Combustion vs Conduction vs Convection: Is Your Vape Pen a Vaporizer?
Notice the bright color of fresh tobacco vs the darkened color of vaped tobacco. Combusted tobacco is black with white ashes.
Is Your Portable Vaporizer Pen Really a Vaporizer?
Vaporization comes in 2 forms: conduction and convection. Some vaporizers claim to vape, but really do combust. So let's talk about an important topic: the difference between combustion, conduction, and convection.
So there are a lot of pens out there that call themselves "dry herb vaporizers" -- but the truth, as some of you may have already found out, is that not all vape pens are truly vaporizing the herbs, and not all pens are created equal. The difference in effects has to do with how your device heats up the herbs, whether or not the herbs make direct contact with a heating element, and what kind of accessories you use. Before we get started though, let's talk about how vapor is produced.
To vaporize, you need to heat the herb enough so that the plant releases its chemicals in the form of vapor, but not hot enough that the plant burns. The perfect temperatures for vaporizing are between 350°F and 450°F. Anything lower and no vapor is produced. Anything higher and the herb will ignite. How the vapor tastes and feels during inhalation depends on the temperature. The most efficient vape temperatures are closer to 450°F, but you may actually prefer lower temperatures.
So now that you understand the basic science behind it (ok... that's so basic it probably doesn't warrant being called "science"), let's get back to the differences between combustion, conduction, and convection in relation to vaping--starting with the most popular: combustion.
Combusting is not vaping. However, almost all e-cigs that claim to be portable dry herb vaporizers simply combust herbs. This includes popular devices, such as the Atmos Raw Rx, Ago G5 pen, and devices by Yocan just to name a few. If you look at how these vape pens work, it's not hard to see why this is the case: the devices light herbs by directly exposing them to a heating coil. The heating coil may as well be an open flame--much higher than 450°F--which ignites and burns the herb just like any normal pipe. The only way to prevent direct contact safely is by using a glass screen filter, which prevents combustion by acting as a barrier between the herbs and heating coils. This takes us to our next topic: vaporization through conduction.
Side note: if you're buying a vape pen, make sure you either buy glass screen filters, or look for a store that includes glass screens with the pen, such as ourselves.
Conduction is just a fancy word for direct contact. It's possible to produce vapor with herbs if the herbs are placed on top of a surface that heats up to the right temperature for vaporization (350°F - 450°F). As mentioned above, glass screen filters can help many common vape pens produce vapor by preventing the herbs from touching the excessively hot heating coils. Instead, the glass screen heats up to the right temperature, which in turn heats up the herbs and causes them to release vapor. It can take anywhere from 5 to 25 seconds for the glass screens to get hot enough (depending on how many glass screens you use and how hot your coil gets), and the results aren't perfect, but it's definitely the way to go if you're trying to get vapor instead of smoke.
However, there are devices out there now that can do vaporization through conduction without any extra accessories. The most popular one on our end right now is probably the Apex dry herb vape. You simply load your herb into the chamber, let it heat up for about 30 seconds, and start inhaling the vapor. The cool thing about the Apex is that, unlike the pens above, you can set the temperature based on your preferences. The temperature settings are Low (380°F), Medium (400°F) and High (420°F). All within the optimal range for vaporizing herbs.
The Apex price tag is one of the best values you can get compared to others. Some of our own offerings include:
True Vapes with several temperature settings:
- Apex True Dry Herb Vaporizer - ON SALE - $89.95
- Flowermate Vapormax V5.0S - $99.99
- VT 1.0 Dry Herb Vaporizer - $64.99
True Vapes with digital screens and full temperature control:
Finally, there's vaporizing through convection. Convection is when you use air to get the herb to the right temperature instead of direct contact. You can get pens like the Atmos, G5, and Yocan pens to vape through convection by suspending your herb above the heating coil (possibly with a brass or metal mesh screen). The trick is to inhale slowly while heating up the chamber. This causes the hot air to slowly heat up the herbs and release vapor. You can also just heat it up without inhaling and wait for the right time to inhale (around 30 seconds still). The only problem with this method is that A) it's a pain to place the mesh filters at just the right height and B) if the filters fall onto the heating coils, it could short circuit the device and ruin the battery.
But the most popular convection vapes aren't portable pens. Most stationary, non-portable devices are convection vaporizers. The most popular is probably the Volcano. These devices usually heat up water below the herbs, and then use the steam produced to create vapor which you can inhale. The control settings are even more specific than the Pax, allowing you to set a specific temperature. But again, the real drawback is that these things are larger, bulkier, and not made for on-the-go situations. But for the maximum amount of vapor, and a little more money (ok... a lot more money), these are probably the way to go.
So there you have it. You are now an expert on combusting, conduction, and convection. Now go forth and vape.