There are some basic characteristics that apply to all wire, regardless of the composition of it. These are the diameter (or gauge) of the wire, its resistance, and the ramp time of different materials.
The first basic characteristic of any wire is the actual diameter of the wire. It is commonly called the wire “gauge” and expressed as a numerical value. The actual diameter for each wire isn’t really important. What matters is that as the wire gauge number increases, the wire diameter gets smaller. For example, 26 gauge is thinner than 24 gauge but thicker than 28 gauge. Some common gauges of vaping wire from smallest to largest diameter are 32, 30, 28, 26, 24, and 22. There are others of course, and even odd number gauges.
As the wire diameter increases, the wire resistance decreases. When comparing coils with the same ID, number of wraps, and material used, a coil made with 32 gauge wire will be of much higher resistance than a 24 gauge coil.
Another factor to take into account when it comes to wire resistance is the internal resistance of the coil material. For example, a five-wrap 2.5 mm ID coil made out of 28 gauge Kanthal will have a higher resistance than a stainless steel coil with the exact same specs. This is due to the higher resistance of Kanthal compared to stainless steel.
Take note that for every given wire, the more length you use, the higher the resistance of your coil will be. This is important when wrapping coils, as more wraps will raise the resistance of your build.
You may have heard the term “ramp-up time”. Ramp-up time is the time your coil takes to reach the temp needed for vaporizing e-juice. Ramp time is generally more noticeable with exotic multi-strand wire coils like Claptons, but, as wire size increases, ramp time can also become more apparent with simple single wire coils. Generally, lower gauge wire will take longer to heat due to the larger mass. Thin gauge wires like 32 and 30 will be higher in resistance but will heat faster than 26 or 24 gauge.
Different coil materials that come with different internal resistances will also have very different ramp up times. For power mode wires, stainless steel is the faster to ramp, closely followed by nichrome, with Kanthal being significantly slower.
Kanthal wire is ferritic iron-chromium-aluminum alloy with good resistance to oxidation. It is commonly used for vaping in straight wattage mode. Kanthal is a great place to start if you are just getting into rebuilding, dripping, etc. It is easy to work with, yet stiff enough to hold its shape when formed into coils—which comes into play during the wicking process. It is extremely popular as a primary wire when building single-wire coils.
Kanthal is inexpensive and widely available at most vape shops, online shops, and even eBay.
Another type of wire well suited for wattage vaping is Nichrome. Nichrome wire is an alloy composed of nickel and chromium, and may also contain other metals such as iron. Fun fact: nichrome has been used in dental work, such as fillings.
Nichrome comes in a variety of “grades”, with ni80 (80% nickel and 20% chromium) being the most popular.
Nichrome behaves very much like Kanthal, but has lower resistance and heats faster. It is easy to coil and holds its shape well when wicking. Nichrome has a lower melting temperature than Kanthal, so you need to be careful when dry burning your coils—they will burn open if you aren’t careful. Start low and pulse the coils. Don’t rush into it and hit them with max wattage while dry.
One other possible downside of nichrome wire is the nickel content. Folks with nickel allergies may want to avoid using nichrome for obvious reasons.
Nichrome used to be less common than Kanthal, but has risen in popularity and is very easy to find at vape shops or online.
Stainless steel is the most unique of the common vaping wires. It can pull double duty and be used for straight wattage vaping or temp control vaping.
Stainless steel wire is an alloy composed primarily of chromium, nickel, and carbon. Nickel content is usually between 10-14%, which is not that high, but people with allergies should not take the risk. There are many variations (grades) of stainless steel, expressed numerically. For coil building, SS316L is by far the most commonly used grade, followed by SS317L. Other grades like 304 and 430 are also used sometimes, but not so often.
Stainless steel is easy to form and holds its shape well. Like nichrome, it offers a faster ramp time than Kanthal due to its lower resistance for the same gauge. Take note to not dry burn stainless steel at high wattages when checking for hotspots or cleaning your build, as this might lead to the release of unwanted chemical compounds. A good workaround is to build spaced coils that don’t need to be pulsed for hotspots.
As with Kanthal and nichrome, stainless steel coils can be easily found in B&Ms as well as online.
Most vapers prefer power mode: it is just simpler. Kanthal, stainless steel, and nichrome are the three most popular power mode wires right now, and you might be wondering what would be the best one for you. Again, take note that if you have (or suspect you may have) a nickel allergy, then you should not vape on nichrome coils, and maybe you should also avoid stainless steel.
Kanthal has been the choice of most vapers for a longer time, due to its ease of use and higher resistance. Mouth to lung vapers appreciate their higher builds, and a 26-28 gauge Kanthal wire is always dependable—and hard to swap for anything else. Lower ramp-up time can even be a plus for MTL vapers that like to take slow and long puffs.
Nichrome and stainless steel on the other hand are excellent power mode wires for vaping at lower resistances—that’s not to say that they can’t be used for all kinds of inhales. And while flavor is very subjective, many vapers that try nichrome or stainless steel swear that they get better flavor than they did with their previous Kanthal builds.
The bottom line is that your choice in vaping wire is an important variable in finding your vaping nirvana. In fact, it’s one of the components that has the greatest impact on your vaping experience. Varying the wire type and gauge allows us precise control over ramp time, current, wattage, and ultimately the pleasure we derive from vaping. By varying the number of wraps, coil diameter, and wire type, you can create a whole new experience. Once you find something that works with a particular atomizer, jot down the specifics and save the specs for future reference.