How to build your Rebuildable Atomizer

June 10, 2018

building vape pen with tweezers and pliers on table

Building a rebuildable atomizer for your e-cig may sound like something MacGyver does in his basement in his spare time, but you definitely don't have to be an expert or a genius to make your own. With a few simple steps that even a novice can follow, you can construct an RBA (rebuildable atomizer) that will be the perfect companion for all the best e-liquids. Here's a breakdown of the art of making your own RBA, what you'll need to avoid, and the best ways to ensure you're getting the most from your personally modified EC.

Why Build Your Own Atomizer?

There are plenty of reasons to simply buy an atomizer and call it a day, although there is one very big reason to build your own: extreme customization. As the field of e-juices continues to expand, many of the top sellers are producing options like high VG e-liquids alongside a range of different juices that mix the ratios of VG and PG. More than ever, vapers are looking to control their vaping experience, which is exactly why many are building their own RBAs. Building your own gives you direct control of the ohms you vape at, the quality of the materials used, the longevity, and, ultimately, both the flavor and cloud production. If you're picky about what's in your e-liquid, it makes complete sense that you would be just as picky about what's under the hood of your atomizer.

Although some certainly build their own RBA simply so they can brag to their friends, you don't need to be an expert to customize your vaping sessions and even save some money in the long run. Building your rebuildable atomizer is also an easy way to learn the mechanics of how vaping works, which is something that many of us skip. Once you build your own, not only will you be able to do it again much faster and better the second time around but you'll be able to replace the essential components yourself and easily stay on top of maintenance. With the number of terrific how-to videos available online and the wonderful world of online shopping, doing it yourself can be a cinch.

The Most Important Step is Probably Getting the Right Tools and Materials

There isn't really one specific way that you have to build your RBA, but the general materials and tools you will need are the following:

  • Kanthal wire (typically 24-gauge)
  • Two basic screwdrivers (2mm should do it)
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Cotton pads (go with the organic)
  • Basic ohm tester (no need for anything expensive)
  • Tweezers (ceramic-tipped are best)
  • Atomizer base (build deck)

Kanthal wire is just the material used to create the coils themselves. While there are other options as well (e.g. stainless steel or NiChrome), Kanthal wires are proven to be excellent for atomizer building and there's no reason to overcomplicate the process from the outset. The higher the gauge of Kanthal wire, the higher the resistance is going to be, which gives you a little bit of flexibility when you start putting together your atomizer. Generally, 24-gauge is readily available and the basic wire recommended for those looking to for a very low-ohm vape. If you don't know what you're really doing (and we all begin that way), 24-gauge Kanthal wire is all you need to get started.

Screwdrivers are also a crucially important part of building for both wrapping the coils and for placement. You can probably get by with one, but there will be parts of the process where having two will make your life dramatically easier. Some will use a screwdriver-type of apparatus that will give you different diameter measurements for wrapping the coils, although this isn't really necessary. A basic set of two screwdrivers is all you need, as long as you have the right type for actually screwing in the coils to your base (Phillips or flat head).

Another crucial tool is the type of tweezers to use, as it can make a big difference for both your personal safety and for avoiding destroying the coils. Although you can get by with a metal-tipped set of tweezers, those made with ceramic tips ensure that you won't burn your fingers or short out the coils when you're making adjustments.

Everything else is pretty much just straight-forward as far as materials go. Standard sets of wire cutters and pliers will get the job done and most opt for organic cotton pads, particularly those who will be pairing the atomizer with the best e-liquids that typically stress the natural vaping experience. You're also going to want an ohm tester to help guide you to the perfect amount of resistance.

young woman holding vape mod surrounded by vape cloud

Forming and Placing the Coils

It can seem extremely complicated on the surface, but it's really not much more than twisting some metal around a screwdriver and then screwing your coils into your atomizer base. Once you have your Kanthal wire and wire cutters in hand, simply hold the end with your pliers and snip off about 10 inches and begin wrapping the wire around one of your screwdrivers. An easy method is to hold the screwdriver down over the edge of a table while you hold the end of the wire, allowing you to then easily wrap the other end around the screwdriver at the same time.

Generally, you want to create between five to seven coils on the screwdriver depending on the ohm level you're looking for in your e-liquid atomizer; the more coils, the higher your resistance is going to be. Aiming for around .30 ohms is a typical way to build an atomizer (typically about six coils with 24-gauge wire), but you can go with more coils and a higher gauge wire for mods that operate with higher resistance.

At this point, it's crucial to remember that you absolutely don't need to have the coils tight like you'll see with a finished atomizer, as it's very easy to fix this later on. If your first set of coils on your screwdriver is too loose, just pull on the short end of the wire with your plyers and use your finger to tighten them up a bit. You should now have two parallel pieces of protruding wire (called "leads") roughly the same length, which will be used to thread your base. Even if it's not perfect, pull the coils off the screwdriver and create your second set, which will very likely be much better than your first (particularly if you're a beginner).

Now you just need to place your coils into your base deck once you remove your batteries and place it on your mod. If you want to discover one of the few ways you can actually mess up an RBA build, leave your batteries in and proceed to fry your coils and your fingertips at the same time. A very standard base will have three posts and three holes for your leads, but the easier one for beginners actually has four holes (still three posts). The central posts/holes are simply the positive charge and the outside ones are the negative ones that ground the charge. The general concept is that you want to stick one lead through the negative and one through the positive, so go ahead and unscrew the tops of the posts to fully clear the holes (don't fully remove the screw) and you're ready to roll. An easy way to take the next step is to leave the second set of coils right on the screwdriver and thread the leads through the correct holes (one positive, one negative) as you press lightly with the screwdriver. If you're using a base with four holes, you can install the wire in every other hole, making installation even easier.

Leaving the screwdriver in the coils, now it's just a matter of screwing in the leads and clipping the ends of the leads with your wire cutter, and then repeating on the opposite side for the second set of coils. It's also key to screw your leads in tight but not overtight, as this could cause the wire to break and you'll get an opportunity to do it all over again. At this point, you'll probably notice that your coils don't look exactly professional, but as long as they're screwed in properly you're completely fine for now.

However, before moving on, simply test your setup with your ohm tester to see how close you are to your resistance goal and to ensure that you don't have any shorts. You can typically find an inexpensive but accurate ohm tester for $10-$20, letting you see instantly if you were able to hit the number that you're looking for. If you're only doing a single-coil build, your resistance might be closer to 1 ohm or even higher, although you should be in the .2 to .6 range for a dual-coil setup. Now is the time to add or subtract coils to meddle with the resistance level if needed, but you don't have to be right on the money on your first go-around with an atomizer. As long as you're close to where you want to be on resistance and there are no shorts, you should be ready for the cotton and final touches.  

man using vape atomizer exhaling closeup

A Break for Clapton Coils

There's no reason that Clapton coils couldn't have been called a Richards or Hendrix coils, but Clapton coils have a nice ring to them and pay homage to one of the greatest guitarists of all-time. Supposedly created by a guitarist who suddenly had an epiphany about ohms and coil resistance, Clapton coils won't help you play "Layla" but they will give you a boost when it comes to cloud production and taste, making them exciting options for many vapers who never go back to regular coils. Clapton coils also are an ideal fit for an unflavored high VG e-liquid, as the specialized coils will do a better job of amplifying the natural flavor of the juice.

But Clapton coils are also much more difficult to make than basic Kanthal-wire coils. Clapton coils utilize a low-resistance inner coil (like a 24 or 26-gauge) wrapped in a higher resistance coil (34 or 36-gauge), ultimately giving it the look of guitar string. More importantly, it also increases the surface area, which is the reason you're going to increase your vapor production.

The problem with those building their own RBA with Clapton coils is that they add a complicated twist to the process, which may not be what a beginner is looking for. You'll also have to use some new tools, including a power drill, although it's still a far cry from rocket science. The problem with wrapping your own Clapton coils is that you can easily buy them premade and plug them right into your RBA just as you would your regular Kanthal coils. Although this might be cheating just a touch, it cuts out what could be one of the biggest hassle you'll face and lets you focus on getting the basics right. Once you've built your first rebuildable atomizer and you want to go all the way by building your own Clapton coils too, this is an easy step that can be added at a later date.

And if you are really into Clapton coils, there are plenty of other options as well, but a beginner doesn't need to start by weighing the differences between fused and framed designs to build a terrific atomizer. While there are countless different options to choose from when it comes to coils, keeping it simple with a plain Kanthal design is going to lead to fewer headaches and frustrations for those who aren't pros at crafting RBAs.

Adjusting the coils and adding the cotton.

One of the most critical things required for building an RBA is a bit of patience, as even professionals tend to use trial and error to get their atomizer exactly how you want it. Once you have some relatively snug and clipped coils attached to your base, you're going to want to pick up those tweezers and gently squeeze the coils together. Metal-tipped tweezers are usually fine, but the ceramic ones can make it much easier to get the coils into place. An easy method is to put the batteries in your mod and press the fire button a few times, which will let you see how evenly your coils are heating (as long as you're being careful). If you have ceramic tweezers, you can begin to gently squeeze together the coils, which will mold easier with a little bit of pulsating heat.

It shouldn't take long for you to see quick improvements once you do this to both sides, making the coils look much less amateurish while getting the proper distribution of heat. As a finishing touch, strumming the coils with your screwdriver will help you work out any of the final kinks before your coils are fully ready to go.

If you've made it this far with an RBA that looks like an RBA, you've already made it past the hardest part. Simply cut your cotton into a strip and twist both ends, then cut the cotton into two equal pieces – each with one end twisted. Many people simply cut two strips, but you'll save time and cotton by just cutting one. From there, it's just a matter of threading the cotton (twisted end first) through the coils and pushing the four strands of cotton down into the juice well, where you'll eventually want to add the best e-liquid you can get your hands on. At this point, you absolutely do not want to dry-fire the cotton by hitting the fire button.

Once all the cotton is in is in and everything looks right, douse the cotton with a decent amount of e-juice and clean up any leftover strands of cotton by pushing them into the juice well. Hit the fire button on your mod and you should have some delicious vape pouring out of your beautiful new atomizer. You might have some adjustments to make from here, but there's a good chance that you've just mastered the basics of building an RBA.

Testing and Shortcuts  

Although it might be extremely tempting, don't go straight for that high VG e-liquid just yet. Instead, it's time to break out your ohm tester and make sure your atomizer is still measuring how exactly how you want it. If your resistance level is lower than you were looking for, you can always start over by adding another coil or two to your build, quickly upping your ohms. Or, like most beginners, you can make a mental note of what you want to change and get to vaping instead going through it all over again right away. You also should be able to figure out whether you have the appropriate gauge of Kanthal wire, as you might have to move up to a 26 or 28-gauge wire.  

It's also a good idea to wrap-up your RBA build by taking a look back at where you had trouble and where you might want to change a few things on your next build. Anyone who isn't particularly handy might have a hard time with the basics of wrapping the Kanthal wire around a screwdriver, which is why you can purchase a coil winder that will make this aspect of it completely painless for less than $10. Coil winders are great for both novices and for more seasoned vapers who regularly build atomizers, but starting with the old-school method of winding the wire around a screwdriver builds both skills and character.

While it might take quite a bit of trial and error before you'll want to create your own YouTube video that shows off your talents, even those with no previous knowledge of building RBAs can quickly get a grasp of how to make one on their own. As long as you have some patience and the right tools, you can build an atomizer every bit as good as one premade in a vape store or online.

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