Many vapers puff away on their cigalike’s and eGo’s, oblivious to the wide world of vaping that exists beyond these basic, entry-level devices. But for others, the desire to tinker and evolve leads to a mechanical mod, which allows for the ultimate in customization and flexibility. From battery size down to specific types of wicking material, only a “mech mod” will give you the power to build a device to your exact needs and specifications.
So what exactly is a mechanical mod? In essence it’s the most basic type of vaping device out there. A mech mod consists of a tube or box to hold a battery. On top, the base is fitted with a connector, and to the bottom (or side) a firing button. An atomizer is attached to the connector, and when the button is pressed a circuit is completed and the coil is heated. Mech mods DO NOT include screens, lights or additional buttons.
Unlike an eGo or any regulated mod (where electrical circuitry controls the vaping experience), the performance of a mechanical mod depends solely on the user; who builds a coil to their exact specifications, and thus alters the amount of vapor production, temperature, flavor and so forth. This presents a unique set of challenges, as there is no electrical circuity to protect the user from malfunctions or errors.
This means you’ll need to start reading up on concepts like Ohm’s Law. Why? At sub-ohm levels, the coil and battery generate higher levels of heat. Go too low and you might exceed the amperage rating of the battery, which could cause it to malfunction or overheat, and in some extreme cases explode. eGo’s and traditional e-cigs include circuits to prevent this, your mech mod does not.
Have no fear: you certainly aren’t the first vaper to tinker with a mechanical mod, and there’s plenty of information out there to assist you on your journey. Before you get started, you’ll need to choose a mech mod:
Choosing a Mechanical Mod
Design: When it comes to design, mechanical mods are far more flexible (and interesting) than their regulated counterparts. They come in various shapes and sizes, and their aesthetics vary from plain to ridiculously outlandish. Although most mechanical mods are cylindrical in shape, box-shaped mechanical mods are becoming much more popular. Some tube mods are actually “telescoping,” meaning you can adjust the length based upon the size of the battery.
Most mechanical mods use one (or two) 18650 sized batteries, but the 18650 has a little brother called an 18350 which is about half the size. For those looking for the most capacity and longest battery life possible, 26650 cells are the largest option available, but 26650 mod choices are much more limited.
Construction: Unlike regulated VV/VW devices, mechanical mods have no circuitry and very little in the way of fragile parts. This means a mech mod will be extremely durable in comparison. With that being said, the materials used to build the mod can impact its overall performance and longevity.
For example, a mod created with aluminum will be lighter, but more likely to scratch and dent compared to a mod made with stainless steel. Copper and brass are also options, each with pros and cons. You’ll also want to consider the material of your battery and switch contacts, which can impact performance. Silver is the most conductive, followed by copper, gold and then brass.
Authentic vs. Clone: This debate can certainly get heated, but the fact is that authentic mechanical mods are almost always significantly more expensive than clones. Yes, in some cases the price of an authentic may be relatively affordable, but depending on your budget a clone may still be your only option. If you decide on a clone, do your research — not all clones are created equal, and there is certainly a difference between a quality mod clone and a cheap knockoff.
Atomizer & Coil Guide
Want to chase clouds? A mechanical mod is definitely a great way to go! Of course this requires a decent atomizer and the right coil, so let’s go over the basics:
RDA vs. RTA: When vapers first get into vaping, they often start with setups where the tank itself is just bought, filled, and vaped. With mechanical mods, though, where customization and performance are the primary focus, rebuildable atomizers (RBAs) are the hardware of choice. They come in two main forms: RDA (Rebuildable Dripping Atomizer) and RTA (Rebuildable Tank Atomizer)
The RDA is what most new prospective mech mod owners will probably think of first. Here, there is no tank used at all. E-juice is just “dripped” onto the coils and wick directly. I prefer an RDA because of the ability to switch between flavors quickly and easily. Many people also prefer RDAs because of the outstanding flavor. Of course, if you have an all-day vape that you like, this might not be your cup of tea. And if you don’t want to spend time constantly “dripping,” consider the RTA.
The RTA still allows you change your coils and wick fairly easily, but it includes a tank to hold your e-juice much like a standard tank setup. But unlike those cheap disposable tanks or anything with a replaceable head, an RTA comes completely apart for cleaning and for coil and wick replacement.
The Right Coil: Expect to spend a good deal of time building and trying out new coil configurations when starting your mech mod journey. Familiarize yourself with how to build coils and know the limits of your battery. When purchasing a mechanical mod, it might be a good idea to pick up an ohm reader as well. This way you can build your coil and know the resistance, ensuring that it’s within the safe range of your battery. Unsure? Check out this handy vaping power chart.
Quality Wicks: Good wicking material is also important. You’re no longer dealing with premade wicks here, so you want to make sure optimal materials are used. Do not use cheap store-bought cotton. That cotton is treated with chemicals that can be harmful, and could make you sick if not boiled in hot water and then dried. Instead, use organic cotton or wicking cotton sold by various online suppliers. I use Wick ‘n Vape’s Cotton Bacon. It works well, and requires no boiling at all.
Cells & Battery Safety Tips
As I’ve already mentioned, there are three main types of cells used in mechanical mods; the 18350, 18650 and 26650. With all of the inherent risks, choosing the right type of battery here is crucial. Any battery used in a mech mod should be an “IMR” battery. You should never use an ICR-type battery since they’re not as safe and catastrophic failure is far more likely. Most vaping suppliers only carry IMR batteries, so stick with someone who sells vape gear and you should be OK.
Once again, knowing Ohm’s Law is vital when dealing with mechanical mods and custom coil builds. Do not, I repeat DO NOT exceed the amperage rating of your battery at any time. Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, using Ohm’s Law you’ll find that the majority of batteries will not function safely below 0.2 ohms. My personal experience has found little or no reason to have builds below 0.5 ohms, which is safely in the range of every quality IMR battery on the market today.
Another word before we move on: be wary of counterfeits! This has become an increasingly bigger problem as the popularity of vaping has exploded (no pun intended). Stay away from sites like Fasttech, Amazon, and eBay. A lot of the cheap batteries with no labeling are generic knockoffs. Companies like Efest have even gone as far as putting authenticity stickers on their batteries to help fight counterfeiting, but it’s not a perfect system. As they say, buyer beware.
A Few Things Before You Commit…
Before you use a mechanical mod for the first time, it’s important for you to reassess your nicotine needs. Mech mods produce a lot more vapor than traditional e-cigs, and thus a provide a higher concentration of nicotine with each draw. I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is to reduce your nic level by at least two-thirds. If you were at 18 or 24mg, stepping down to 6mg is a good idea. 12mg vapers should consider switching to 3mg. If you feel the symptoms of being “over-nic’d” (ie: dizziness, headaches, nausea, etc.) – lower your nicotine level!
Also remember that mechanical mods are not for the lazy. You’ll be putting in a good deal of effort on a regular basis. Wicks will need to be changed at least twice a month if not more, and the coils at least once a month for best performance. If you’re a bit fat-fingered like myself, consider investing in a coil jig to make coils. While a tiny screwdriver will do, I’ve had a much easier time using a jig. Cleaning is also important, and will keep your device looking like new.