** here's the downloadable version, with pictures of cats and everything. Easier to understand, especially about the measuring.
(Size: 199.78 KB / Downloads: 202)
Otherwise, read on...
Beginner’s Guide – from my own experience.
If you’re anything like me, new to the world of vaping, then you are confused and overwhelmed by the deluge of information, thousands of websites, Youtube videos and endless products on sale.
In the words of the immortal Douglas Adams, DON’T PANIC!
Yes, there is a learning curve, and – as learning curves go – it’s a pretty steep one. However, it’s a mountain you can climb, with a little help. I’ve spent the last couple of months going through a lot of this stuff, and I thought I’d distil the most useful and important parts down into a quick guide for the benefit of my fellow noobs, so you don’t have to trawl through endless websites like I did, annoying the hell out of my partner along the way. If you’re short on time, here’s the too long; don’t read version.
1/ I’m a bit of a scientist and a geek, I’ve trawled the internet so you don’t have to – yet.
2/ Don’t buy or use 100% nicotine solution, it’s very dangerous.
3/ Keep your kit clean and read the instructions. Use forums to familiarise yourself with vaping and mixology.
4/ Use reputable suppliers, protect your payments and purchases.
5/ Learn how to measure properly.
6/ Follow basic safety guidelines when you’re mixing.
7/ Store your chemicals and flavours safely.
8/ Vaping shouldn’t be called vaping. It should be called aerosoling.
9/ Your nose is the result of hundreds of millions of years of evolution (or, if you’re religious, the intelligently designed gift of the deity of your choice), learn to use it and trust it.
10/ Mixing e-juice, steeping, breathing and streeping are all about chemistry, so here’s some science.
11/ This piece of writing contains profanities and is potentially NSFW. Mea culpa, I am a profane and vulgar person who enjoys swearing. But I’m assuming – given the forum in which this is published – that the readers are over 18 and that this is a fair assumption. You have been warned.
Disclaimer. I am not employed by or otherwise affiliated with any of the suppliers or manufacturers named, and do not intend this guide to be taken as advertising for such products or services. All the products listed are available from various and other suppliers; any recommendations herein are purely personal and for which I have received no compensation or remuneration. My views are purely personal and not those of UKVapers.org, and I have done my best to adhere to their guidelines for posts and tutorials. Any errors are mine and mine alone, and, for the scientists out there, I apologise for any fudging or inaccuracies herein. I have researched this article from various sources as well as from personal experience. Where I have used images, I have tried to ensure they are creative commons. If otherwise, this is unintentional and I will be happy to credit any copyright any person feels I may have infringed. Where I have benefited from the efforts and information of others, I thank them for their work and will be happy to credit anyone who feels I should. ***You are an adult, and I take no responsibility for any harm of any sort that results from your use of e-cigs, PVs, nicotine or any related substance or device, or from following the advice or procedure herein.*** This shouldn't need to be included, but the world wants to blame everybody but themselves when something goes wrong, hence the ass-covering.
I’m 47, an ex-journalist (amongst many other things) and currently a mature student enrolled on Biological Sciences BSc. I’ve worked in a few laboratories and with dangerous chemicals over the years, and I have the kind of obsessive nature that makes me learn every damn thing about any subject I'm interested in. I was also a smoker for 25 years until health issues and e-cigs came along, and I have a wicked sense of smell. That might sound like a random observation, but as you will see, it isn't.
All of this means that I’m well-placed to explore vaping, understand the science behind it and explain to all you lovely people how and why things work, hopefully without your eyes glazing over too much.
My current kit:
Cthulhu RTA atomiser (new shiny! Ia!: Cthulhu fhtagn!)
eLeaf iStick 50W (new cerise shiny!)
RB-X5 rebuildable tank atomiser (RTA), also known as the Lemo
Curve 30W mod (a variable voltage, variable wattage rechargeable battery pack with a LED display.) also known as the eLeaf iStick.
2 x EgoC Twist, which are now my backups while the Curve is charging.
USB chargers for the above
1000ml Vegetable Glycerine (UK Pharmacy Grade)
1000ml Monopropylene Glycol (UK Pharmacy Grade)
50ml 5.4% (54mg/ml) PG based nicotine solution
250ml 7.2% (72mg/ml) PG based nicotine solution)
Plastic syringes in 10ml, 2.5ml and 1ml sizes, all with size 18 blunt needle attachments
Various 10ml bottles of flavour concentrates and enhancers from Totally Wicked, FlavourArt, Mom&Pop’s, Capella, The Perfumer’s Apprentice and Inawera, roughly 40 in total.
Nitrile disposable gloves, mask, lab coat and safety glasses. This is probably going too far for mixing ejuice, but I have all this stuff for University, so why not?
NB Nitrile gloves look and feel pretty much like latex, only not as stretchy. They’re more hypo-allergenic than latex and provide the greatest protection against nicotine, amongst other things. Widely available online.
10m of Kanthal A1 0.28mm and 0.21mm and 25m of 0.30mm gauge wire.
Precision screwdriver set
Needle nose pliers
Universal generic coil winding kit, which is a bloody god-send, don't know how I managed before I got one.
MUJI Japanese Organic cotton. - made the single biggest difference to flavour of all the variations I've tried. Get some and check out some wicking tutorials here or on YouTube.
A box to keep all this stuff in. You can’t leave chemicals like these just hanging around.
I won’t lie, there’s quite an initial outlay for all the above. I’ve just totted up all my receipts and invoices and the total cost as it stands is £230.42. Quite a bit more than a cheapo e-cig and a bottle of juice off the market, right? My better half went a bit pale and clenched around the jaw over this, but when I told her this little lot would last me at least six months and over the same period, her smoking habit would cost her £468, she acquiesced and gave me the point. There’s also the fact that I’ll only have to re-stock the e-juice ingredients, not buy a new tank or battery mod (unless I want to), so that further reduces the cost. And, of course, the health benefits are priceless.
True there are doubts about vaping in the medical community, but after switching to e-cigs after smoking for 25 years and not touching a cigarette since, I’m pretty happy, and so is my GP. If you’re concerned about the health risks regarding vaping, there are posts and links covered elsewhere on the forum. I advise you to dig a little and do some reading but the bottom line is that if you’re currently a smoker, vaping seems (according to the latest research) to be less harmful than smoking. Obviously, nicotine is nasty stuff. It’s a vasoconstrictive (makes your blood vessels tighten up) alkaloid plant extract which is highly addictive, and if you’re not already addicted, don’t start, simple as that. If you’re already hooked through the bag, like me, then vaping is a way of delivering your hit of nicotine without the attendant devil’s mixture of nasties in cigarette smoke – benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and thousands of others. A recent scare story showed that vaping can deliver more formaldehyde (yes, the stuff that’s used to embalm bodies) than cigarettes, but when I read the actual paper, the voltages/wattages/coil temperatures quoted were way higher than most people vape at, actually burning the e-juice to produce formaldehyde as a combustion by-product. Vaping doesn’t (or shouldn’t!) involve combustion (burning) and tastes disgusting if you’ve got your coil set too high. From what I read, at ‘normal’ temperatures and no combustion, formaldehyde isn't produced in any measurable quantities. There’s plenty in cigarette smoke though. As ever, it’s your choice to make.
So, is vaping for you?
Again, I won’t lie. Buying all this kit, learning how to use it, mix e-juice etc. is a commitment, not only financially, but in terms of time as well. There’s a learning curve, even for a beginners kit like mine, and while it ain’t rocket science, it’s not plug & play either. So, if you’re the kind of person who wants to quit cigarettes but can’t ditch the nicotine/smoking experience (which was my problem) AND you can afford an initial outlay AND have that kind of “bloke-in-a-shed” (sorry ladies, but you know what I mean, there’s no implied sexism here), hobbyist mentality OR can at least follow instructions/recipes AND you have the time and inclination to commit to all the above, then the answer is a resounding YES.
This might sound a little daunting, but forums like UKVapers are chock-full of helpful advice and friendly people who practically fall over themselves to welcome and help out newbies. Reluctant as I am to give props to Google or Facebook (grrrr), YouTube has endless videos on vaping, aimed at every level. Reviews of kit, e-liquid, recipes, mods (a catch-all term for any bit of kit above the “e-cig off a market” level, see Wikipedia or the glossary here for a definition of terms), and a truly bewildering array of “how-to” videos, explaining everything from mixology to coil-building to cloud-chasing. If those terms mean bugger all to you, don’t worry (DON’T PANIC, remember?), they will eventually. Vaping is, apart from being a replacement nicotine delivery system for addicts, a hobbyist activity. That means it can – and does – get as complex and expensive as any other hobby. Radio control planes/cars, carpentry, ham radio, amateur electronics, crafting, for instance – all the stuff you see on Pinterest and Etsy. However, at beginner level like me and thee, it’s reasonably easy and accessible and a damn sight cheaper than smoking. Tastes better too – the e-liquid I’m vaping right now (Mom & Pop’s Calpitter Chow flavour) tastes like a cake shop rather than the bottom of an ashtray. In short, I’d recommend vaping to anyone. I love it, and I’ve only been here five minutes!
There are lots of great reviews/buying guides on here and elsewhere, so I won’t repeat all that, not least because I don’t know me arse from me elbow about a lot of this stuff. What I can say is that the rebuildable tank and the battery mod I use were reasonably priced, easy to use, easy to rebuild (that is, making and replacing the heating coil and the wick) and last a good while between charges. The wire to make coils and the wicking material are cheaper than chips too.
I bought my tank and mod from Totally Wicked, in-store, but they’re available online and from many other suppliers. I’ve been buying my ready-made e-juice and bits’n’bobs from from TW for over a year, hence the preponderance of mentions. I’ve had a good experience with them but as noted above, I intend no bias for one supplier over another and now get most of my supplies online. I got my new shinies from VapourDepot.com (Cthulhu RTA, £27 inc p&p)) and Vaperama.co.uk (iStick 50W £40 inc p&p). Both items arrived 2-3 days after ordering, and comms were great with both suppliers.
Chemicals, flavours, nicotine solution, mixing apparatus and the like, I bought from, and can personally recommend, the following.
Glycerine/Propylene Glycol – from Classikool via Amazon, both under £8 (each) for 1000ml, free UK P&P. Pharmaceutical (better than food grade) grade material, delivered in 4 days.
Nicotine - 7.2% (72mg/ml) in PG, 250ml from Dark Star Vapours, £20.94 inc UK P&P
**The nicotine solution I received has a plastic-y, hydrocarbon type smell in the bottle, a little like diesel. I don’t know if this is common to nicotine solutions stored in plastic, or just this one, but it was unpleasant and could be noticeable in higher concentrations in your finished e-juice. However, I found that steeping my e-juice with the cap off for 24 hours got rid of the smell, leaving the taste unaffected. I don’t want to say anything negative here, as I have no other nicotine solutions to compare it to, and the aroma disappeared after steeping and was only noticeable when I mixed one particular flavour. Every other flavour/blend seemed fine.
Flavours (variously) from FlavourArt UK, leisureliquids, The Alchemists Cupboard, Cupcake World (via Amazon), prices ranged from £1.00 to £3.20 per 10ml.
MV Wire and The Crazy Wire Company (via Amazon), Kanthal A1 28mm, 10 metres. £4.59 inc UK P&P. (Kanthal is a type of nickel alloy which has better heat resistance than regular nickel wire. It comes in various thicknesses or gauges which vary in electrical resistance. Resistance is measured in Ohms (for wire, Ohms per metre) which you might see represented by the symbol Ω. Resistance decreases with increasing thickness, which might seem counter-intuitive, but imagine the wire as a pipe and the electricity as water; the thicker the pipe, the more water – or electricity – that can flow through it. This guide is for beginners, so I’ll leave it there. If you want to get into sub-Ohm vaping, multi-coil builds and the like, I’ll leave the advice to people who actually know what they’re on about.
Various mixing bottles, syringes etc. Sourced from the flavour suppliers, paid about £5 in total.
Delivery times from all these UK based suppliers were under a week (some in 48 hours), and each had plenty of communications/emails regarding the orders.
All my payments were through PayPal/online card payments, so were trackable and protected.
I had a proper good look around the various suppliers for the items I wanted, and though I’m sure there are cheaper alternatives somewhere, or for bigger bulk orders, these were the best I could find, and I spent days looking. You might find this stuff cheaper – and if you do, please let everybody know.
Here’s a link to Cheekiecharlie’s extensive list of suppliers, which I found really useful.
** Many suppliers give a discount for ukvapers members – check the discount thread for relevant codes and participating suppliers. Discounts range from 5-15%, so it’s well worth doing.
OK, you’ve got all your kit. Now what?
First of all, READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. If the documentation that comes with your kit is skimpy, get thee to the Interwebs, where you’ll find any amount of info and guides about your shiny new toy. If you’re still scratching your head, UKVapers is a friendly, accessible forum with tons of lovely people just itching to help you out. Join up, say hi, ask your questions. I got really useful responses within minutes to all my queries. As I said, I’m not going to repeat stuff that’s covered better elsewhere, but here are some Top Tips that bear repeating.
1/ Paint clear nail varnish over the graduation markings on your syringes, or they will wear off pretty much instantly and you’ll have to buy more.
2/ Keep your kit clean. Flavoured e-juice is sticky as hell, gets everywhere and is full of flavour molecules that cake up throughout your kit. Remember pipes and pipe cleaners? Like that, only stickier. I clean and re-wick every time I fill my tank (though I might go two tanks if I’m sticking with the same flavour), and I never get yesterday’s tobacco flavour mixing unpleasantly with today’s fruit/dessert flavour.
3/ Use the Internet. Use your product name as a search term, especially on YouTube, and see what comes up. So information. Very tutorial. Much useful. Wow. Also, you can take a break and look at cats, or stupid people hurting themselves in various entertaining ways.
4/ If you’ve bought a rebuildable, you don’t need to re-coil your atomiser (unless you want to) every damn week. If you clean your coil regularly, it can last months. I strip everything off until I’ve got my deck attached to the battery mod with the coil exposed, turn the wattage right up and heat ‘til it glows. This burns off most of the accumulated crud, which can then be rinsed away under a tap. I do this a couple of times, then use a wire brush to clean the coil back to shiny new-ness, followed by a quick tidy up with tweezers and screwdriver.
5/ After the above, tighten all the screws and tidy up your coil so it’s nice and straight and not touching the deck anywhere apart from where it joins the terminals. My mod used to report that the coil resistance was all over the place, jumping up and down. Tightening all the screws/connections properly sorted this right out. Press the button, and if you’ve done all the above properly, you coil should heat up from the centre outward, reach a nice pale yellow colour at its hottest and report a steady resistance.
6/ Do your research. I probably should have made this number 1, and it’s kinda the same as #3, but I can’t emphasise it enough. Vaping, mixing e-juice and modding involves a lot of potentially hazardous stuff. You can virtually eliminate all potential risk by knowing what you’re doing and following some simple rules. Remember: when in doubt, don’t.
7/ It's been pointed out, quite rightly, that I haven't mentioned battery safety in this post. This was because at the time of writing, I didn't feel qualified to offer reliable advice on the subject, and, because this post is aimed at beginners, I assumed that hardcore modding, sub-ohming, barebones mechs and quad-coil builds were going to be a little off-topic, to say the least. However, battery safety IS important, and it's more likely that a newcomer to modding is going to have problems rather than a veteran, so even if all that is beyond you right now, do yourself a favour - familiarise yourself with the basic workings of e-cigs/PVs/batteries and get into some good habits. There's an excellent sticky/thread by deckard here http://ukvapers.org/Thread-Battery-and-c...ety-advice
SAFETY AND GOOD HABITS
Wow, look at that. I must think this bit’s important, ‘cause I put the heading in CAPITALS. Well, yes I do, and if you’re kind of person who automatically scrolls down past this kind of stuff, good luck to you. Just remember that when you’re explaining to someone exactly how your kid/pet/self got acute nicotine poisoning or less seriously, why everything in your house REEKS of strawberry. Or gingerbread. Or… well, you get the idea.
If you’ve followed Tips #3 & 6, you’ll have seen this a lot, and that’s because it is. NICOTINE IS POISONOUS. Look, there’s a skull & crossbones on the bottle. It’s there for a reason – and that’s with the reasonably safe percentage solutions legal in the UK. If you’re dumb enough to have obtained some 100% Nicotine, thinking that hey, you won’t have to use as much, it’ll last you ages, do the only sensible thing. Put some latex/nitrile gloves on, make sure it’s tightly sealed and take it to the nearest chemist/pharmacy so they can dispose of it safely. DO NOT pour it down the drain. DO NOT flush it down the toilet. DO NOT stick it in the bin. Treat it like a bottle of cyanide, ‘cause it might as well be. Do this, and count yourself lucky that you aren’t a news item about a bizarre vape-related death, because you will be. Not only will that be a terrible and avoidable tragedy for you, your family and friends, but every vaper in the country/worldwide will curse your misbegotten memory for being the arse who got vaping banned or hyper-regulated. You have been warned.
UK-legal concentrations of nicotine solution – up to 7.2% by volume - should be relatively safe, as long as you have some common sense and follow some very basic safety procedures. Nothing is ever completely safe – even chocolate has a lethal dosage amount – and nicotine is toxic. Don’t be scared, but do be careful, ok? If you’re interested, here’s a link to a paper on the toxicity of nicotine:-
Now, I’ve worked and studied in lots of chemistry labs over the years, and there’s a few habits and good work practices that get drilled into you before they let you loose near a test-tube. Not only will they keep you safe and vaping/mixing happily, but if you’re anything like me, will have you cackling and feeling like a mad scientist as you create your potions. Which is proper good fun, obviously. These might just seem like common sense, but as you’ve no doubt found over the years, common sense ain’t all that common. A&E (and YouTube) is chock-full of poor bastards who didn’t think, thought it was a good idea at the time or wanted to show off. Have you ever noticed how often the phrase “hey guys, check this out!” is immediately followed by screams and “dude, call 911!/Mom!”. Funny/depressing in equal measure.
So, save yourself embarrassment and injury and do the following:-
1/ Work in an appropriate place at an appropriate time. A clean, level, sturdy, wipe-clean surface in a well-lit environment with enough room for you, your elbows and all your gubbins – and enough time to concentrate on what you’re doing. You will, at some point, knock some shit all over the place. You will. It’s inevitable. Death, taxes, knocking shit over and making a right mess; the three great constants of the universe. When you do this, you’ll be happy that you chose to mix/build/whatever, when you weren’t surrounded and distracted by kids/pets/partners/tv/anything. As I write, for instance, kittens have invaded my desk and are aslksdancsnoinp all over my svneisrp hgq0 keyboard. And (Ouch! Little buggers) clawing their way up my legs. Well, I’m glad I wasn’t mixing sticky, hazardous chemicals right now! That could have ended badly. This is true when you’re an experienced mixologist and ten times as true if you’re a beginner. Remember Murphy’s Law and Axiom. If a thing can go wrong, it will, and when a thing goes wrong it will do so at the worst possible time.
2/ Wear protective gear. I’m not insisting that you go all Breaking Bad here, but as a minimum, nitrile gloves are a good idea. Stinking of vanilla isn’t for everyone, and those things are called concentrates for a reason. They’re tough to wash off and transfer like you wouldn’t believe. Take it from me, vanilla-scented sandwiches are disgusting, no matter what Heston Blumenthal might say. As for nicotine, even if you’re using 7.2% solution, getting a drop on your skin will make that first-fag-behind-the-bike-shed vertigo/vomit seem like a birthday present. Gloves.
3/ Have at least two cloths to hand. I use a tea-towel to rest my syringes on to soak up drops and a damp cloth ready for spillages.
4/ Keep your syringes/measuring kit separate – one for nicotine, one for PG, one for VG, at least one for flavour concentrates, but preferably one per flavour used. This stops everything tasting like everything else and makes sure your nicotine/VG/PG/flavour percentages are as accurate as they should be.
5/ Only open one bottle/container at a time, only open that container when you’re ready to use it, close it as soon as you’ve used it. This helps prevent spillage and also keeps your liquids fresher longer – flavour molecules/oils are volatile (more about that later). When you spill something, your natural reaction is to jerk your hands back. Think how much happier you’ll be that all the other bottles you’ve just played skittles with were tightly closed, rather than spraying all over the place. If you’ve ever spilled sugary coffee or a soft drink over your keyboard, you’ll know what a nightmare it is to clean, but glycerine is in another league. It’s nowhere near as soluble as sugar, so it’s way more difficult to dissolve and clean up.
6/ Keep one hand on the container as you measure/syringe out your liquids. This is the time when you will spill everything everywhere. Syringes can be awkward, VG and PG are viscous (gloopy) and can take quite a bit of force to draw into the syringe. One slip and you’ll be cleaning for like, a week. Sticky forever, like a kid with a jam doughnut. Practice keeping the container steady as you measure out, and when you’ve got the desired amount, keep the mixing container steady as you add what’s in your syringe. You can rest your filled syringe on the tea-towel while you close your ingredient container, it will be fine until you’re ready to add it to your mixing container. Talking of which, those 10/30ml plastic containers are pretty light and skittish. You can fix one down with blu-tack if you want a hand free. Do whatever you need to reduce the risk of spillage/wastage/having to clean every damn thing and start over.
7/ If you’ve gone the whole hog and bought nicotine/PG/VG in bulk, don’t be trying to pour or measure from big, awkward containers. Down that road lies disaster and you weeping on your knees with your head spinning while you attempt, vainly, to fight the nicotine headrush and drain glycerine from your laptop and mop up the stickiest shit on God’s green earth. PG isn’t quite as sticky, but its lower viscosity means that it will go further when you spill it. Swings and roundabouts, eh? Decant from your bulk container into a smaller, more manageable one. Easier to handle, and if you do spill, less to clean up. Funnels are cheap, or you can make a cone from shiny coated card (a magazine cover/pizza menu will suffice at a pinch) inserted into the neck of the bottle you want to pour into. Remember, PG and VG are WAY thicker than water and will back up in the funnel/cone. Take your time, don’t pour big lurps of the stuff, little drizzles is the way to go. Let the funnel drain before adding more.
8/ Learn to measure properly. With PG in a syringe, this isn’t too hard, because it’s fairly thin. You should be able to fill a syringe completely without any bubbles. If you get bubbles, point the syringe upwards, tap the barrel so the bubbles rise toward the needle end and CAREFULLY push the air out. Measure from the bottom of the plunger against the scale. Syringes are designed to take the amount of fluid in the nozzle and needle into account, so as long as there’s no air bubbles, you’re good to go. HOWEVER, VG is another matter entirely. Either use the syringe without a needle attached so you can fill the barrel without bubbles, or draw in air above the liquid, so you have air gap above the VG with the syringe pointed downwards. Now, what I’m about to say is equally applicable to pipettes, burettes and measuring cylinders too.
**WARNING!! SCIENCE-Y BIT**
Liquids in cylinders do a weird thing. They don’t lay flat, like water in a bucket, they crawl a little way up the sides of the cylinder to form a concave surface (depending on the liquid, they can form a convex surface too, but let’s ignore that as it doesn’t apply to PG or VG), like a little dish. This is called a meniscus. The meniscus appears to have two levels when you look at the cylinder – the actual level of the liquid, and the higher edge where the liquid has crawled up the sides. This is because the molecules in the liquid are polar, which means they have electrically positive parts, and electrically negative parts, like a tiny battery, + and -. Curiouser and curiouser, glass molecules are also polar, and the positively charged bits of the liquid are attracted to the negatively charged bits of the glass molecules and vice versa. In a narrow cylinder, this force of attraction, though tiny, is enough to draw the liquid up the sides of the container, creating a meniscus (love that word.) So, to measure correctly, you have to hold the container up to eye-level or get down to eye-level, and you measure from the bottom of the meniscus, not the top. Again, syringes and other measuring devices are built to take this into account. They also take into account the tiny drip that’s always left in the tip/needle/nozzle. Clever huh? With complex recipes in tester amounts (5ml or less), accuracy can be very important, so learn to do this. You’ll feel all alchemist, mad scientist like a BOSS. Feel free to cackle.
**OK, SCIENCE OVER, YOU CAN RELAX NOW**
9/ When you’re done, clean up. Rinse out all your syringes, needles and nozzles with/in a bowl of warm water. Rinse. Repeat. Allow to air dry. If you can still smell the flavours you mixed, clean them again and do it more thoroughly next time. This bit is why you put clear nail varnish on the syringes, as it stops the markings wearing off when you wash them. See, this IS useful info.
Clean your work surface and put all your kit away on a high shelf in a cupboard inaccessible to small persons/pets. A lot of this stuff smells like candy and you have to work on the premise that children/pets WILL drink it if they can get to it. Store it like you would bleach or weed-killer, high up and out of the way. The same applies to the e-juice you have knocking around to hand for easy re-fills. It’s unlikely that a child would come to serious harm with low concentration diluted e-juice, but really, do you want to take the chance?
Random Child “Yum, this smells like cake/sweeties/haribo/milkshake, I will drink it!”
You “OHMYGOD!!!! Call a f*cking ambulance!!”
Everyone else “We TOLD you that would happen. Dick.”
Why Vaping should be called Aerosoling, and a delve into steeping, heat-steeping, breathing, ultrasonic steeping, streeping – what they are and why they work.
OK, so inhaling nicotine laden vapour from an e-cig/PVD is known as vaping because it involves inhaling vapour, right? Well, no actually. What you’re actually inhaling isn’t a vapour, it’s an aerosol.
Er… Say what now?
It goes like this. A vapour is what’s known as the gas phase of a substance (as in solid, liquid and gas). Everything can exist in any of these states – think of ice, liquid water and steam. To go from one state to another, you either add or remove energy, usually in the form of heat, from the substance. Water freezes and becomes solid, boils and becomes steam. The thing is, that cloudy stuff you see when your kettle boils isn’t steam. Steam, like a lot of vapours, is invisible. That cloudy stuff is actually condensed water vapour, created by the gas/steam cooling to the point where it doesn’t have enough heat to remain a gas. Teeny tiny water droplets condense and produce that cloudy stuff. Clouds are made of it. So is fog. So is e-juice “vapour”. Which isn’t actually a gas at all, but a fog – technically an aerosol, which is a suspension of microscopically small liquid droplets light enough to float in air. When the e-juice is heated by the coil, it creates billions of tiny e-juice droplets (or boils it to create a true vapour, which then condenses into tiny droplets) which creates an aerosol, which is the “vapour” you inhale. So, not a vapour, an aerosol. Or fog. We could call it Fogging, eh? That might catch on…
This might sound like information you don’t need to know, but it makes a difference because the volatile flavour molecules (remember them?) don’t boil off and disappear, but remain dissolved in the teeny tiny droplets of PG/VG your e-juice is made of. Hence, flavour.
See, there was a point to all this.
Right now (a few days after I wrote the first part of this piece, which explains the e-juice difference for those of you who’ve been paying attention), I’m vaping a very pleasant dragon fruit-based Mother’s Milk clone recipe. Yummy, or at least it is now. When I first mixed it three days ago, it was overly perfumed, cloying and a bit chemical-y. Not so yummy. What made the difference between then and now is steeping.
Steeping is leaving a newly mixed bottle of e-juice in a warm, dark place for a few days for the flavour to mature and, strictly speaking, should be called maturing. It’s the difference between freshly distilled whisky and an aged malt, between freshly pressed grape juice and a bottle of vintage pinot noir.
What is really is, is leaving the juice alone so that chemical reactions can take place between all the flavour molecules and the molecules of the carrier (PG/VG) – and the nicotine.
You can think of it as leaving the flavour to develop, and this can take a surprisingly long time, up to a month for vanilla, custard and tobacco flavours, especially tobacco absolutes.
The various methods are these:-
Steeping: Simply placing your newly mixed bottle of e-juice is a warmish dark place with the cap off for a while. How long is a while? Three days will probably do for a fruit based flavour, but up to a month - or more - for vanillas, custards and tobaccos. This is because vanillin, acetoin and other custard-y type flavour molecules aren’t particularly reactive, chemically, and take more time to interact with the carrier and other flavour molecules. With tobacco, (especially absolutes which are produced by leaving tobacco leaves in VG or PG for weeks, like making cold gloopy cigarette tea) the molecules concerned are the various tobacco alkaloids that give true tobacco flavours. Again, they take time to react and interact and develop their full flavour. As a rule of thumb, single flavours will take less time to develop than blends (strawberry vs mother’s milk, for instance) or recipes. In blended flavours and recipes, there are more flavours, a greater amount of different flavour molecules and therefore a lot more potential chemical reactions. The more complex the flavour, the longer it will take to develop, in the same way it takes more time to meet everyone at a big party than a small one.
NB Steeping is another misnomer. Steeping usually involves leaving the flavour ingredient in a warm solvent, exactly as you do when you make a cup of tea. Making tea is true steeping. This is more properly, aging or maturing.
Breathing: This is similar to steeping, but you leave the cap or filler cap/bung/doodah in place and every so often give the bottle a shake and squeeze all the air out a few times.
Streeping: A made-up word combining steeping and breathing, and, as you might expect, combines the above two methods. Shake, squeeze the air out then leave the cap off and let the e-juice mature.
Hot Steeping: Don’t worry, we’re nearly done with this. Hot steeping involves placing the e-juice bottles in a warm bath of water. I fill a bowl or big mug with hot water from the tap, give ‘em a shake, leave until the water is cold and repeat as much as you want. Hot steeping reduces steeping time and allows the flavours to develop in a shorter time.
Ultrasonic Steeping: Some people use an ultrasonic jewellery cleaning bath to clean their e-cig tanks and bits n bobs. They also place their fresh e-juice bottles in there to steep, battered by ultrasonic frequencies. Again, this is said to shorten steeping time considerably.
OK, that’s all fair enough and pretty simple to do – but what’s going on?
**WARNING! SCIENCE-Y BIT AGAIN**
I’ve mentioned a few times that mixology is all about chemistry. Reactions between molecules, mixing, oxidation and lots of other stuff which I’ll try not to bore you with. If you’re really interested, there’s a whole industry, several in fact, based on this. Food science, perfume manufacture, the neuroscientific study of smell and taste, all of which are fascinating. Flavour is basically all about scent. Your tongue, clever as it is, can only detect five flavours, salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami (which is the savoury flavour of glutamates, as in mushrooms amongst others). Everything else is smell. If you don’t believe me, hold your nose and take a bite of an apple, a potato and an onion. They all taste them same until you let go of your nose. Really.
What’s happening is that the scent molecules are either vaporising (being heated to the point where they turn from a liquid to a gas) or being carried dissolved in tiny droplets of (usually) water to receptors inside your nose. Your nose, though stupid and dumb compared to the nose of a dog, for instance, is still amazing enough to be able to detect over a billion different scents. It can detect tiny amounts of these molecules too. A shark can detect a drop of blood in a billion drops of water, but your nose can detect one part per billion of the mercaptan molecule – the same level of sensitivity, at least for that molecule. Mercaptan is the bad fart, rotten cabbage stinkbomb smell, by the way. It’s what is added to natural gas to allow you to detect a gas leak, natural gas being odourless. The more you know, eh? I’m like this all the time, by the way. A relentless fount of information on a ridiculous range of subjects. I’m the guy that reads toothpaste boxes to see the ingredients (Carrageenan usually, which is derived from seaweed. See what I mean?) My partner has long since learned to glaze over and switch off, poor woman.
This amazing sensitivity is what you can use to ‘take apart’ blended flavours to recreate them on your own and make cheaper copies. More of that a bit later.
Scent/flavour molecules are what is known as volatile. This means they evaporate (go from liquid to gaseous phase at room/ambient temperature) fairly easily, and is the reason your spices and ground coffee need to be kept in air-tight containers and still only last about six months. The flavour oils in them evaporate, leaving them bland and tasteless, and this happens more quickly with ground spices than with whole spices, because the ground spice has more surface area for the oils to evaporate from. It’s why whole bean and freshly ground coffee tastes better than coffee grounds, and why coffee is freeze dried to make instant. It’s all about trapping the flavour molecules so they don’t fly off and leave you drinking tasteless warm brown stuff.
Maturing e-liquid is all about allowing reactions between flavour molecules and carrier molecules to take place, and then trapping them in the liquid before they can escape. For anyone who’s heard the phrase but is unsure of what it means, a chemical reaction is, very basically, two or more elements or molecules coming together and joining up, breaking apart and/or swapping bits of each other to make new, different molecules. Here’s a quick example:-
Sodium (a metal and an element) plus Chlorine (a non-metallic element and a greenish gas at room temperature) join together when mixed – by dropping a lump of sodium into a tube of chlorine, usually – go bang, and produce Sodium Chloride, the common name for which is salt. Yep, table salt. Both sodium and chlorine will ruin your day in very short order if you ingest either of them alone, but together, they combine to make one of the world’s most commonly eaten substances. They do this by ripping electrons out of their orbits and arranging atoms in a pretty crystalline lattice, with the help of a lot of fancy words like ionic bonding, exothermal and electronegativity. Not that it’s either important or relevant here, but it is rather cool.
Oh yeah. Full-on pure big mad geek, me.
Chemical reactions take place at a certain rate, depending on the reaction in question, and, like pushing a marble up a hill so it can roll down the other side, need a certain amount of energy (the activation energy) for the reaction to take place. Shaking the e-juice not only mixes all the chemicals together in the bottle (which gives all the molecules a greater chance of bumping into other molecules so they can get jiggy with each other and react), but puts energy into the liquid in the form of kinetic (movement) energy. When you apply the brakes on your car, they heat up through friction between the brake pad and disk. This is kinetic energy – the movement of the car/wheel – being transformed into heat energy through friction. The forward momentum/kinetic energy of the car is transformed into heat and dissipated into the air. The same thing happens when you shake the bottle. Kinetic energy is transformed into heat energy, which acts as the activation energy for the chemical reaction. Because science!
Ultrasonic baths put kinetic energy in the form of high-frequency sound vibration into the e-liquid, just like shaking the bottle really REALLY fast. Exactly like that, in fact.
Putting your e-juice bottle into a hot bath heats the liquid and does the same thing, that is, adds energy to the mixture. Not only does this overcome the activation energy needed for reactions to take place (pushes the marble over the top of the hill) but also makes the molecules jiggle about and bump into each other more. They jiggle about anyway, but adding heat is like giving them Red Bull, they dash about like kids on a sugar high, bashing into other molecules which increases the chance of meeting another molecule to react with. Be careful you don’t go too hot though, as you’ll cause the nicotine molecules to break up and your e-juice’s strength will drop. Not only that, but you run the risk of lots of unpleasant chemicals being created, none of which will improve your day. Remember, WARM not HOT.
Breathing allows fresh oxygen to get to your e-juice – and through it if you shake too. Oxygen, especially in the form of oxygen free radicals, is highly reactive stuff. All that de-oxidant stuff you see, from tea to face cleanser, is supposed to mop up oxygen free radicals from your body, stopping them from doing nasty, aging, carcinogenic things to your cells. Oxygen free radicals are the sluts of chemistry, they’ll go with anything, react with whatever they bump into. So aerating your e-juice and stuffing it full of O2 and oxygen free radicals increases the chance of chemical reactions.
All the above techniques, therefore, give your e-juice time and opportunity for the various chemicals to react with each other and the flavour to develop. Not having an ultrasonic bath, I use a combination of heat, shaking, breathing and time to mature my flavours, and it works pretty well, as far as I can tell.
Mixing a bespoke e-juice from flavours
Now then. There you are, properly prepared, kids, pets and other distractions far away. You have your kit spread out in front of you and you’re ready to rock.
Well, why not try mixing up a blended flavour from concentrate for your first attempt? My first go was making 20ml of Mom & Pop’s Calpitter Chow from concentrate in a 60/40 VG/PG carrier, at 11mg strength using 5.4% Nicotine solution. I took my time, shook and steeped, and got a very nice vape, which only improved after a few days maturing.
My next attempt was a Mother’s Milk Clone from an online recipe. I adjusted the calculator for my nicotine solution and the amount I wanted to make, and followed the instructions. Again, after a few days maturing, I got a gorgeous, strawberry milkshake result.
Hang on, what’s a calculator? An e-juice calculator allows you to pop numbers – strength of nicotine solution, VG/PG amounts you want, flavours etc, and calculates the amounts you need of each ingredient to make whatever amount of finished e-juice you specify. They ‘re a brilliant resource that takes all the guesswork out of mixing, and you can make, store, copy and adjust recipes to your heart’s content. I use e-juice me up from Breakthru software, and the online one at http://e-liquid-recipes.com/
but there are many others available. Google e-juice calculator and find one that suits you.
Next, I got bold, and tried to make a clone of my own – the aforementioned Calpitter Chow.
Having read all the descriptions of its flavour, which varied widely (some people couldn’t decide if it was sweet or savoury!), I took a whiff or five of the concentrate, and the diluted e-juice I had made a few days earlier. What could I smell?
Sweetish, vanilla, biscuity, Weetabix, cake, brown sugar maybe? Honey? It smells and tastes like the inside of a cake shop I used to visit when I was a kid. A warm, thick, comforting, patisserie smell.
I went through all the single flavour concentrates I had that I felt could be in there. Vanilla, French vanilla, vanilla swirl, Vanilla Custard, New York cheesecake, cake batter, graham cracker (digestive biscuit, if you’re a Brit like me), honey, brown sugar, malt biscuit. I compared each one to the original to see how close each one was, and/or how strong each scent was in the flavour I was trying to copy. Then I decided on a mix of NY cheesecake and cake batter, plus vanilla custard, a touch of vanilla swirl and French vanilla deluxe (that might sound weird, but there’s a big difference in the types of vanillas you can get, and the ‘notes’ they have in a flavour. Some are big and thick and custardy, some are fresh and thin and lemony), plus a drop of graham cracker for the biscuit base (buttery biscuit bass! Ha!) and a drop of MTS Vape Wizard, which smooths out a blend and makes it feel thicker in the mouth, like cream. I added a drop of liquid stevia as a sweetener, then made it up to 20ml at 10mg nic strength and 60/40 VG to PG for a big vapour cloudy thick vape. I shook it and steeped it and left it to moulder in a cupboard for a week. The result? A pretty much exact copy of Calpitter Chow as I experience it. I posted the recipe online and asked other people to rate it and add suggestions, and got some very nice responses and a 5 star rating. Like I said, you should trust your nose – and remember to not go overboard on the flavours. A little goes a long way, and you should, as a rule of thumb, aim for around 20% flavour in your mix (if you're making fruity or dessert flavour mixes) and 80% carrier (PG, VG, or a mix of the two, plus nicotine base). Tobacco concentrates are stronger though, and though some - notably Mom & Pop's tobacco flavours such as Bud's Blend - are recommended to be mixed at 10% , most are good at between 1-5%, depending on what kind of tobacco flavour it is (stronger, dark tobaccos need less, light Virginia or 'dry' type tobaccos a little more) and, of course, your personal preference in how strong you like the flavour. Experiment is the key. Here's a handy spreadsheet detailing % ranges for a lot of flavour from the big manufacturers, which I nabbed from Grizwald's Mixing Guide and can't take the slightest bit of credit for. I don't know who compiled the original, but whoever did so saved me a ton of guesswork and did a lot of newbie mixologists a massive favour.
Apart from flavour concentrates, there are also a ton of additives which can enhance flavour or throat hit or both, and rather than repeat other people's hard work, I'll just direct you to this excellent page which explains a lot, if not all of them, and does it better than I could.
So there you go. I hope this has been of use to you and that you have many years happy vaping. Any and all errors are entirely my fault and I am happy to correct any screw-ups that people care to point out. If you’re just going to bitch though, maybe you should go write your own 7000 word advice guide, huh? Feel free to deliver any negative comments to me, a 6’6” ex-bouncer with anger management issues, no patience whatsoever and antisocial personality disorder, in person.