Friday, March 27, 2015

An inexpensive DIY box mod - Part 1

Box mods, it seems, have become all the rage. Some are made out of cast aluminum. Some are machined out of stainless steel. There are wood box mods and plastic box mods. If you have even a modicum of soldering skill and a few bucks to spare, you can have your very own tin mod.

Hey, if I can do it (twice), you can!

But first, a warning: You will either have to eat a lot of mints, or give away a lot of mints, or throw away a lot of mints. OK, I'm kidding. That's really not the warning, but there are a lot of mints involved.

A real warning: This is a relatively advanced project. It involves soldering with a hot iron, fanning flames about with a torch, using a power drill or drill press, using a Dremel rotary tool, and using some relatively toxic things like solder, and flux. Always wear eye protection and ear protection when using power tools. Do not wear baggy, saggy clothes. Do not set your soldering iron on your wife's favorite tablecloth, or anything important. Also be aware of where you're pointing the soldering iron or you might end up with a melted battery sled. Ask me how I know...

Proceed at your own risk.

First, you'll need to source the materials that make up the mod. There aren't many, and they're easy to find locally and online. Indeed, I could have made the entire mod with what I found at the Radio Shack, but the connector wouldn't be quite right, and it would be using AA batteries (which isn't a bad thing - take a look at the Puck Mod).

  • Your local grocery store probably has the tin - Altoids Curiously Strong Peppermints. I paid about a buck-fifty at WalMart, and that beats the pants off of the price of any plastic, wooden, or aluminum project box. Of course, it's not as durable, but it certainly has some charm.
  • A battery sled for the batteries you want to use. I selected an 18650 battery sled. You can fit 2 18650 batteries in an Altoids box, but I would not recommend it.
  • A momentary push button - select something you can easily press, and with a high enough Amp rating to match your style of vaping.
  • Some wire. I recommend 18 gauge and up. The first box I made used 16 ga, and it was a bit big. The second box I made using 18 ga. and it came together a bit easier.
  • A 510 connector. In a pinch, you can cannibalize an old eGo.
  • Silver solder.
  • Flux. I wanted a fluxpen and ordered one on Amazon without checking to see where it originated. Apparently, it's gonna take 35 days to receive my fluxpen.
  • Shrink tubing.
  • Some sort of epoxy. I used Loctite General Purpose 5 minute epoxy. I will not use that again. I've seen other people recommend plumber's putty or JB Weld (is JB Weld conductive? If it is, I would skip that).
  • A washer 1/4" inside diameter.
  • Optionally, you'll want an on/off switch. This is highly recommended if you ever expect to carry this around with you.
I bought the wire as a 3-pack (red, green, and black), solder, the soldering iron, a soldering station, some buttons, and some on/off switches at Radio Shack. The price was right because Radio Shack is apparently going out of business. Figures that I would develop an interest in electric projects just as the electric projects parts superstore goes under. The tin, as I've said before, I got at Walmart along with some cheap paintbrushes to daub on the flux. I could not find liquid flux anywhere - just paste flux - except an O'Reilly Auto Parts store. The shrink tubing I picked up at a local hardware store, but it's available at Walmart, too. The 510 connector, one of the momentary push buttons, the battery sled, and the 510 connector can be easily found with a few Google searches. However, I found a great deal for the innards not on a vaping website, but on eBay. Hey, he'll even sell you an Altoids tin if you don't want to eat the Altoids.

And you're going to need some tools.
  • Wire snips and strippers.
  • Soldering iron. Don't scrimp and penny-pinch here. Get a decent soldering iron with a fine point, replaceable tips, and at least 30 watts. 
  • Mini torch. This will be used both to shrink the shrink tubing, and to sweat solder the 510 in place.
  • I highly recommend a solder station with a magnifying glass and light, helping hands, and tip cleaning sponge well, but you could probably get away without it.
  • Paintbrush or soldering pen. Some will tell you you don't need flux with certain types of solder, and, while this may be true, my soldering chores have been much easier with a little flux.
  • Dremel rotary tool or something similar. You'll use this with a grinding bit to smooth out and shape the tin in some places. Also used on the washer. You can use files, instead.
  • Drill or drill press. I used a drill press with a 1/2" bit for the button and a 11/32" for the 510 connector. Also find a couple pieces of wood that you can cut to size to slip into the tin so it doesn't collapse on you when you are trying to drill into it. 
  • Tweezers, pliers, cutters, etc. Stuff you probably already have laying around.
Gather everything up, and I'll be back to tell you how to put it together...

In the meantime, gather up your questions and comments and post 'em...

Part 2 is available now.