Staples of the Industry
Yet vaporizing, the concept of heating to release active components without reaching combustion, is still almost unknown. Today, when you stroll into your local shop, there's probably a section devoted to vaporizers. Because vaporizing isn't yet mainstream, most likely you will find it stocked with just a few different models. There will probably be one of each type that we'll call staples of the industry.
We use this term because the industry has evolved into distinct varieties. Each has its positives and negatives, and choosing the right type depends on your needs. Certain brands have come to be the icon for each type, meaning that they are the brands you are likely to see in shops. That doesn't mean these brands are the best—that's a subjective term after all—just that right now they have the dominant market presence.
One staple of the industry that you might see on the shelf gained its position solely from being the first. The type is called the BC Vaporizer, but that is actually a specific brand name that has become generic.
The original BC Vaporizer was developed in the mid 90s in British Columbia. It was the first commercially marketed design. The original is still sold, and there are many knockoff variations. The design is essentially a glass dome over a heated metal plate, so it uses conduction to transfer heat. A temperature regulator is supposed to keep the plate from getting hot enough to cause combustion, but these devices gained a reputation for being unreliable. Shops still carry them because they're cheap and they've been around a long time. If the fate of vaporizing depended on the BC Vaporizer and its clones, however, you wouldn't be reading this article.
The credit for the rise of vaporizing belongs to the most prominent staple of the industry, the bag-blowing vaporizer. The icon for this type is the Volcano. It's mentioned second here only because it was the second commercially successful design, but if you've heard of just one vaporizer, it's almost certain that it is the Volcano. It's been in movies, featured in TV shows, mentioned on talk shows, shown in music videos... it's even been advertised on TV.
The Volcano concept uses a pump to blow hot air through a heating chamber, where convection heating releases vapor that is blown into a food grade plastic bag. Although newer designs have imitated or even improved on the mechanics of the Volcano, it remains the best known vaporizer and the one you are most likely to see in a shop.
Despite a hefty price tag, when the Volcano was introduced in 2000 it found a good market. It's easy to use, reliable, and effective. Partly because of the price, people noticed it and vaporizing began to gain public awareness. Designers started thinking about cheaper ways to exploit convection heating. Soon, box style vaporizers emerged on the scene and became the next staple of the industry.
A basic box style vaporizer is essentially a heater enclosed in a box, often with a temperature control. The heating chamber is usually a glass tube (called a wand) which is only attached to the heater when vaporizing. The other end of the wand connects to a length of PVC or silicone tubing, called a whip. You draw through the whip, using lungpower to create the hot airflow for convection. This method works extremely well, and until recently most new designs used some variation on this idea.
One reason is that convection is more efficient and easier to control, but it's also because box style vaporizer designs are simple and cheap to build. There are far more variations and brands than any other type, so you might see two or three varieties at your shop. They don't even necessarily look like boxes. Good examples of interesting design at the high end of this type are the 7th Floor models, the Silver Surfer and Da Buddha vaporizers, which use the principles of a box style vaporizer without looking like them. These models have a well-deserved reputation for delivering the thick clouds of vapor that many people making the transition from smoking want. Additionally, 7th Floor is a company firmly grounded in the glass world and this shows in their designs. They want to appeal to glass users who are thinking about vaporizing.
The next style that became an industry staple was the obvious progression: a combination device that includes both a fan for filling bags and a wand plus whip for people who prefer direct draw. The design that you encounter most often for this type is the Arizer Extreme, which uses a "cyclone bowl" and a glass elbow instead of a wand. You can attach a whip to the elbow, or you can attach a bag and use the Extreme's remote to turn on the fan. (Yes, the Extreme has a remote!) The Extreme is a moderately priced versatile performer. This all-round style is often a good choice for a first vaporizer because it is easy to use and it gives the novice a chance to decide which type of vaporizer works best, bags or whips.
Another style of vaporizer that has become a staple of the industry is the flame-based piece, which are obviously an attempt to present the smoker with a familiar device. Some of these designs are as simple as a glass piece that you heat carefully with a butane torch so that combustion temperatures are never reached. Others use a ceramic heat exchanger or filter so that the flame does not ignite the material.
The best known example of a traditional design, and the one you are likely to see in a shop, is the VaporGenie. This design comes in several models, including all glass, all aluminum, stainless steel, classic wood, and hand carved wood. They are all small, easily pocketed, and just require a common butane lighter. The technique requires practice, however, and combustion is common for new users. Traditional designs are often attractive and affordable, but they do require that you master the technique.
The traditional style was the first attempt at producing a truly portable vaporizer. For a long time, it was the only choice, which is how it became a staple. Interest in vaporization is rising, however, and with this comes new interest in producing portable vaporization technology. The result is the arrival of a number of new alternatives, some from the industry and others that are based on entirely new development. One of the consequences has been the revival of conduction heating for vaporization.
There is tremendous variety in the portable vaporizer selection today, but the sector is still changing too fast to establish a definitive new staple of the industry. Since awareness of vaporizing is increasing, it seem plausible that no single icon will emerge. Shops might well expand the range of vaporizers that they carry to include more than one model for each type. A comprehensive discussion of current portables deserves its own article, so we will reserve that for the next in this series.
“Staples of the Industry” is the second article in a four part series highlighting various aspects of the vaporization industry brought to you by Vape World… Be sure to follow us next time as we discuss “The Evolution of the Portable”