strand wire, and only on wires that are commonly used for vaping. Wires like NiFe or Tungsten can be used for vaping purposes, but you’ll be hard pressed to source them, and they don’t actually offer advantages over the wires that are being presented here.

Wire gauge, resistance, ramp time and TCR

There are some basic characteristics that apply to all wire, regardless of the composition of it. These are the diameter or gauge of the wire, its resistance, and the ramp time of different materials.

Wire gauge

The first basic characteristic of any wire is the actual diameter of the wire. It is commonly called the wire “gauge” and expressed as a numerical value. The actual diameter for each wire isn’t really important. What matters is that as the wire gauge number increases, the wire diameter gets smaller.

For example: 26 gauge is thinner than 24 gauge but thicker 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.

Resistance

As the wire diameter increases, the wire resistance decreases. And generally, it’ll take longer for the wire to heat due to the larger mass. Thin gauge wires like 32 and 30 will be higher in resistance but will heat faster than 26 or 24 gauge.

Take note that for every given wire, the more you use the higher the resistance will be. This is important when wrapping coils, as more wraps will raise the resistance of your build.

Ramp up time

You may have heard the term “ramp up time”. Ramp up time is the time your coil takes to reach the temp needed for vaporizing e-juice. 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.

Different coil materials that come with different internal resistances will also have very different ramp up time. For power mode wires, stainless steel is the faster to ramp, closely followed by nichrome, with Kanthal being significantly slower.

TCR

Temperature coefficient of resistance for vaping wire types

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).

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.

All wire types have a TCR, but the increase can only be measured reliably in TC-compatible wires (check the chart above for more information).

Kanthal

vape wire types - kanthal

Kanthal wire 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 its shape when formed into coils, which comes into play during the wicking process. It is extremely popular as a primary wire when building single-wire coils.

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

  • Variable wattage
  • Easy to work with
  • Holds shape
  • Wide availability
  • Inexpensive
  • Not compatible with TC

Nichrome

vape wire types - nichrome

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: nichrome has been used in dental work, such as fillings.

Nichrome comes in a variety of “grades”, with ni80 (80% nickel and 20% chromium) being the most popular.

Nichrome behaves very much like Kanthal, but has a lower resistance and heats faster. 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. 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. Folks with nickel allergies may want to avoid using nichrome for obvious reasons.

Nichrome used to be less common than Kanthal, but has risen in popularity and is very easy to find at vape shops or online.

  • Faster ramp than Kanthal
  • Easy to work
  • Holds shape
  • Nickel content
  • Lower melting point

Stainless steel

vape wire types - stainless-steel

Stainless steel is the most unique of the common vaping wires. It can pull double duty and be used for straight wattage vaping or temp control vaping.

Stainless steel wire is an alloy composed primarily of chromium, nickel, and carbon. Nickel content is usually around 10% or so, which is not that high, but people with allergies should not take the risk. There are many variations (grades) of stainless steel, expressed numerically. For coil building, SS316L is by far the most commonly used grade, followed by SS317L. Other grades like 304 and 430 are also used sometimes, but not so often.

Stainless steel is easy to form and holds its shape well. Like nichrome, it offers a faster ramp time than Kanthal due to its lower resistance for the same gauge. Take note to not dry burn stainless steel at high wattages when checking for hotspots or cleaning your build, as this might lead to the release of unwanted chemical compounds. A good workaround is to build spaced coils that don’t need to be pulsed for hotspots.

As with Kanthal and nichrome, stainless steel coils can be easily found in B&Ms as well as online.

  • Does double duty: VW or TC (with compatible mod)
  • Faster ramp time than Kanthal
  • Easy to work
  • Holds shape
  • Nickel content (low)
  • Shouldn’t be dry burnt at high wattages

Kanthal vs nichrome vs stainless steel (wattage)

Most vapers prefer power mode: it is just simpler. Kanthal, stainless steel and nichrome are the three most popular power mode wires right now, and you might be wondering what would be the best one for you. Again, take note that if you have, or suspect you have, a nickel allergy, then you should not vape on nichrome coils, and maybe you should also avoid stainless steel.

Kanthal has been the choice of most vapers for a longer time, due to its ease of use and higher resistance. Mouth to lung vapers appreciate their higher builds, and a 26-26 gauge Kanthal wire is always dependable — and hard to swap for anything else. Lower ramp up time can even be a plus for MTL vapers that like to take slow and long puffs.

Nichrome and stainless steel on the other hand are excellent power mode wires for vaping at lower resistances — that’s not to say that they can’t be used for all kinds of inhales. Vapers that like to sub ohm enjoy the fact that they can go lower in ohms and benefit from the faster ramp up time. Flavor is very subjective, but many vapers that try nichrome or stainless steel swear that they get better flavor than they did with their previous Kanthal builds.

Nickel

vape wire types - nickel

Nickel wire, also referred to as ni200, is generally pure nickel. Nickel wire was the first wire used in temperature control, and is the first wire in this list that cannot be used in wattage mode.

There are two major drawbacks with ni200. 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, which some people might be uncomfortable vaping on. On top of that, many people do have nickel allergy or various degrees of sensitivity. While some of the other wires also have a nickel component (stainless steel and nichrome), it is not the primary component.

Nickel wire may still be very popular with TC enthusiasts, and is relatively still easy to find locally, but it might not be worth the hassle.

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

Titanium

vape wire types - titanium

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

There is some controversy surrounding the safety of titanium wire when used for vaping. Heating 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 its job, you should never have to worry about combustion or titanium dioxide poisoning. It should go without saying, but do not dry burn Ti wire!

Titanium is easy to work into coils and easy to wick. But it might be hard to source due to the abovementioned reasons.

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

Stainless steel vs nickel vs titanium

Stainless steel is a clear winner between TC-compatible wires. It’s easy to source, easy to use, and even works in power mode if needed. On top of that, its nickel content is low and while people with nickel allergies should avoid it, it is less likely to cause adverse reactions to people with moderate nickel sensitivity — but you should always play it safe.

If you are a temperature control vaper with nickel allergy or sensitivity, then titanium should be your wire of choice. But always take care to not overheat it.

Final word

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 the greatest impact on your vaping experience. Varying the wire type and gauge allows us precise control over ramp time, current, wattage and ultimately the pleasure we derive from vaping. By varying the number of wraps, coil diameter, and wire type, you can create a whole new experience of performance. Once you find something that works with a particular atomizer, jot down the specifics and save the specs for future reference. 

The Vaping360 team is a diverse group of experienced vaping contributors. We strive to bring you the finest content on all things vaping. Don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter and make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more!

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14comments

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1

Hi
What is the ideal coil building for SIREN MTL tank. My best wattage is 22-25
Thanks

2

I love how you explain e’thing so ckearly

3

So I read in the article that smaller gauge wire for the ramp up time is less well it really isn’t if you think about it like this “if you have 2 pipes and one is a half inch and the other is a inch wide and you run water through them well then you would get more water out of the inch pipe than the half inch pipe so the part that says that as the wire size increase so dose the ramp up time well that’s not true at all just thought you should know that

4

What they mean by that: if u have a one inch pipe the water will flow slower through. On a half inch pipe u have a more sudden rush of water, smaller, so more pressure. So with the wires, it takes a little bit longer to heat as wire is thicker, but if wire is thinner, heating is quicker, so ramp up time is faster. The water quantity from a larger pipe in comparison to a smaller pipe could perhaps be the same, but ur glass or jug will fill a bit faster if the pipe is a but thinner. Take a hose pipe, run the tap and see what happens, now take the same flow of water through that hose flose the tip with ur finger about 3 quarter and u will notice water flow bit faster.

Spyros Papamichail
Staff5
Spyros Papamichail

Thanks for your comment Billy.
When “calculating” ramp up time between different wire gauges, we should consider all other things equal. Providing the same wattage, a 28-gauge coil will heat up faster than let’s say a 24-gauge coil with the same number of wraps and same diameter.
Using your analogy, for two pipes of the same length, a steady stream of water would need less time to completely fill the thinner pipe than it’d need to fill the wider one.

6

Been vaping subohm for almost 2 years, and I have recently found a new hobby…. RDAs and coil building lol There is so much to learn, and it can become overwhelming. Just wanted to let you know I appreciate your article, and it is exactly the simple breakdown of wire types, their uses and sizes I have been looking for in furthering my knowledge. Great writing! Keep up the good work!

7

Hi
First of all, I’m new in the vape world, and that’s why I was doing some research about resistance and VV/VW.
I recently purchased a vape mode (baby alien L85 with the TFV8 baby tank) and after reading this article I found out that the wire that’s in the baby tank’s coil is the kanthal one… So, my question is
Can I use this coil with TC?
‘Cause in this article says that this wire it’s not compatible with TC
Thanks
Greetings from El Salvador

8

I always buy those rba decks to tfv4/8/12 and used them for tc vaping with these tanks. I’m wrapping those coils with space between them because I don’t want to scrape those hotspots and I like those not so tight wraps. I think they perform as good or even better than those not spaced coils. I hope you can understand what I’m writing because this is not my first or even second language.

Dave Kriegel
Staff9

Hey Mauricio! Unfortunately you will not be able to use the TFV8 Baby in TC mode with the pre-made coil heads. However, if you purchase the RBA section for it, you can build your own coils with stainless steel wire and use it in both wattage and temperature control mode. Thanks for the comment, vape on!

10

Thank you a lot Dave, I appreciate your help. ?

Dave Kriegel
Staff11

You’re very welcome!

12

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

13

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.

14

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

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