A vaporizer is any device used to raise the temperature of a material in order to release (thermally desorb) desirable components in the form of vapor without creating combustion.
Although the vaporizer concept has been around for decades, it is only in the last 15 years or so that commercial vaporizers have been manufactured and sold. Today, the benefits of vaporization are becoming more widely known, consequently the number and variety of devices has been rapidly increasing. This makes classifying vaporizers unexpectedly difficult, but every vaporizer has two essential components: a heat source, and a delivery system.
Although all vaporizer designs use one of three ways to employ heat for the primary heat source, they almost always benefit from the secondary effects of one or both of the other types. The primary types are:
Most heaters for conduction vaporizers are metal, usually stainless steel because it is inert at vaporizing temperatures. The heater surface can be either solid metal or a screen. An advantage of this type of heater is quick heating and cooling, but some designs use a solid metal block rather than a plate. The advantage of this is that the block does not cool off significantly as you draw air over it, but of course it is slower to cool down.
For convection vaporizers, the most popular heater is ceramic, again because the ceramics used are inert at vaporizing temperatures. Ceramic heaters are slower to warm up but once hot, they retain heat well and minimize the cooling caused by incoming air. Some designs supplement the ceramic heater with stainless steel or other metal that acts as a heat exchanger, further stabilizing the temperature. As with metal blocks, these designs cool down slowly.
Some vaporizers use a nichrome wire wrapped around a glass chamber as a heat source. Because this design is sensitive to cooling air, this type of heater is controlled by a programmed chip, which gives it the potential of providing the most stable temperature of all heater types.
In order of use by designers, power sources for heat are:
Most electrically powered vaporizers either have a variable control for setting a consistent reproducible temperature, or are set to a fixed temperature. We can subdivide them into two more types:
Wall plug or desktop
These designs are often called desktop vaporizers because they require an electrical outlet. This is normally your house circuit, but designs of this type can also be taken on camping trips and outdoor excursions by using a car adapter and inverter combination.
Plug-in vaporizers employ a power transformer (often referred to as a brick) since heaters require DC power. You can use a variable voltage power supply to change the operating temperature of a fixed temperature vaporizer, but this is not common and might be hazardous.
Battery designs are intended to be portable, meaning they are simple to carry around and use without being plugged in. Most, but not all, can be easily slipped into a pocket.
The batteries used in vaporizer designs are rechargeable but there are different types:
- NiMH and LiPo
These batteries can be removed and easily replaced. They are usually recharged using an external charger. Because their power capacity is limited and vaporizing demands high heat, they are depleted quickly. Some users avoid them because they require careful management in order not to run out at an inconvenient time.
These batteries are not easily removable and usually cannot be replaced without returning the unit to the manufacturer. They require a connection to the device to recharge, either with USB or through a power brick. Some power adaptor models let you use the device while connected, but the power drain disallows charging while in use. USB charging cannot deliver enough power to allow use while plugged in.
There are also a few butane-powered designs that eliminate the need for a torch lighter by using catalytic converters, which also ensure complete burning of the butane.
A halogen bulb provides enough radiant heat for vaporization. Although this type of design is rare, at least one successful design uses radiant heat.
Every vaporizer needs a way to transfer the vapor from the heating chamber to the user. Like heat sources, there is a wide variety. One way to classify delivery systems is whether they are assisted or unassisted. Note that some designs can be used with both methods.
In this type of delivery system, a fan or pump forces hot air through the material to be vaporized and into a bag (sometimes called a balloon). Assisted designs are therefore convection designs.
The bag is made from the same plastic film used to make oven roasting bags. It is food grade, meaning it is safe to use and can tolerate high temperatures. Some designs include a valve at the opening to prevent vapor loss.
One advantage of this system is that bags are simple to fill and use. Another advantage is transportability. Once detached from the vaporizer, you can move bags easily to another location. Although it might seem that bags could be used to store vapor for later use, this is limited because vapor condenses as it cools, and also loses potency over time.
Disadvantages include a low vapor-to-air ratio unless you use a low flow rate and fill the bag slowly, deterioration in taste after multiple uses, and difficulty in cleaning the bags. These last two are related, since the taste degradation is due to condensed vapor inside the bag which has gone stale, leaving a disagreeable taste. It is usually easier to replace the bag rather than clean it.
These are basically a box built around a heater, often with a digital display for temperature control. The delivery system is a wand and whip combination. Box vaporizers have a reputation for delivering thick cloudy vapor but are probably are the fastest to consume your material.
Box vaporizers are the most common format, partly because they are easy to build and simple to use. Unfortunately, this also means that there are a large number of cheap but poorly made and potentially unsafe vaporizers for sale on sites like eBay and Amazon. While these devices look like their more expensive reliable and safe brothers, they are traps for the unwary. Many of them never work properly, and many more fail soon after they are bought. They almost never come with a warranty, and if they do it is usually impossible to get service.
There are many good, reliable box vaporizers that are made from safe materials and come with a genuine warranty. Vape World sells several of them. If the box format appeals to you, be sure to buy from a reliable dealer with a reputation for service. Avoid cheap “bargains”. This is a case of you get what you pay for, and you should expect to pay $150 or more for a good box vaporizer.