Different Wire Types and Their Uses
Yes, there are actually other types of wires used in vaporizers other than the beloved Kanthal A-1, you may be familiar with some of them but we're going to go over all of the common ones used today. But first, what's the big difference really?
Well, obviously the material makeup of each kind of wire varies, and therefore the resistance capabilities do as well. Basically, all of the wires used for the coils in vaporizers are 'Resistance wire', meaning that they are used in transporting electricity from point A to point B, the more a wire resists the flow of electricity, the higher the resistance. And in the case of heating elements (such as a coil in a... 'coil') resisting the flow more heavily causes the wire to heat up. Like a stove top burner, electricity is flowing through the coil and causing it to get hot. It's part of why you will never see a copper coil, because copper has a very low resistance, and allows electricity to flow very easily. We're going to be referring to a wire's resistance/cm comparatively, for ease of understanding.
Now, on to wire types, starting with our good-ol-boy Kanthal. Kanthal is an iron-chromium-aluminium wire, and is a very popular resistance wire (you may even find it in your toaster at home), it has been used as a coil material for many years, as it's flexible, able to withstand high temperatures (melting point is about 1,500°C) and is relatively inexpensive.
Next we have Nicrome, what many of us used before Kanthal was standardized, is a nickel-chrome alloy that has slightly less resistance/cm compared to Kanthal, which is why you usually find it is thinner wire gauges as it can be a little temperamental and ramps up much faster than Kanthal. Making it a commonly preferred wire for RDA's and 'Cloud Chasing'.
Now on to Nickel, almost unheard of in regards to vaping up until a few years ago, mainly because a standard variable wattage device CAN NOT be used with nickel wire. as Nickel has a very low resistance/cm and when used even in very thin gauges (30-38AWG), a 12 wrap coil will have a similar resistance to 2 wraps of 24AWG Kanthal. If you've ever seen what happens when you use Nickel without Temperature Control you know that it almost immediately disintegrates.
To reiterate, do not use nickel without using temperature control.
And if it wasn't obvious, this is where Temperature Control Comes into play in today's devices.
As mentioned before wire types like Nickel (Ni, usually coming with a blue ring on the coil head) cannot handle a straight power input, it requires another factor when used, that being a temperature maximum. Now, when setting up the temperature on a device, the actual number is almost arbitrary (in my opinion) what you really want to think of it as is the peak of the ramp up curve.
The set temperature determines where in the curve the coil stops heating up, allowing Nickel to never reach it's... burning point. This is part of where the 'No dry burns' advertisement comes from with Nickel, as if you were to crank the temperature all the way up and fire the coils without cotton in it, the coils would max out instantly and not even glow hot. Now, a cautionary word about nickel is that if you are to use it outside of temperature control mode and burn the coils hot, the fumes from this are incredibly toxic. It's part of why you will be hard pressed to find nickel coils in your local shop, as the misuse/misinformation around Nickel can cause what is arguably more harm than good. to Clarify, when Nickel is used Correctly they are a perfectly fine alternative to Kanthal, it is when they are not used properly that it becomes an issue.
Moving on, we'll touch on a lesser known material, Titanium (Usually coming with an Orange/Red ring on a coil head). Titanium had a pretty short stint in the vape game, as it required temperature control for reasons similar to Nickel, but didn't have quite as low resistance/cm. It's the reason why on quite a few devices you will still find the 'Ti' power mode on it. However Titanium never really made the cut as it usually lacked in flavor, vapor, and coil reliability, and was quite frankly (in my opinion) too much of a hassle to really bother with.
Now on to Stainless Steel (SS, usually has a red ring on the coil head), a material I never really expected to be used in vaping but has come up in popularity as an alternative material to Kanthal. The acceptable variety is Stainless Steel 316, a medical/food grade alloy, it possesses very similar resistance/cm to Kanthal, with a slightly faster ramp up, and can be used with or without temperature control. Many devices will have a SS mode on it, even though it's not technically necessary. However, Stainless Steel is an alloy comprised mainly of chromium, nickel, and carbon, meaning that it can have the same effects as nickel when burned red hot, leaving it a cautious option for many shops.
In Conclusion, you're probably going to find that a majority of stores will carry only Kanthal, as a tried and true material used in coils it's hard not to think that some of the other types available are trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to vaping. At the end of the day most vapers that have tried different wire types will tell you that nothing puts out as much flavor, vapor, and reliability as Kanthal A-1, but if you do want to try something different it's important to know that many wire types require temperature control to be a feature of your device. And the misuse can be not only unpleasant, but unhealthy. Of course if you have any more questions stop into your local Vaping the Way and someone would be more than happy to explain the differences in more detail.
- Aiden Fedyk