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What are Potted Electronics And Do I Need Them in My WML and EDC Flashlight?

One of the features that you might have heard is essential in a WML is potted electronics. Potting is a process of sealing or otherwise reinforcing electronic components with some sort of compound, which typically goes in as a liquid and then solidifies or cures in place. 

Just like potted meats – cooked meat sealed in fat to preserve itit’s a way of insulating electronic components against moisture and shock. So let’s talk about why that matters and who currently does it, in case you want to invest in a quality EDC light. 

And yes, this is part of why a Modlite costs so darn much. 

What Are Potted Electronics? 

In electronics, potting is sealing or coating components in a compound to seal them, usually to stop vibration. 

Vibration can matter for a number of reasons; potting or encapsulating (sealing a component rather than a whole circuit) can prevent microphonic feedback in audio equipment and can obviously prevent damage to a component

Potting electronics is standard practice in a number of industries such as aerospace, audio equipment and even instruments – electric guitar pickups, the wire-wrapped magnets that make the signal that goes to an amplifier, are commonly pottedthough not necessarily in a lot of consumer electronics. Hence, it’s a little rare for anyone to bother with a flashlight. 

Potting is sometimes also used as a reverse engineering/corporate espionage deterrent to protect intellectual property. 

The process is fairly simple. The components, whatever they might be, are placed in a mold and then set in whatever potting compound is being used. In some cases, it’s an epoxy, in some it’s something like a liquid rubber akin to tool dip, or it can be as simple as paraffin wax. 

In the case of modern LED flashlights, typically they’re potted (if they are) with epoxy (though not always) and the head of the flashlight itself is used as the mold. 

Why Does It Matter If My Weapon Light Is Potted?

Electronic components are tiny, to begin with, and they’re linked together (creating the circuit) with solder. Solder joints are not durable in the least and can easily break, especially on a teeny, tiny little wafer circuit board…like the kind on a flashlight or weapon light. 

Ever drop some electronic device and it stopped working? It’s usually because one or more of the solder joints broke. 

That’s why the higher-end rifle lights and pistol lights are said to be that much more durable. Part of what you’re paying more for is the name brand, sure, but also the additional manufacturing step and QA/QC. 

Most of the biggest names in weapon lights – the ones that you’ll hear are “buy once, cry once” and, therefore, you should spend more – have in common that they use potted heads. 

Now, with that said…potting isn’t strictly speaking 100 percent needed

An unpotted light can be incredibly durable if it has strong solder joints and a housing that prevents the circuit board from moving inside it, just like how a brain sloshing in its own fluid creates a concussion. If the circuit board is mechanically locked in place, it doesn’t matter as much. 

But that also requires QA/QC and design energy (i.e., the cost of design and then manufacturing), which budget brands may not be willing to spend on a product to deliver at their target price point. 

Who Pots Their Weapon Lights And Flashlights? 

It’s known that Modlite and Cloud Defensive pot their heads, which is part of why they have attained the reputation that they have. Malkoff and Elzetta – adding Malkoff or Elzetta heads to other light bodies for WMLs has been around for a whiledo as well. 

Some people are also known to use Weltool heads as an upgrade to an 18650 light body to save a little cash over a Malkoff or Elzetta head for a long gun light; their flashlight heads are also potted.

Surefire and Streamlight don’t pot their heads, but that doesn’t necessarily kill them in the crib. Surefire applies a rubberized coating to their boards, which makes a difference, and Streamlight clearly puts effort into the design to ensure their drivers don’t take much shock from recoil or a drop.

Owners report that some Olight products are potted, but only some of their less-popular handhelds. The same is also true of Nightstick. 

The slightly underground brand Goonbeam, who make a number of flashlights and a TLR-1 clone, are absolutely on pot. 

And what are the brands with the reputation for performance and durability? Well, the above. Correlation and causation aren’t the same, but eventually, coincidences aren’t coincidences anymore. 

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