The History of Rebuildable Atomizers
Rebuildable atomizers arose out of necessity during the early days of vaping. The first e-cigarettes were successful in helping many people switch from smoking to vaping, but they weren’t particularly reliable or satisfying. At-home tinkerers created the first rebuildable atomizers – just as they had created the first mechanical mods – to improve the poor performance of the vaping devices available at the time. It wasn’t long, though, before rebuildable atomizers became mass-produced commercial products.
Today, rebuildable atomizers are no longer rare, expensive or made entirely by hand. They’re also no longer the sole domain of vaping experts. Many vaping devices, in fact, include rebuildable atomizers – and with the many coil building tutorials available on YouTube and elsewhere, a complete novice can become a successful coil builder very quickly.
So, how did we get from there to here? Let’s look at the history of rebuildable atomizers by learning more about some of the RBAs that have helped to shape the vaping industry.
The earliest RBAs looked like this one. To use the Odysseus as a rebuildable atomizer, you’d wrap a wire around a wick – usually made from silica – and place the completed coil in a ceramic cup. The ceramic insulated the coil electrically and helped to limit the heat that reached the atomizer’s mouthpiece. The Odysseus was a dripping atomizer, just like the RDAs of today.
If the design of the Odysseus – which first appeared on 2011 – looks familiar to you, that’s because the design was widely cloned. The earliest RBAs were built to exacting specifications at small metalworking shops. To be profitable, those shops had to charge a lot of money – often over $100 – for their products. That left an opening for Chinese manufacturers to clone those products and sell them much more cheaply. The original Odysseus atomizer is still available today, and its influence extends far beyond the world of vaping. Many vape pens for wax concentrates use an atomizer design strongly resembling that of the Odysseus. If you own a vape pen with a spaced coil, a silicone wick and a ceramic cup, you can thank the Odysseus for that.
Fun Fact: When rebuildable atomizers first appeared on the market, people weren’t entirely sure what to call them. During 2011-2012, many people called them “repairable atomizers.” The term “rebuildable atomizer” didn’t fully catch on until later.
Two-Post Rebuildable Atomizers
Although people loved the experience of vaping with the Odysseus RBA, it wasn’t exactly a user-friendly atomizer due to the large number of parts that the user would have to screw together when building a new coil. The two-post build deck was a perfect solution. Rather than sending wire leads down the sides of a post and twisting a ring around the post to lock the leads in place, a vaper could build a coil on a two-post build deck simply by putting the leads through holes and tightening down screws. The two-post RBA presented a much more intuitive way of building coils, and virtually every rebuildable dripping atomizer today works on essentially the same principle.
Although today’s rebuildable atomizers are similar in function to the first two-post rebuildable atomizers, they are significantly larger now than they once were. As you can see in the above picture of a Phoenix RBA clone, the coil is significantly smaller than a 510 drip tip. The coil also doesn’t have a cotton wick as most modern coils do. As in the top picture of the Odysseus RBA, this Phoenix RBA coil build uses a silica wick. With an appropriate coil resistance, the Phoenix RBA would work perfectly on a small vaping device like an eGo e-cigarette. You definitely can’t say that of today’s rebuildable atomizers.
The Genisis RBA – also incorrectly called the “Genesis RBA” by many – is a creation of German e-cigarette-forum member Raidy. The name is short for “Genial Simpler Siebdampfer” or “ingeniously simple mesh steamer.” Raidy became famous for his extensive collection of e-pipes, e-cigars and atomizers – all of which, he made himself. Raidy had no interest in the commercial potential of his creations and gave the plans away for free. The Genisis RBA became the first widely accepted design for a fully rebuildable tank system, and products based on the design began to pop up everywhere.
The Genisis RBA design used a single vertical coil, while the wick was stainless steel mesh. The challenge of using a stainless steel wick in an RBA is, of course, the fact that steel conducts electricity. Using a stainless steel mesh wick, therefore, required heavily oxidizing the steel or wrapping it around a non-conductive insulating material. The steel wick dipped into a tank below the build deck, bringing e-liquid up to the coil via capillary action. People who built their own Genisis atomizers – or bought pre-assembled Genisis clones when they began to appear – loved the atomizer’s extremely pure flavor. The Genisis design was strictly for mouth-to-lung inhaling, so it became less popular as more people began to prefer direct-to-lung inhalation. Nevertheless, there are still many people today who use tanks based on the Genisis design.
First released in 2013, the Kayfun RBA was a product of German company SvoëMesto. The Kayfun series became so popular that you can still find Kayfun products – and their many clones – today. Because SvoëMesto products routinely cost over $100, clones are rampant. A few clones even carry the SvoëMesto logo, so it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference.
The Kayfun is a rebuildable tank system that differs from the Genisis in its basic design principle. The build deck isn’t above the e-liquid reservoir; it’s submerged within it. The atomizer coil is housed within a chamber that has a couple of small wick holes. A vacuum seal and tightly packed wick help to prevent e-liquid from entering the chamber too quickly and leaking out of the tank’s bottom air vents. That’s essentially the design that most sub-ohm tanks use today. The original Kayfun used a single horizontal coil. In those days, most people still preferred silica wicks. Like the Genisis design, the original Kayfun design was strictly for mouth-to-lung inhaling.
Three-Post Rebuildable Atomizers
The three-post RBA build deck was the first deck that simplified the process of building dual-coil atomizers. The three-post RBA was the build platform of choice for most early sub-ohm coil builders. It was also the three-post build deck that began to popularize the use of cotton – rather than silica – wicks. One interesting feature of three-post RBAs is that they allow for both single-coil and dual-coil designs. The inner post is positive, and the outer posts are both negative. Another feature is that three-post RBAs were among the first to feature deep drip wells. With deep drip wells, users could add enough e-liquid for several puffs in a row rather than just one or two puffs.
Velocity Rebuildable Atomizers
After three-post RBAs became available, it quickly became apparent that that dual-coil, sub-ohm atomizer builds were the way of the future. It was around this time that organic cotton – rather than silica – became the most popular wick material among vapers. The one problem with the three-post build deck was that working with it wasn’t easy. Since you had to guide two leads through the center post, you’d often have one lead slip out while you were tightening the post. The Velocity RBA – a product of Avid Vaper in the United States – answered that problem with a build deck featuring four mounting holes and just two posts. Omitting the center post created extra space for more exotic builds, and using four mounting points made it possible for users to tighten one lead at a time and keep their coils even. Today, most rebuildable dripping atomizers use mounting posts that copy – or are clearly inspired by – the Velocity RBA.
The Velocity proved to be one of the last great advancements in RBA design. Virtually every modern RBA is a direct descendant of the Velocity in that it features four mounting holes to accommodate dual-coil builds, although not every RBA uses two mounting posts. Some rebuildable atomizers use no posts at all. Instead, users mount their coils by connecting them directly to the build deck. Most rebuildable tank systems, meanwhile, copy either the Kayfun or Genisis designs to a certain extent. No rebuildable vaping attachment has proven quite as influential to the industry as the Genesis, Kayfun or Velocity.
While the basic ideas behind rebuildable atomizers haven’t changed greatly in recent years, the products have changed in pricing, availability, refinement and aesthetics. While Chinese manufacturers first entered the RBA industry primarily by making clones, the prominent Chinese companies now put out designs that are truly original and very reasonably priced. You can buy a great mass-produced RBA today for under $30 – and the product quality is usually excellent. Rebuildable atomizers also look better than ever; they’re available in a wide range of colors to suit the colorful vaping devices available today.
Vaping product manufacturers have also made incremental improvements that have enabled modern RBAs to provide a substantially better vaping experience than what users enjoyed with the atomizers of the past. Rebuildable dripping atomizers, for example, benefit from larger build decks and enhanced airflow. Those features combine to increase vapor production. Insulating materials such as PEEK prevent coils from transmitting their heat to batteries, and new drip tip materials such as Ultem prevent the heat of the coils from burning users’ lips.
For many smokers, the thought of building one’s own atomizer coils is probably a tough sell. Why would anyone want to rebuild an atomizer every few days when the act of smoking is so easy in comparison? As time consuming as it is to build coils, though, that’s exactly what many vapers end up doing because the lure of increased vapor production is too great to ignore. In the history of rebuildable atomizers, there have been many developments that helped to make coil building easier and more productive. The way we see it, though, it’s been several years since a truly revolutionary RBA has appeared on the market. Given the trends of the past, we believe it’s only a matter of time before someone comes up with a new idea that reinvents vaping all over again. We can’t wait to find out what that idea will be.