Mechanical mods also known as mechs, tube mods, unregulated mods and probably a multitude of different names, are a tricksters and cloud comp participants weapon of choice, but how do they differ from other mods and why do they get such a bad reputation for being “unsafe”?
I have been vaping for a little under 6 years now and I have tried pretty much every type of mod there has been (besides a pipe mod, but that’s something I must own one day!) and the first time I delved into the mechanical mod scene I was terrified. I had seen these sleek, sexy looking mods with people blowing huge clouds and wanted a piece of that action. I ordered my first mech online and chose the ever-faithful Nemesis mod. This was a silver tube, 18650 unregulated mech mod. When I purchased the mod and it arrived at my door, there was a little note in the package telling me to “take care when using an unregulated device as serious injury can occur” …….cue my face dropping and wondering what the hell I had gotten myself in for!! Kudos to the vendor / manufacturer for including this note as this was way before the TPD and the mainstream hatred of “exploding e-cigs”. This led me to take to trusty google and after browsing a few forums I managed to get an idea of exactly what they meant by “serious injury”
In a nutshell, a mechanical mod has no electric security measures and is basically electricity and power in its rawest form. The mod will take batteries that are inserted into the device and create a circuit. For example, an 18650 tube mech like the Mad Dog RDTA kit pictured below will have a single 18650 battery put into the device. This battery will make contact on one end to the positive of the atomizer and on the other end to the mod itself. Very simple circuitry. You complete the circuit my pressing the fire button that touches the negative of the battery and hey presto there is power going to the coils. There is no wattage or voltage adjustment, there is no auto cut off, nothing like that. Just the power of the battery discharging into the coils. So why do certain people love mechs so much? Mechs have a bit of a cult following in certain groups and in my opinion, they feel that they are a very raw way of vaping. No circuitry and technological trickery, just a vape that is as good as your build / building skills. Also, a mech gives a straight hit from a battery with no delay in power delivery (don’t confuse that with ramp up time of the coils, we will talk about that later). Some people prefer the looks of mechs because you can get some very good-looking devices that as smaller and come with a hefty price tag dependant on the mod in question. So back to me, do I love mechs? No. I don’t LOVE mechs, but I do quite like them. A couple of gripes stop me from loving the mechanical mod and the vast majority are down to the fact that I am a lazy vaper.
When using a regulated mod (DNA chip mods, Wismec, Joyetech, Smok etc) you have a computer chip doing all the work of delivering the power and conserving power. For me I like the fact that I have technology working for me to deliver an even output of power that can last me all day on a couple of batteries. Couple that with the protection of knowing the device won’t fire if there is a problem and being able to select my voltage / wattage, the regulated mod is my weapon of choice. That’s not to say that I don’t like a mech from time to time, but it’s not my first choice.
So why do mechs go wrong? As mentioned earlier a mech mod has no electronic safety measures built in. If you try and fire a regulated mod with a faulty coil (a short) or a build that is too low, then the device wont fire. Simple as that. Whereas a mech will ALWAYS fire when the battery can discharge around the circuit. This can be a very bad thing if the right safety precautions and knowledge isn’t taken in to account. To understand more we need to go into the science of batteries a little bit. The batteries that we use for vaping are known as “high drain” lithium batteries. There are a million and one different batteries on the market but the basis of the battery is the same. Each battery will have three ratings associated with it. Capacity rated in mAh (milliamp hours), continuous discharge rated in A (Amps) and pulse discharge rate in A (Amps). The mAh rating will be something ranging from 1500-3500 in some cases and this is how long the battery will last. Imagine a glass of water, a pint glass will last longer than a half pint glass if the liquid is poured out at the same rate, simple. The rest is where things gets a little more complex but this is the area you really need to understand when using a mech. When a load is put on a battery its draws Amps from that battery. If the battery is rated at 10A draw and you are drawing 5A from it, then that battery is working within its safe range and there are no problems. However, if you were to draw 20A from the battery, then you are working outside of its safe range and that’s when things bad can happen. When a battery has a continuous rating, this means it can work up to that number safely, without a break, until the mAh is depleted and the battery needs recharging. When you look at the pulse rating, this means the battery can work to that level for short periods of time and will need a break between them. This is usually a 5-10 second draw before it needs to stop and cool down. So, what happens if you go over these limits I hear you say? Well that’s when the battery becomes unstable and can become volatile. The chemistry inside a battery is so, that if these batteries are over the safe limit the chemicals inside become violent and start to want to escape the battery casing. This results in the battery heating up and “venting” which can lead to an explosion. By explosion I don’t mean a little puff of smoke, I mean a full blow explosion as you can see here
When this happens inside a metal tube, you basically have a pipe bomb in your hand. Not good!! So how do we know what amps our vape is drawing from a battery? This is a very simple thing to work out and the formula never changes. When you build a coil into a tank or RDA or whatever, that coil has a rating. This is measure in ohms. If you are using prebuilt coils they tend to tell you on the coil or packaging what the resistance (ohms) is of the coil. You should always double check this on an ohm reader or a regulated mod to be sure as they can fluctuate a little. When building your own coils, you MUST check the resistance on something to know what resistance you have. People have built up a knowledge and that is all fine, but please please PLEASE check on a piece of equipment to be 100% sure. (This will also allow you to be certain the build is correctly seated and there are no shorts that are going to change the resistance of the coil. If your coil is touching the deck in anyway, the resistance is going to fluctuate.) You then take that resistance and add it to this equation Amps = Voltage/ Resistance. A fully charged 18650 battery (regardless of the mAh) will be 4.2V, so let’s say you have a 0.2ohm build on an RDA with a fully charged battery; Amps = 4.2 / 0.2 = 21 Amps. It is as simple as that, not to mention there are loads of calculators online to tell you these things (www.steam-engine.org being the main one) so if you work within the parameters of your battery, you are fine. Some people will push their builds past the continuous rating and more towards the pulse rating, but I for one do not feel comfortable doing this, call me cautious but I don’t do it.
“So how do we find out our battery rating?” I hear you crying out!! Well that can be a little trickier. Your battery will always have a rating on the side of it, but these can something be exaggerated ratings! Yes, that’s right, with something this serious we have companies that are lying about what their battery can do. It’s dangerous and irresponsible but they put ratings on batteries that is absolute rubbish. There are people out there who will test the batteries to failure with equipment that I don’t understand and they will give you a true rating of your battery. The best guy for this is a bloke called Mooch and he is a god in the battery scene and very trustworthy.
So now we have battery safety out of the way, let’s talk about physical points of failure. With the device having no electronic protection, it’s about making sure that what you are doing is not going to cause a meltdown in a different way. You may have heard about people talking about re-wrapping batteries and keeping them in good condition. This is important anyway but even more so with a mech. A vast majority body of an 18650 battery is a negative contact. When wrapped properly you basically have a bit that is left open at the bottom that touches the negative pin of the device. However, if the wrap is damaged on the side of the battery and that makes contact with the side of the mod, the flow of electricity is going to go through there and make the body of the mod the negative “post” of the battery (electricity always takes the fastest route) This diagram shows what happens if you have a damaged battery wrap and it makes contact *NB this is not my image
So, as you can see, the device will either auto fire constantly (ok if you are working within the continuous amp limit but bad news if you are working off the pulse and don’t realise its firing) or it’s an immediate bad time if you have your battery the other way!
The next point of talking is a “hybrid top cap”. This is a newer type of top cap and basically means the atomiser screws into the mod and the positive pin of the atomiser directly touches the positive of the battery. As with everything is this is done properly it can reduce “voltage drop” and make your mech mod “hit harder” and keeps down the form factor of the device. However, if done wrong……you get the idea. The left is a picture showing the difference *NB again not mine
The traditional top cap has its own pin that touches the top of the battery whereas the hybrid does not and the atomizers positive pin touches the top of the battery. This has been the biggest talking point and cause of the media storm you have seen around exploding mods. Basically, the positive 510 pin of the atomizer MUST protrude from the bottom of the atomizer, past the negative threads, so that only the positive pin is touching the battery. If you have a pin that is flush and both the negative and the positive parts of the atomizer pin touch the positive of the battery, then you are going to get something called a hard short. A very similar thing to the “improper orientation” image above and the battery instantly becomes unstable. This results in thermal runaway (heating of the battery chemicals), the chemicals becoming volatile, they want to escape the battery, you get venting at an incredible rate and boom……as mentioned a few times. So, make sure if you are using a hybrid top cap that the 510-positive pin sticks out past the 510 negative threads, like this.
I personally use a rule of a minimum 2mm protruding. Again, might be overkill, but I like my fingers!
Again, some devices will come with both a hybrid and a normal top cap, like the Mad Dog RDTA kit, so you have different options to ensure the device is safe with all your atomizers. This will eliminate the uncertainty if you don’t know if a specific atomizer is safe or not. Win/Win situation!
As you can probably tell from the above a mech mod is something you really need to have a knowledge of to ensure that everything is safe and sound. That being said, if you make sure that you adhere to all precautions, you will be absolutely fine. Mechs are not dangerous when they are taken care of and the laws of science are obeyed because at the end of the day that’s all it is, science. The results of science never change and if you are aware of the variables beforehand then you have nothing to worry about.
All the above might seem scary but trust me when I say you will be fine if you are sensible. If you have a few concerns about safety elements then buy a mod that minimises these potentials for error. The Mad Dog RDTA kit is a fantastic place to start as you have the aforementioned little bits included in the mod to reduce the risk of problems. (insulated body inside battery chamber, and a tank that is designed to work with the hybrid top cap)
You can currently get the Mad Dog RDTA kit for a discounted price of $49 with discount code maddog49 at https://www.heavengifts.com/product/Desire-Mad-Dog-RDTA-MECH-Kit.html (*offer could end at any time)
Apologies if this was a bit long, it took me longer than expected to cover all the bases but the last thing I want to do is skip over something important because this is such an important subject that needs the proper attention and respect that it deserves.
If you would like to talk about these types of things, or anything vaping for that matter, then feel free to get in touch via my twitter @Mikethevaper. I love interacting and chatting about all things vaping!
Stay safe people! MikeTheVaper out………..
I have been vaping for over 5 years and have been a keen hobbyist ever since starting. I moved into the review side of things after the success of my @mikethevaper Twitter page and have been striving to provide help and knowledge ever since.