What is an RBA?
RBA stands for ReBuildable Atomizer. They are rebuildable/reusable versions of the standard disposables items that every vaper knows – cartomizers, atomizers, etc. The goal here is to provide a cheaper, more sustainable (and often more efficient) way to get your vapor. Once you have an RBA that you like, you can buy the materials to rebuild and reuse it for less than a dollar each month (your mileage may vary). Furthermore, all the materials required to rebuild an RBA are in use in other applications, so even if vendors are forced to stop selling cartomizers, atomizers, etc (for instance, because of FDA regulation), you’ll still be able to get a fresh clean vape as long as you have eliquid and a PV. **One thing you’re going to need to think about with RBAs is safety.
There are several types of RBAs, listed in the “types” section.
At the heart of every RBA, is the coil, which is the heating element that causes your e-liquid to vaporize, and the wick, which supplies the hot coil with liquid.
The coil is made of some type of resistance wire, usually Kanthal or NiChrome. When a current is applied to this wire, it heats up, hopefully enough to vaporize your eliquid. There are several common gauges (thickness) of wire that are common to use. Thicker wire (which is usually a lower gauge) allows more electricity to flow, and will require a longer wire to achieve the same resistance as a thinner (higher gauge) wire. Common gauges are .28, .30, .32, .34. The gauge of wire you will use will depend on what power source you are using (and what type of current it can provide), your workable area (how large the coil section of your RBA is), and your target resistance. This will be covered in greater detail in the “coil” section.
The wick can be made of any material that will supply your coil with a constantly flow of eliquid, enough that the coil will always be wet during your draw. Obviously it will need to be a material that won’t release harmful chemicals into your vapor. Common materials that are currently used for wick are: Silica, oxidized stainless steel mesh, cotton, bamboo. Further information, including pros and cons of the currently common wick systems will be covered in greater detail in the “wick” section.
Rebuildable Atomizers can be dangerous. This is because if they are built incorrectly, they can cause a short, which will cause a load on your battery that it was not built to maintain. If you are not using safe batteries, this can cause an explosion. Before firing up your new coil, you should first test it with a multimeter, or a device that can test resistances. If the resistance is not within a normal range (.9ohms to 3.0ohms), don’t fire it. Always use safe chemistry batteries (IMR), or protected batteries. The following is copied directly from the ECF forums:
Direct From Rolygate at ECF… a Warning:
Please note very carefully that rebuildable atomizer coils and wicks have known risks.
Rebuildables are for experts, not average or beginner vapers with no multimeter or knowledge of how to use a meter, or when a meter must be used, or how electronic devices work. These materials cannot safely be used by the inexperienced or those without basic knowledge of electronics.
This is because:
- A rebuildable coil/wick MUST be tested carefully with a meter before it is used.
- If it is not tested it may damage the device it is used on.
- Faulty wicks/coils WILL blow electronic devices.
- New coil/wick units must be tested and then used first on a strong basic electrical APV such as a Silver Bullet, that will not be destroyed by a short circuit.
- No new coil/wick assembly should be used on an electronic device until known to be safe.
- These items destroy electronic devices if faulty. This is a known issue.
- These items have inherent risks and may go faulty at any time even if they were originally in good working order. The owner bears the cost of equipment damaged as a result.
- RAs or RTAs must only be used on equipment that cannot be seriously damaged or harm the user. In practice this could mean an electrical device with a hot spring (fuse) or an electronic device that will not activate if there is a short-circuit (a dead short). Unfused devices or unprotected electronic devices will suffer damage when used with a faulty RA or RTA.
Not only this, but make sure that your battery is either removed from your mod, or your mod is adequately locked when you are building your coils. I’ve personally had kanthal wire melted into the skin on my finger because I did not need this warning while rebuilding a Genesis atomizer.
Types of Rebuildable Atomizers
- Drip – These are the simplest of RBAs, and are a good place to start. It is simply a rebuildable dripping atomizer. The wick you use can be any of the ones listed in the wicks, though they usually use silica or cotton, and often come with silica when you purchase them. Dripping atomizers can be of differing sizes, and are variable in the amount of juice they can hold. Click here to see a list of common drip RBAs.
- Bottom Fed – These are similar to drip RBAs, but have a hole through the connection to allow for use on a bottomfeeder mod, like the REO. Click here to see a list of common bottomfed RBAs.
- Tank – Tank RBAs have a storage area for juice, and that juice is fed to the coil via a wick. Click here to see a list of common tank RBAs.
- Genesis – Genesis atomizers are tank atomizers that have a vertical coil, and often use a stainless steel mesh or ceramic wick. Click here to see our page on Genesis style atomizers.
The coil is the heating element in your atomizer. It is what turns the juice to vapor. Coils are generally made by wrapping wire around a wick a specific number of times, and then connecting the lead ends to the posts in your RBA. Resistance wire is used when making a coil, and there are two common types of resistance wire you can use. NiChrome, and Kanthal. Which type of wire you use is personal preference, they both work.
Resistance wire that is useful for building RBA coils comes in different “thicknesses”, or gauges. .28, .30, .32, and .34 are common gauges. .28 is thicker than .34. Given a target resistance of 1.8 ohms, a much shorter length of .34 gauge wire would be needed than a .28 gauge wire.
Longer wire means more surface area for creating vapor. Given two coils, both 1.8ohms, one made from .28 gauge kanthal and one made from .32 gauge kanthal, both would produce the same wattage (or power, or heat) at 4 volts on your battery, however, for the .28 gauge kanthal, that heat would be spread over a much longer surface area. This will lead to more vapor that is less hot. It will also lead to a much larger coil.
Picking the gauge of wire to use is a mix between the amount of space you have to work in (this would be much larger on a Genesis style atomizer than say, a vivi nova), how warm you want your vapor to be, your target resistance, the battery you are using, and personal preference. Thicker gauge wire is harder to bend and is more springy.
If you are new to RBAs, it’s probably safe to buy .32 gauge, and possibly .30 gauge and just try them out. See what you prefer.
Types of Wicks
There are a variety of wicking materials available for RBAs. Silica, ceramic, stainless steel, natural fiber, and combinations thereof.
|Standard silica||Flexible crystalline thread twisted into rope||1-3.5mm external diameter||Muted||Torch, wash, or dry burn to remove residue from manufacture and handling. Wash with hot water/vodka/PGA and dry burn or torch to clean. Friction leads to fraying.||Inexpensive|
|Ekowool||Flexible braided amorphous silica. Tubular and hollow or filled with silica thread. Turns semi-rigid when torched.||1-4mm internal diameter||Clean||Torch lightly to remove residue from manufacture and handling. Wash with hot water/vodka/PGA and dry burn or torch to clean. Torch well before cutting to prevent fraying||Mid-priced|
|Nextel XC||Flexible, tubular and hollow braided ceramic||1/16″ or 1/32″ internal diameter||Clean||Must be heat cleaned at 1300°F for 5 minutes, increasing 540° per hour or less in a vented furnace by the vendor or the user to remove sizing. May be subject to fraying when cut, so cut cleanly with a sharp instrument.||Fairly expensive|
|FC-2000||Porous solid ceramic straight wick.||1/8″, 3/32″, or 7/64″ diameter, give or take||Depends on who you ask and when it was made. Still being revised.||Extremely fragile. Warm water rinse for 2 minutes, then warm water rinse resting in a glass for 2 minutes, then boil 2 minutes, change water, and boil for 2 more minutes, then soak in 50% VG, 50% distilled water for 3 hours before use. Seriously. Boil, then torch to clean.||Expensive|
|Metal Mesh||Woven steel wire (usually 316L), in plain or twill||325, 400, 500, 635 wires per inch in each direction (so 500 is 500×500)||May impart a distinctive taste||Boil for 5 minutes, change water, and boil for 5 more or torch well to remove residue from manufacture and handling. Typically rolled into a rigid tube, then torched, burned, or annealed to keep the wick from shorting. higher counts wick better, but many feel that 635 is not worth the much greater expense.||Inexpensive|
|Wire Rope||Steel wires (usually 316) formed into strands, then twisted around a core strand into a rather stiff rope||[strands]x[wires per strand], usually 7×7 or 7×19 at 1/8″ or 3/32″ external diameter||May impart a distinctive taste||Boil for 5 minutes, change water, and boil for 5 more or torch well to remove residue from manufacture and handling. Some ropes contain an inner nylon thread, which should be removed before torching.||Inexpensive|
|Bamboo, Cotton, Hemp||Pieces of yarn, cheesecloth, cotton balls (aka cotton wool), butcher’s twine, and other household products||Varies||Clean, muted, or imparting a flavor, depending||Often unbleached, undyed, or organic versions selected. Typically boiled for half an hour before use. Heating while dry can result in burning. Not “this tastes bad” or “my wick is ruined” burning, but “Oh no! Fire!” burning.||Very cheap|
Hybrid wicks use more than one type of material to try and balance the pros and cons of each. For example, sleeving steel in Ekowool, Nextel, or Natural Fiber. The idea is that the faster wicking metal will be shielded from shorting the coil by the non-conductive sleeve, which will in turn remain saturated by the metal.
There are health concerns associated with choice of wick, although much is speculation, and most of the rest hyperbole.
Some are concerned that fragments of silica may break off and irritate the lungs, as in bronchitis and, over years of use, silicosis. Others say that in a wet environment, this just isn’t going to happen. Ekowool is made of over 98% amorphous silica, which is massively less likely to cause lung irritation.
Do not use galvanized steel; it contains a zinc coating which is not safe to inhale at vaping temperatures.
As mentioned above, many materials contain residue from manufacture that should not be inhaled. Cleaning procedures to minimize exposure have been outlined.