Very Simple Vaporizer Design

version 1.1

January 6th, 1995

Disclaimer: the author makes no guarantees about the safety of the device described in this file. Wiring errors or careless use on the part of the reader could cause injuries or fires. Furthermore, the author does not encourage the use of cannabis where it is illegal to do so. In short, if you set your carpet on fire or get busted for possession of drug paraphernalia, don't hassle me.

Greeting fellow deviants. The following is a simple design for a "vaporizer," an electric smoking device which heats your favorite hemp products to a temperature at which THC molecules wiggle enough to go airborne, but below that at which vegetable matter and tars and other nasties burn into lung-damaging smoke. Vaporizing is also more efficient since the high temperatures involved in smoking reportedly destroy some percentage of the THC. The Vapourizer page says it best:

REASONS FOR VAPOURIZING:

  1. Activation of THC acids in cannabis (decarboxylation); this occurs at around 103 degrees Celcius with vapourization at around 180-200 degrees. Smoking performs this process but is reported to destroy between 40 and 98% of the THC (Korte, Miras etc*).
  2. The 'smoke' is much cooler and easier in the lungs.
  3. The high is subtly different from that obtained with other methods.
  4. The higher efficiency saves you money.
*from The Botany and Chemistry of Cannabis, Joyce and Curry (1970)

The design in that file, the first I've seen to use a soldering iron rather than an auto cigarette lighter element, is what motivated this design. This difference and the use of a dimmer switch for temperature control are the really the only essential elements of this design. There's plenty of room for creativity in its configuration and vapor enclosure, but this works for me:

What you're going to be building is essentially a soldering iron sticking out of a Pepsi bottle. The iron will be plugged into a box housing a rotary dimmer switch, allowing control of the current into the iron's heating element. A slim, high-temperature thermometer strapped to the iron's shaft helps the user stay inside the vaporization range, if one is available.

Gather:

  1. An empty wide-mouthed soft drink container (e.g., a 3-liter bottle or a Pepsi "Big Slam" 1-liter bottle). If you can only find a 3-liter bottle, and you later find that this makes too large a vapor chamber, consider cutting out the mouth and attaching it to a 2- or 1-liter bottle.
  2. A cheap soldering iron whose handle, at its widest point, is at least 1/4 inch narrower than the bottle's mouth. Try to find one whose tip can be unscrewed and removed, leaving a hollow space in the iron's shaft; otherwise, you'll have to devise a way of impaling some sort of heat-conducting bowl (layered aluminum foil?) on the tip. Note that I mean the very tip - many soldering irons allow the entire shaft to be unscrewed out of a small socket, but that won't do you any good. Radio Shack and other electronics shops carry soldering irons.
  3. A cheap socket-mount rotary dimmer switch. Available anywhere basic hardware supplies are sold.
  4. A case for the dimmer switch. A very good choice is a plastic 10-disc 3.5 inch floppy box.
  5. A slim high-temperature thermometer, small enough to fit snugly against the shaft of the soldering iron (i.e., not a big round oven thermometer) and including the range 150-250 C. [Optional]

STEPS:

  1. Affix the bottle cap to the soldering iron
       Must precede step II.  Here's the basic idea:
    
                 Iron                        ---                              
                 ________|\_____    Cord     |  | Wide-mouth                  
       Before   [________| _____|=======     |  |    cap                      
                         |/                  |  |                             
                                             ---  (top)                       
                                                                           
                 Iron   ---                  
                 _______|  |____    Cord    
       After    [_______|  |____|=======   
                        |  |                
                        ---                
    
    Get it? When you screw the cap back on, the heating element will be enclosed in the bottle. This is the part that makes it important for the handle to be at least 1/4" narrower than the bottleneck. The base of the shaft will get rather warm; the soda bottle is not made of high-temp plastic like the iron's handle, and releases toxic fumes (and eventually melts) when it gets hot, so it's important that they don't touch. Anyway, just cut a hole in the cap large enough for most of the handle to fit through. A rubber grip on the soldering iron makes a nice tight seal with this hole. Use tape to close any opening at the bottom of the handle where the cord enters (the expanding air in the bottle will force vapor out of this hole).

    Eager to try your vaporizer? Skip to step V and be prepared to plug and unplug the iron frequently during use to keep the temp. down (or plug it into a power strip with a switch). Leaving it on continuously will heat the plastic bottle too much; leaving it on and lying it on its side will quickly melt the side of the bottle, make a big smoky plastic mess, and possibly start a fire (see disclaimer).

  2. Wiring the dimmer switch and soldering iron together
                             _________                                         
                            [ Dimmer  ]   (not to
                            [ Switch  ]    scale)
          from              [_________]                     Plug               
          soldering             ||                         ___                 
          iron                 /  \                       /   |____            
       -----------------------/    \---------------------[    |                
       --------------------------------------------------[    |____            
                                                          \___|                
      
    This crude ascii diagram is intended to demonstrate the wiring of the dimmer switch into one of the soldering iron cord's two lines. I suppose this requires minimal wiring skills (but not necessarily experience). Use a knife to separate about 2" of the two wires in the cord. I did this about 4" from the plug, leaving lots of cord between the dimmer and the iron; eventually I plugged my switch box into an extension cord rather than squatting next to a wall socket. Make sure you don't expose the wire on the side you won't be cutting. Now cut one wire and strip about 1/2" down both sides. Use the screw-down connectors included with the dimmer to join its wires to the cord (just twist the two wires together and screw the connector down hard). Wrap the connections in plastic tape to be safe.
  3. Housing the dimmer switch

    I just cut a hole in one side of a plastic 10-disk 3.5" floppy case large enough for the little metal rotor in the rotary dimmer switch to fit through and bolted the dimmer to the case. It went in diagonally. No drill? Make the holes for the bolts by driving a wood screw through the plastic. Mark "off" and "max" settings and adorn to taste.

  4. Attaching the thermometer
         _
       _|_|_                                                                  
       |   |        This is supposed to show a slim, high-temp thermometer
       | | |        attached to the shaft of the iron.  Attach it with wire 
       | | |        (strip the paper off a bag tie).  The thermometer must
       | o |        contact the iron as tightly as possible and must include
       -----        the range 150-250 Celcius or so.
     ___|_|___ 
     \       /      I have not accomplished this yet - all the oven therms. 
      \     /       I have found are far too large for the task. 
       |   |
      
  5. Soft drink bottle ---> vapor chamber

    The bottom of your bottle will be the top of the vapor chamber. Cut a roughly 1/2" diameter hole near the bottom of the bottle, and cut a smaller hole for air intake near the neck. Voila.

  6. Assembly and usage

    Here's another crude ascii drawing to illustrate the whole setup:

       _____                                                                   
      /   O \      Pack the hollow space in the shaft of the iron with         
     |       |     your favorite hemp product.  Buds are best chopped into     
     |   ~   |     small bits.  For use with hash, consider filling all      
     |    ~  |     but the top 1/2" of the shaft with aluminum foil.           
     |    ~  |     If you're forced to fashion a bowl on a nonremovable       
     |   ~   |     tip, make sure it fits in the mouth and resists 
     | o H   |     spillage, and realize only material very very close to      
      \  H  /      a hot surface will vaporize (huge, stuffed bowls won't
       \_H_/       work right).                                                 
       [___]                                                                   
        | |                 Dimmer Box                                         
        |_|                  ___[_]___    extension cord            socket       
         \__________________|         |__[=[-------------------------[=        
                            |_________|                                        
      
    Screw the cap down and power up! Keep both holes covered with your fingers and wait about 1 minute. Put the dimmer on full at first to get up to the working temp. Turn the switch down some when you see first see white vapor rising from the bowl. Unless you've got the thermometer, finding the right dimmer setting to vaporize without combustion will take several trials :> . If you do have it, a reminder: shoot for 200 Celcius.

    Allow a decent cloud of vapor to form before putting your mouth to the top hole, release the carb (bottom hole) and inhale! Ahhh.

Heuristics:

An expensive alternative: drop roughly $100 into a soldering station with a temperature control (which goes as low as 200 C). If you have access to such a device at a discount (used, etc.), this is definitely the option for you. It provides simpler temperature control than the dimmer switch-thermometer arrangement. On the other hand, the dimmer and thermometer will cost you less than $20 ($6 for the dimmer).

I should mention that the dimmer switch-thermometer idea was offered by a creative a.d.p. reader who read the previous version of this design. Thanks!

That concludes version 1.1 of this Very Simple Vaporizer Design. This 240+ line instruction file merits the name Very Simple since it's considerably easier and quicker to build than designs I've seen involving car cigarette lighters, brazing tools, and step-down voltage transformers. The only simpler design I've seen is a glass blender on a frying pan. I'll reply to comments posted to a.d.p. or mailed to my anon.penet.fi address. Feel free to distribute and repost this file, or to alter, improve, or expand it.


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