Butane Torch vs. E-Nail: Reasons Why You May Prefer One Over the Other

TLDR;

  • A butane torch is harder to #lowtemp and dial in for specific concentrate types
  • Electronic nail controllers are more energy efficient overall than a butane torch
  • Steady heat control and sustained temperature throughout the session
  • Enail controllers operate in compete silence while torches can get noisy and obnoxious after some time
  • A torch leaves gas exhaust and by-products. A propane torch leaves exhaust that literally smells like rotten eggs (for detection purposes).
butane torch

Optimal Temps For Different Concentrate Types

An electric nail is the surest way to do #lowtempdabs if you are looking to limbo as low as you can go to savor the flavor without worrying about a quick cool down. On the other hand, an electric nail is also the best way to keep a large dab nail hot and steady for large globs and dab snakes. An e-nail provides steady temperatures via feeding electricity to the heating coil (like an oven coil) which is it’s main advantage over open-flame heat. Electronic temperature control allows you to find your ideal temperature for different dab nails, concentrate types, and preferred cannabinoid profiles. For example, some of the drier material with less terps may require a higher temperature for complete vaporization or pyrolysis. However, something like a live resin, sauce, or distillate might best be dabbed at much lower temperatures. The typical temperature range for enail dabbing is normally set somewhere between 500F-800F.

terp sauce diamonds

Cannabinoid Profile Selection

A lower temperature will make for a smooth and more flavorful dab compared to higher temperatures. A #hightemp dab has it’s own unique type of high due to the way cannabinoids change when they are heated. There are so many preferences and different ways to use different temperatures to meet different needs. With a torch or an analog e-nail you really need to get to know your setup or use a heat gun thermometer. Cutting out the guesswork on the cool down makes an enail worth it just in that capability alone. You never have to guess if the nail is still warm enough after torching — just set it and wait a minute or two, that’s it!

Kick It Up a Notch!?

Some like to raise the temperature up higher to minimize pooling/waste, and crusting/chazzing. Also, many dabbers actually prefer the effect from the cannabinoid profile that comes with higher temperatures. High temp dabs can be more relaxing with a heavier “couch-lock” feel. This is because the cannabinoids are converted differently with different temperatures. They produce different effects depending on heat and duration of heating. The different terpenes effect the body in different ways. The mixture of different cannabinoid profiles also have different effects. Therefore, temperature and cannabinoid range selection also adds another layer of complexity to the effects that can be changed. Some prefer high temp dabs, such as Customgrow420.

stoner humor politician

Electric heating = #terpsfordays

Terpenoids evaporate faster because they are more volatile. They are also more liquid than some of the other substances, such as lipids/wax. Terps don’t stick around long– any grower is painfully aware of this! This is why people need carbon scrubbers to defend from the neighbors. Terps will evaporate off of those plants at anything above freezing temperatures. Terpenes are evolved to “escape” and attract pollinators and/or defend against attackers.

CBD Dabs

One exception to this rule of thumb is CBD isolate. Because the isolate may be fairly “dry” and low in terpenes, it will likely cake up and leave residue. Many users prefer to mix their CBD dabs with either terpenes for this reason. It’s easy to add too much terps to your dabs, so some prefer to simple mix with other concentrates.

portable rosin press - Cannaclamp

Perfect For Rosin Pressing

You will be amazed at the flavor difference that you can get out of rosin while using an e-nail with a capper. Drop the temperature down to around the mid-600’s if you happen to have access or maybe just pressed your own at home. Getting full flavor from rosin with a torch takes some skill and can be frustrating. This is because the quartz often cools down too fast from the low temp zone after torching. If you are pressing rosin a dual e-nail controller is essential. It’s not even a question. There’s no getting away with butane torches to heat up rosin plates to a steady low temperature! Temperatures for pressing need to be very specific and steady. If not, it’s easy to produce a product that just tastes like burnt popcorn or already vaped buds.

beveled quartz banger 25mm outer diameter

Steady Heat Control Means No Over-Cooled Bangers

Flavor aside, sometimes you might just feel like a #dabasaurus and crank the temps up. For those who love taking massive gram-sized globs (for whatever reason) an e-nail is the clear choice. The heat remains constant so you won’t have to over-heat or overcompensate for cool down. Even as you are dabbing the temperature controller typically only drops a little before returning. You don’t need to torch the nail red-hot and wait another half minute to cool. Just switch it on and let it sit for 1-2 minutes. The PID inside the electronic controller senses the coil to even out temperatures according to how much it dropped. The controller reacts based on the size of the dab and how much energy it took during the last cycle.

Operates in Silence

Have you ever been trying to heat up your nail with a butane torch and realized it totally put a halt to everyone’s conversation? A torch can be on the obnoxious side sometimes, although fun in small doses. Nothing worse than when you are trying to concentrate and your roommates torch is screaming at you. Worse yet, if you have kids they will definitely be asking lots of questions about the rushing sounds. Fire is a very captivating thing, and it can be pretty distracting when someone decides to dab it up

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Fun With Fire

Admittedly, I am a bit of a pyro maniac and have to admit that a butane torch is fun to use in small doses. It’s fun but also looks a little cracked out. This may or may not be an issue, if you have little ones or strict landlords. If you have small children around your dab space frequently they will of course take interest to the rushing sounds of the torch, as well as the fire if they catch a glimpse. I know I would have been instantly drawn to it since I was practically obsessed with my dad’s propane torch after using it for one particular 4th of July Celebration.

Energy Efficiency of a Butane Torch vs. E-Nail

A butane torch heats only a fraction of the nail with the total energy it puts out. The pressurized gases then direct this heat through the nozzle on the can. The gases flow towards your dab nail but this is nowhere near lazer-focused. A large portion of that heat just blows right past and heats the room instead. This means a ton of heat energy just goes towards heating up your room, which is nice in winter but not so much in summer. Sure an e-nail may also do this a tiny bit, but compared to a torch the heat is applied more directly. E-nails aren’t absolutely 100% perfect in energy efficiency, but the improvement from a butane torch is big. So much so that this is true even when leaving the e-nail on for long stretches of time.

R4G9 e-nail custom made in the USA
heating coil confused

Further Efficiency Improvements

You will boost efficiency even further by using different coilsnails, and cappers. The flat coil is preferred for it’s efficiency in heat distribution and use in the popular hybrid nail. A flat coil will sit directly underneath the dish, instead of covering the side walls of the nail. Most of the heat in the flat coil travels directly upwards to the bottom of the dish, which is where most of the concentrate glob will end up. Some heat will of course still escape from the outer side walls, but the majority goes up of course due to physics. The heat shield also serves to direct a lot of that heat back towards the center of the piece. It’s definitely a big improvement over a torch flame that will heat a nail way past temps but then also way past the nail itself as well.

Spent Butane Cans

Our household used propane torches for a while. At the end of this long run, we had literally dozens of empty butane torch cans sitting around after the first year. None could be recycled or up-cycled easily. Then I hear the Chinese are now rejecting our recycling because we suck at sorting it out properly from other trash (in Portland). The chunky metallic shells sat as a reminder to our excess consumption. In other words it was time to ditch the cans and look into these new “enail controllers” I had been hearing so much about.

Slimer enail Ghostbusters

More Peace-Of-Mind, Less Toxic “Gick”

No one likes toxicity. Although a certain amount seems inevitable in modern life, there is no need to litter your home with gas exhaust unless your dab space doesn’t have access to an electric outlet. Gas exhaust and/or rotten egg smell in my room doesn’t sit well with me.

Eggfart Stains In Yo Couch

If you use a propane torch you are left with the exhaust which is purposefully tainted with just a pinch rotten egg smell for safety and detection purposes. The C02 will hang out at the bottom foot of your living space and for this reason typically take longer to dissipate. These gases do not float upwards and more often will “sit and soak” around the bottom 1″ of your session space. One friend of mine reported that the sulfuric smell (which is added to propane as a safety measure to detect CO2) ended up soaking into his garage floor to the point where he now has that smell stuck in the concrete surface.

KBOX 200W Kangertech

There Are Often Better Portable Options

A cheap inverter will power an e-nail using the cigarette lighter socket while out on a camping trip. There are also “portable e-nail” products available, but they just don’t deliver heat as well as a “real” nail. The batteries and heating elements aren’t nearly as reliable in the long-run. I have yet to read a review from someone who is satisfied with these “portable e-nails” after more than a year’s use. There are e-pens, and there are e-nails. Let’s just say there are e-nails and there is everything else. There is a big difference in heating power and taste with the smaller coil compared to a proper e-nail coil and nail.

A Small Investment

Electric nail tech is now much cheaper than it was. A torch costs a third of a cheap enail, so it seems like an easy choice to me considering the gas cost will probably the other 2/3 by in a year’s time.

butane torch

Every Torch Has It’s Day

I do still keep a torch around for other purposes. I will say that there is one thing that I still depend on my torch for and that is to remove certain nails that are completely stuck from reclaim. A lot of the time hot water alone will work, but I will give the torch some praise after being so critical. A butane torch is still the easiest way to remove a sticky nail. That being said, this is only necessary with my setup maybe every few months at the very earliest. Also, having a more constant heat source could be a bad thing for the accident prone. This is also true for people living with animals or humans. Check out Leafly’s handy explanation on why e-nails aren’t right for everyone.

A Sinister Resemblance?

Torches are often associated with hard drugs. Dabs should not be associated/confused with more dangerous drugs that happen to use the same gear. The problem with the butane torch image is that having to light with a butane torch may visually strengthen this negative association. This is all surface image-politics stuff but it is worth considering for many people. My main point here is that the convenience of not having to deal with the rumble of the torch is a must-have in my opinion. I can’t imagine dabbing daily with a torch anymore by any means.

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