(8) A Beginner's Guide to Your First Mechanical Mod
So, you're interested in purchasing your first mechanical mod. What are the differences between a mech and electronic (regulated) mod? What should you know before hand?
In a mechanical mod with a metal piston switch and no wiring, your weak link is the battery. This is not a link you want to break while it is in close proximity to your hand or face. Over taxing a battery in a mech can create a little pipe bomb.
There are risks with lithium-ion batteries if misused or short-circuited, and there have been several incidents and some injuries. But this is a common challenge across many types of battery-powered devices. We've all seen the media reports of cell phone batteries exploding or catching on fire.
Too many people are jumping into mechanical mods without understanding what they are getting into and not realizing it is not a care-free device like an eGo or Provari. It requires more attention to details and a better understanding of all the variables. Too often people on forums say, " Mech mods are easy, just drop a battery in and go. I don't understand why others say it is not for beginners." Because if you don't understand all the things you need to watch for there is a serious chance of something possibly going terribly wrong down the road.
Mech mods are not toys or learning devices. They need to be understood before you begin to experiment with them. So far most novices have been lucky. However, some people don't check the batteries they use, don't know what resistance their coils are, don't know how to work an Ohm's Law calculation, etc, and nothing has happened, giving a false sense of security to others to try the same things, but all it will take is one bad coil or one bad battery to change someone's face forever.
When it comes to advanced mass marketed systems like cell phones and laptops and hybrid electric cars, the system designers of those products have taken appropriate steps to make them "safe" for uninformed end-user use. Purely mechanical unregulated ecig battery mods and uninformed end-users is a dicey proposition.
Most consumer battery operated devices are no where near the limit of the batterys operating limits. The high-end flashlights and ecigs and RCtoys come to mind as applications that really push the limits. With the RCtoys the device is physically far removed from the person so a mishap is inconsequential. With ecigs a mishap is literally in the persons face.
These batteries were not originally intended for what we are using them for. In fact, I have read that Panasonic, Sanyo, Sony, and Samsung, don't even like the fact that we're using these batteries because they were not intended for single cell, unprotected use in any consumer device. The fact that they're available can be attributed to modders of flashlights, pen lasers, and bicycle electronics. A demand formed around those markets and it was filled by various folks, and then e-cigs came along and the demand skyrocketed.
With some basic knowledge of battery and mod limitations, and always using safe battery practices, using these batteries for vaping can be considered reasonably safe. Just please always respect the power that are in them.
From a historical perspective, mechanical "mods" came about when early vapers grew tired of the poor battery life of the original, gas station variety of cigalikes. Innovators took flashlights or metal tubes and added a 510 connector and fire button to make the first "mods". The term "mod" has stuck around since.
Its fun to watch this 2009 video review by Grimm Green as he experienced his first 18650 battery mod, an AltSmoke Silver Bullet which was one of the first mass-produced 18650 mods. Innitially he was put off by its "huge" size, but eventually it became one of his favorite mods because of the long battery life of an 18650. Today, 18650 battery mods are the most common mods available. Please note, using protected ICR batteries or stacking batteries is NOT RECOMMENDED as Gimm does in the video.
Regulated mods use micro computers to regulate the electrical current from the battery to the atomizers so the vapor stays consistant to what is dialed in by the user. They allow for fine tuning the vapor to the user's personal preferance with variable voltage/wattage, as some vapers prefer a warmer vape while others prefer a cooler vape. In addition, some flavors are better at a lowr power setting while others are better at a higher power setting. This give you additional options to improve your vaping experience.
The voltage output from a regulated mod is not the battery voltage (like in a mechanical mod). It is converted using a combination of buck/boost and/or PWM (pulse width modulation), or a pulsed DC circuitry to achieve the desired wattage to fire the atomizer. At wattages requiring less than the battery voltage, the mod will either buck the voltage down or more often pulse the DC voltage on and off to get the desired wattage.
At wattages requiring higher voltage than the battery has, the boost circuitry will boost the battery output up to get the desired wattage. This boost circuitry has some energy loss, so it will use a little more watts from the battery than at a lowrer voltage output from the mod.
These processors also have built-in safety circuitry, which makes them a better choice for novice or intermediate vapers because of their safety features. They guard against short circuits, provide reverse battery protection, provide auto cutoff after 10 - 15 seconds of firing the fire button to prevent over-discharging the battery, and provide thermal protection, all designed to prevent a hard short to the battery.
Regulated mods can be tube or box shaped. There are newer models called "high wattage" regulated mods which have all the benefits of the older regular regulated mods, in addition to higher power capability to fire sub ohm coils.
Mechanical mods are bare bones tube or box battery holders, with no power regulation or variable power adjustments, and NO BUILT-IN SAFETY FEATURES. The electrical current available to the atomizer will be strictly what the voltage the battery has available at the time. Mechanicals have recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity because of rebuildable atomizers (RBA) and sub-ohm vaping. Because there is no computer to regulate the voltage, mechanical mods depend solely on the battery's charge status and the resistance (ohms) of the heating coil to change the character of the vape. Vape quality will gradually and progressively decline as the battery is drained during use.
Let's review the pro's & cons of mechanical vs. regulated electronic mods.
The Pro's & Cons of Regulated vs Mechanical Mods:Regulated Pro's:
The battery power to the atomizer is controlled (or regulated) to stay the same throughout the battery charge, from a fully charged battery until fully discharged.
The power can be adjusted to increase or decrease the voltage by the user, allowing the user to change their vaping experience.
Has built-in protective circuitry against atomizer short circuits, shorts in the 510 connector, or fire button; accidentally putting the battery in backwards; over discharging
the battery; accidentally pressing the fire button too long (auto cutoff timer safety feature); and over-heating of the processor.
Has built-in battery voltage and atomizer resistance meters to check battery voltage status and the ohm rating of the coil.
Generally speaking, may not be as well made or as durable over time compared to a mech. Electrical components may fail over time or from physical abuse.
Unless it is a "high wattage" regulated mod, will not be able to fire a sub-ohm resistance coil.
Generally speaking, are made to be more durable and able to withstand some physical abuse. No electronic components to fail.Mechanical Cons:
Mechs are able to fire sub-ohm coils because there is no protection circuitry or processor amp limits to prohibit it.
Many mechs are machined to be quite beautiful, nearly art pieces. Many are manufactured in a limited run, in limited quantities, and inscribed with the number on the mod. To see a few examples of these beautiful mechs, go to the very end of this blog.
Why do people choose a mech over regulated?
No protection circuitry. This is the big one for beginners. The new user must always be aware of the signs of a short circuit, which could cause the battery to vent into thermal runaway. The mod must have ventilation holes in case you experience a venting episode and which should prevent your mod from becoming an exploding pipe bomb.
No voltage regulation of the battery. As the battery drains from use, the vape quality will diminish.
Some mechanical mods allow the use of a drop-in processor module often known as a "Kick". A Kick converts a mechanical mod into a regulated mod allowing for power regulation and some protection features.Ideal Features for a Safer Mechanical Mod:
- Uses a "recessed" fire button or has a locking feature for the fire button. Inadvertant continuous pressure on the fire button can cause a battery to over-discharge, causing the battery to vent, flame, or explode. Many a mod has exploded when transported in a pocket, purse, or bag when the fire button was inadvertantly and continuously compressed.
- Has ventilation holes to allow the escape of gas during a venting event. Any vent holes are better than none, but holes in the top of the mod (where the gas first accumulates) is preferred. When a battery vents in an inadequately vented metal tube, it literally becomes a pipe bomb.
- Has an insulated 510 center pin. So-called hybrid or hybrid top cap mechs do not have an insulated 510 center pin, but make direct contact between the atomizer's 510 connector and the top of the battery. The only atomizer that can be used is one with an extended center pin in the 510 connector. The vast majority of mech or battery explosions have occured with these hybrid mods and using an inappropriate atomizer.
- Some mechs have an insulated nonconductive battery compartment that shields the battery from the body of the mod. A torn wrapper on the battery can allow electrical current to the body of the mech leading to a battery hard short.
- Some mechs incorporate the use of a vape safety fuse.
- I know of no mech mod which has all of these features.Essential Safety Accessories:
Ohm Reader to measure the atomizer's coil resistance. Can also be used to check for coil shorts; a short will read 0.0 ohms. Alternatively, if you own a digital multimeter, you can check both battery voltage and ohm resistance of coils, but a multimeter is more cumbersome to use than an ohm reader and voltage tester separately IMHO.
Battery Voltage Meter attaches to the mod's 510 connector to measure realtime battery voltage. Batteries should never be routinely drained lower than 3.4 volts. Drained below 2.5 volts will likely destroy the battery.
Optional Safety Accessories:
VapeSafe Mod Fuse will detect a short circuit and break the electrical circuit. Used on the negative pole of the battery, attached via its magnitized surface. Available in a single use version, as well as a multiple use version. Fuses may not fit in mods with a tight-fitting battery.
Bug Safety Fuse by Atmizoo - MyVaporStore
Short Stop / Safety Fuse - Vaper Train
Vape Safety Fuse - Vape Hut
Mechanical Mod Safety Fuse - eZvapors
Evolv Kick is a drop-in processor chip that sits on the positive pole of the battery. It provides voltage regulation, variable wattage, and protection circuitry --- essentially turning your mechanical mod into a regulated mod. (Does not protect against reverse battery errors.) Wattage is set by turning a screw with a screwdriver. Due to its size, it may require you to downsize from an 18650 battery down to a shorter 18500 battery; however, many mods offer Kick extension sleeves or battery extension caps to allow the use of an 18650 battery and Kick simultaneously.
"Hot" Springs -- if your mod uses a coil spring in the battery cap, you can use a hot spring to add an additional layer of protection. Designed to act like a fuse, it is designed to melt or collapse if the battery reaches a critical temperature, thereby breaking the electrical circuit to the atomizer.
*Note the ideal location of vent holes in this mechanical. Holes are located at the positive end of the battery and not in the battery cap.
Batteries are the most important part of your setup, so don't skimp here by using cheap low quality batteries to save a couple of bucks. Buy your batteries from reputable authorized battery suppliers to avoid buying counterfeits. Buying batteries from vape shops, E-Bay, or Amazon is always a risk.
Use only "high drain" (not "high capacity"), unprotected batteries, preferably reputable name brands like LG, Samsung, and Sony. These brands offer the top of the line batteries on the market with reputable specifications.
If you are considering purchasing a particular 18650 battery, just remember that...
...there are none with a true continuous rating over 30A.
...there are none rated at 3000mAh with a true continuous rating over 20A.
...there are none rated over-3000mAh with a true continuous rating over 10A.
...pulse or battery company "max" ratings are useless and can't be used to compare batteries.
Chinese brands like Efest, Imren, MFXO, AWT, etc sell lesser quality after-market batteries which are second or third bin rejects that they acquired from the better top manufacturers. Recently, many of the re-wrappers have begun to contract with Chinese factories to make a battery for them, however these batteries have yet to prove that they come close to the same quality as an authentic LG, Samsung, or Sony battery from Japan or South Korea.
Big changes to the battery ratings tables and how I rate certain batteries are coming soon! -- Battery Mooch
These companies then rewrap the cells with their own brand wrap, and usually advertise over-rated amp specifications. Claims of 30 - 40 amp rates are either useless pulse discharge rates or hyperbole, proven by independent bench tests by people like Battery Mooch. False ratings give unknowing consumers a false sense of security and can prove to be dangerous if they push their batteries to their upper limits.
Basic rule of thumb at the moment, to get higher CDR amps you have to sacrifice Mah and run time, to get higher Mah and run time you have to sacrifice amps and CDR. There is no battery made which has both the highest mAh capacity and amp rating in one cell, it is one or the other.
There are no 18650 batteries with a genuine rating over 30A!
Battery pulse ratings are useless!
Purple Efest Batteries: Not as Advertised
Are You Using a Rewrap (Rebranded) Battery?
Use the CDR (continuous discharge rate) spec as the most important spec when choosing batteries for your mech, and the mAh rating (capacity) as the secondary spec. Using these two specs makes comparing brands and models easier for the consumer. Choose the brand and model with the specifications which best fit your style of vaping.
The CDR isn't a suggestion.
It's the safe operating limit of the cell.
Back To Basics – Battery and Device Safety
Short circuits happen when the voltage from a battery is discharged through a low resistance wire at a discharge rate that exceeds the battery’s upper amp limit. Short circuiting a battery is very close to what a mechanical mod with a sub-ohm coil is doing, except you are trying to keep the resistance under the upper amp limit – there’s a fine line that you have to be careful of when sub-ohming.
If using sub-ohm coils in your mech, know how to use an Ohm's Law calculator to insure your battery has enough amps (CDR) to safely fire the coil resistance you use. Understand that if you run your batteries at their upper discharge limit, that this practice ages your batteries at a faster rate. Therefore, your 30 amp battery will soon become a 15 amp battery, or your 20 amp battery will become a 10 amp battery.
Explain It To The Noob: Ohm's Law Calculations
Always use 4.2 volts (the voltage of a fully charge battery) as the voltage, and the resistance of the coil measured on an ohm reader, and click the "calculate" button. The coil's amp draw from the battery will be displayed in the current (I) box. This number should not exceed the continuous discharge rate of the battery.
Proper battery orientation
UNREGULATED PARALLEL BOX MOD VS. UNREGULATED SERIES BOX MOD | VAPING BATTERY SAFETY
Mechanical Mod Maintanance:
Keep your mod clean and safe.
Use isopropal alcohol to clean dirt & gunk from your 510 center pin, internal fire button pins, any insulators, and internal battery contacts.
Use an antioxidant (Noaloxx) to keep battery cap threads clean from dirt and oxidation particles. The mech body and battery cap are part of the electrical circuit (negative ground). Dirt, grime, and oxidation affect electrical performance.
Mod body and fire button should never feel hot to touch. If this occurs, there is a short somewhere in your setup. Do not continue to press the fire button, but disconnect the atomizer and remove the battery immediately. Check atomizer resistance. Clean and inspect all parts, including any insulators. Reassemble and test. If the problem persists, refer to an expert; or accept your loss and retire the mod from use. Continued use without correcting the problem is simply not worth the risk.
Exploding Batteries and Exploding Mods: Fact or Myth?
Although rare, there is no denying that there have been some horrific mod explosions in the last three years. It's my guess that there are more battery and mod explosions than what is reported in the media. For those that are reported, details are always scarce: Civil lawsuits usually impose gag orders on the participants, news media reports tell the "what", but rarely report the "how" or "why". Rarely do we learn what mod it was, what batteries were involved, or what resistance was being used. Unfortunately, we are left to second guess the victims and even berate them for not knowing their equipment and unfairly calling them "idiots".
According to this list:
E-Cigarette Explosions: Comprehensive List
There have been 50 major incidents this year (2016) alone and that's just the ones which make the news. They also go on to say...
"It is interesting to note that the nature of e-cigarette explosions has changed over the years. The FEMA document cited above suggests that approximately 80 percent of e-cigarette explosions happen during charging. In addition, most e-cigarette explosions that occurred before early 2015 involved no reported injuries. However, people began to experience different types of e-cigarette explosions when sub-ohm vaping and mods with removable batteries became more popular. More than ever, e-cigarettes explode during use. Explosions resulting from people carrying spare batteries in their pockets are also far more common. Regardless of the circumstances, e-cigarette explosions are far more likely to cause injuries today than they were in the past."Tobacco Truth: E-Cigarette Battery Hazards Minuscule and Overblown
First vape related death
Second vape related death
Viewing pictures of mechanical mod explosions, it appears quite clear that the mods blow their top off. This is most likely due to inadequate or the absence of ventilation holes to allow the escape of hot gas that accumulates inside the mod during battery venting or thermal runaway. In effect, the mod literally becomes a pipe bomb.
E-Cigarette Battery Explodes, Burning Man's Leg
Everyone is free to set their own safety parameters, and I can only say what mine are. I try to never exceed 50% of the CDR (continuous discharge rating) of a fully charged battery (4.2v). So with a 20A rated battery, that would be 10A. An Ohm's Law Calculator tells me that a .4 ohm build is as low as I would want to use. 0.3 ohm with a 30 amp battery.
1.0 ohm = 4.2 amp draw
0.9 ohm = 4.6 amp draw
0.8 ohm = 5.2 amp draw
0.7 ohms = 6 amp draw
0.6 ohms = 7 amp draw
0.5 ohms = 8.4 amp draw
0.4 ohms = 10.5 amp draw
0.3 ohms = 14.0 amp draw
0.2 ohms = 21.0 amp draw
0.14 ohms = 30 amp draw
0.1 ohms = 42.0 amp draw
0.0 ohms = dead short = battery goes into thermal runaway
The reason that I place a 50% limit is because as a battery ages the mAh of the battery degrades, as the mAh degrades so does the batteries c rating (amp limit). So down the road, your 20A battery may only be a 10A battery.
A large percentage of the Samsung, Sony, LG cells are used in multi-cell configurations, i.e., battery packs in hybrid automobiles and cordless power tools. These battery packs have their own battery management system (BMS) that ensures configurable, consistent protection at desired current, voltage, and temperature settings to ensure long battery pack life. As vapers, we are primarily using single battery cells alone by themselves, which often means we may be using these single cells at or above their recommended specifications for a single cell. This application is not the intended use for these cells.
You may be placing a lot of faith in a cheap ohm reader in making a precise and accurate reading to a tenth or hundredth of an ohm. The most accurate and recently calibrated digital multimeters can cost over $1000.
A loose post screw holding your coil on your RBA can drastically lower your coil resistance by as much as 0.5 ohms (from personal experience).
At the time of this writing (July 2015), there are no mod batteries that can deliver more than 30 amp CDR. Any advertisement of over 30 amps is either marketing hype or a pulse discharge rating (a spec we choose not to use).
The batteries we have available can be quite safe if you use the right batteries for the right application and do not abuse them beyond their recommended amp limit. Most bad battery incidents result from user error, wrong calculations, ignoring safe battery practices, or using a mod without adequate vent holes for a battery which goes into thermal runaway.
A battery venting in thermal runaway will release extremely hot gas, toxic chemicals, and rarely flames. Once this chemical reaction begins, there is no stopping it. The gas can build up inside a mod, and if there is inadequate venting the mod becomes a little pipe bomb.
Ultra low resistance coils (sub-ohm vaping)
Guide to Sub-Ohm Vaping
August 2014: We have now had the first confirmed mechmod explosion due to sub-ohming, which took place at the recent VapeBlast event. The device exploded, blew a hole in the ceiling 20 feet above, brought down a ceiling tile, and burnt a hole in the floor. As this was witnessed by dozens of people (also, the explosion was heard by a hundred people or so) and the photos are widely available, it is impossible to deny that it occurred.
It seems lucky that no one was hurt; indeed the mechmod owner ran away in order that if any injury occurred he wouldn't be held accountable and to avoid paying for the damage. As the device became hot he threw it down, then it exploded. The incident occurred at a Cloud Contest although it is not known if the vaper who caused the explosion was a bystander or a competitor; since he was clearly stressing-out his rig it seems possible he was about to compete.
What's left of an exploded mechanical mod after a vented battery at a vape convention.
What can be learned from this
An incident like this is caused by a chain of design errors, user actions, and possibly a battery fault.
- Sealed metal tubes will probably explode if a battery vents violently
-The battery itself may physically block gas from escaping to the bottom of the mod
- Small vents at the bottom of the tube are useless, only very large gas vents near the top have a good chance of preventing an explosion
- Building coils lower than 0.2 ohm will raise the amp draw exponentially and this increases risk - the power graph shows a significant change at 0.2 ohms and starts to climb vertically as resistance is reduced further
- Using cheap batteries with ultra low res coils is a certain route to high risk - it needs 30 amp batteries of guaranteed high quality
- Using long draws or machine-gun draws to create monster clouds stresses the battery much more
- Cloud Contests are events where people put ultra high stress on their rig to create monster clouds; if spectating, you could consider standing at the back of the room to stay safe
- If you run a Cloud Contest then you should probably check that your personal and business insurance is really, really good and is appropriate for dangerous sports
- People are now discussing the safety (!) involved with putting 100-amp pulses on their batteries in order to create the biggest clouds with the lowest resistance coils; there is only one way this is going to go and you don't want to be within the explosion radius: someone may have a counterfeit battery, or one that is just too small for this extreme usage mode together with ignoring the device getting warm or even hot.
Above is a mech which has a single vent hole in the bottom fire button, but notice there is no room for any gas to escape past the tight quarters of the battery to that vent hole. It is essentially an enclosed metal tube and therefore has inadequate venting.
In my opinion, the first thing you should do with a new mechanical mod is to seek out a machine shop with a drill press, and have them drill out two 2.0 mm holes strategically placed in the top of the mod body where the positive pole of the battery makes contact with the 510 connector. If all mechanical mods had this done, I predict there would be no more mechanical mod explosions.
Mods which use a "recessed" fire button will be less likely to accidentally fire in a pocket or purse, regardless of whether the button is located on the side or bottom. Protruding buttons can be easily and accidentally pressed, and over a very short time can cause a battery to go into thermal runaway. If your mod has a safety locking feature for the fire button, use it each time you stop vaping.
Faux Hybrid, Hybrid-Look, or Direct Battery Mechanical Mods
"True" hybrids (below pic) are mods with a dedicated atomizer, and no 510 threaded connection. These mods are relatively safe, as you cannot use an incorrect atomizer as the atomizer is a dedicated atomizer specifically for that mod.
Below is a true hybrid:
The atty has 20x1 threads.
It attaches to the body of the mod.
There is no top cap.
"Hybrid look" mods ( or "faux hybrids", "direct battery", or mods with "hybrid style adapters") have a 510 connection without a positive center pin. Using a "hybrid look" mod safely requires an atomizer with an "extended positive center pin" connection. The extended positive contact (center pin) on the atomizer touches the positive end of the battery, completing the circuit. Using an improper (common) atomizer can have disastrous consequences by creating a hard short. There are more explosions with this type of mod than any other. This is likely because novice users are unaware that they must use an atomizer with an extended center pin. They use a regular atomizer tank which will eventually hard short the battery. The battery vents gas into the mod, and if it has nowhere to escape the mod becomes a pipe bomb.
These "hybrid look" mods have no insulated 510 center pin, such as the SMPL, Noisy Cricket, and Copper tube mods. This design allows direct battery contact with a specialized extended center pin on atomizers designed to be used exclusively with faux hybrid mods. Do not use atomizers with the common/normal 510 center pin, or an explosion is likely to occur from a short. Leave these specialty devices to the more experienced and veteran vape pros.
No insulated center pin in the SMPL faux hybrid mod - requires an extended center pin in the 510 juice attachment.
4nine faux hybrid (above)
Prime Copper faux hybrid (below)
V God hybrid mech
Atomizers (example pics above) with an extended center pin (copper center) in the 510 connector (for faux hybrid or direct battery mods). This type of 510 connector is the only connector you can use with a hybrid-look, direct battery mechanical mod.
Vape retailers believe Lethbridge man was uneducated on electronic cigarettes
Something else that is good to know is the difference between a "Hard" 510 pin and a "Floating" 510 pin on an atomizer.
With a hard 510 pin, the center pin in the atomizer can not move, it is fixed. So the amount that the 510 pin extends out beyond the 510 threads never changes. This is a good thing.
With a floating 510 pin, the 510 pin is being pushed out by the coil head or RBA section in the atomizer. So if the coil head or RBA section is not screwed down completely, or if there is any variance in the length of the coil head or RBA section, it can cause the 510 pin to not extend the full amount from 510 threads of the atomizer. This could be a very bad thing.
Last thing. Some atomizers have "adjustable" 510 pins. This is a very nice feature, but can also be a serious problem for someone using a Faux Hybrid connection if the 510 pin on the atomizer works itself back from screwing and unscrewing the atomizer On/Off. If someone is using an atomizer with an adjustable 510 pin, the length that it extends from the 510 threads should be checked EVERY time that the atomizer is screwed onto a Faux Hybrid connection.
Some mech have optional top cap adaptors. Above, the adaptor on the left has a 510 center pin and on the right a hybrid-look adaptor.
Beautiful, limited quantity or out-of-production, high end mechanical mods:
fully engraved King mech
Hades Mod V2 "Tribal" by Footoon
Kennedy Hawaii Five-O Dragon Combo
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