Anatomy of An E-Cigarette
The Basic Parts of an E-Cig
The anatomy of a cigarette is pretty simple to understand – you just have a tube of tobacco encased in paper and a filter – but for e-cigarettes, things are more complicated. If you’re just getting started with vaping or you’re a smoker wondering if e-cigarettes will be too complicated to be worth making the switch to, finding out about the basic anatomy of an e-cigarette can help to put your mind at ease. It’s true that e-cigs aren’t as simple as traditional cigarettes, but they really aren’t as complicated as you might think – all they really are is a battery, a coil and a reservoir for e-juice. Plus, learning about the core e-cigarette parts gives you a clear understanding of how e-cigarettes work, no matter what type they are.
The “electronic” part of electronic cigarettes tell you that they need a power source, and in practice this just means they contain lithium batteries – just like your laptop, cell phone, tablet or pretty much any portable electronic device you own.
The battery connects to the other components of the e-cigarette, and when it’s activated (which is accomplished in different ways, depending on the type of e-cig) it delivers power to the coil, which in turn, produces vapor from the e-liquid in your device.
The Coil – Wick and Wire
The coil is what vaporizes your e-liquid. E-cigarette coils are small pieces of resistance wire, which means that they oppose the flow of electricity and turn some of the energy they receive into heat. The two ends of the coil are connected to the positive and negative points of your battery to allow the current to flow through the circuit – really, though, they connect to your atomizer, and then your atomizer connects to your battery.
If it was only a coil connected to your battery, it would get hotter and hotter and glow red as the current flowed through it, but the wick and e-liquid change that. The wick is a piece of material – usually cotton, but sometimes silica or other materials – that soaks up e-juice, and is either inserted through the center of the coil or wrapped around it. Because of this, the energy the coil puts out goes right to the liquid, which is then turned into the vapor you inhale.
Tanks, Cartridges and Other Juice Reservoirs
The final core component of an e-cigarette is the tank, cartridge or other reservoir for your e-liquid. The tank’s job is simply to replenish the liquid soaked up into the wick once it’s been vaporized. Generally, it will store anywhere from 1 to 5 ml (or even more) of e-liquid, and will surround the coil so that some of the liquid is always in contact with the wick. This can work differently depending on the type of atomizer you’re using, but the basic principle is always the same.
Types of E-Cigarette
The three components above are the essential elements of an e-cigarette, providing the power and using it to vaporize e-liquid, but the exact components in your device will vary depending on the type of e-cigarette you have. There are three main types of e-cigarette – cigalikes, eGo-style and mods – and taking a brief look at them will help you see how the basic components fit into specific devices.
Cigalikes – Cigarette-Like E-Cigarettes
The cigalike is basically an e-cigarette modeled after a traditional cigarette. The majority of the device (where the tobacco cylinder would be in a cigarette) is the battery. This is often automatically operated, meaning that it contains a sensor that activates the battery when you inhale through the tip.
The battery’s threading is designed to connect up to the cartridge, which contains a coil, with wicking material surrounding it and inserted through the center of it. The e-liquid in cigalike devices is all contained within the (usually disposable) cartridge, and these use more wicking material than other devices so around 1 ml of e-liquid can be held inside. The cartridge also serves as a mouthpiece, with a hole in the center of the tip for the vapor to come up through.
These devices are larger than cigalike e-cigs, but have a very similar layout. The main difference in the battery (aside from it being larger) is that eGo-style devices always have a button to activate them, rather than relying on inhalation. You hold the button down as you inhale and release it when you’re done.
eGo-style batteries have threading designed to fit with clearomizers. These are small tanks containing an “atomizer head” – with a coil and wick assembly inside – which is screwed onto a central tube. The atomizer heads either screw onto the top of the tube or connect to it from the bottom (with a bottom-coil layout being more common in modern devices). The coil and wick are enclosed in a small metallic cylinder, with the just ends of the wick poking out of slots on either side.
The tank surrounds this, so the liquid freely soaks into the wick but can’t get inside the central tube any other way. The central tube leads directly up to the mouthpiece – which is usually removable – and the vapor produced by the coil flows up it and into the vaper’s mouth.
Mods come in various shapes and sizes, but are all built around the same basic components. The batteries are generally larger than on any other devices, and are either contained in a tube or a box-shaped body. The batteries on mods may be in-built, or may be removable, but in any case the basic layout is the same as other devices. Mod batteries are always manually operated.
There are two basic types of mod: regulated and unregulated (or mechanical) devices. Regulated mods include chips which allow precise control over the power you send to your atomizer, and usually come with a screen to display the settings and buttons to adjust the power output to your tastes. Mechanical mods are bare-bones options, where the battery connects directly to the atomizer without any chips, and are activated with a button that’s usually located on the bottom of the device. It’s “mechanical” because the button physically moves to complete the circuit. Mechanical mods work on the battery’s “raw” voltage, so they get less powerful as they lose charge.
Many different types of atomizer can be used with mods, because they usually have “510” threading, which is standardized across most e-cigarettes. This means you can use tanks (which are basically like large clearomizers) or dripping atomizers.
Dripping atomizers are particularly useful for showing how atomizers work. They allow you to wrap and attach your own coil, with two (or more) posts (one for the positive connection and one or more for the negative connection) for the ends to connect up to. You then insert the wick through the center of the coil, and directly apply e-liquid to the wick and coil before vaping (although this setup is covered by a “top cap” and mouthpiece when in use). Whether it’s enclosed in a cartridge or an atomizer head, this is basically how all e-cigarettes work.
Conclusion – Simple Core Components, in Myriad Forms
So the anatomy of an e-cigarette is largely the same across all different types of device – a battery powers a coil which heats your e-liquid – but variations on this same theme produces the huge range of apparently complicated devices. Really, they’re all very simple, but how the battery works, where the coil is located and how e-liquid is resupplied to it all vary between specific devices.
The main thing you should take away from this is that no matter how complicated some e-cigarettes look, when you get right down to it, they’re really just simple combinations of a battery and a piece of resistance wire.
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