Note: For any questions regarding terminology used in this article, please refer to our Glossary of Glass.
Are you looking for the best water pipe for your needs, but not sure where to start? Picking out your ideal water pipe (a.k.a. ‘bong’) can be a daunting task, even for experienced smokers. Nowadays, water pipes come in many shapes and sizes. The way they function greatly differs as well – some pipes are designed for a very specific purpose, while others can be pretty flexible. So when you are trying to spend wisely, it is not easy to tell which smoking apparatus will bring you the best bang for your buck. Do you go for the biggest pipe you can afford? Or the one with the most built-in diffusion? Don’t let anyone tell you exactly which pipe you should get; not all pipes are created equal, and everyone has different tastes and preferences. CupboardGlassPipes is here to help you in your quest to find the best pipe for you.
The most important deciding factor when choosing a pipe is usage – what exactly are you going to be using it for? There are two general categories:
- Tobacco, dried herbs, and/or flowers (dry product)
- Concentrates and/or essential oils
Many pipes are designed for one or the other; however, most pipes can technically be used for both with the right accessories. The versatility of glass pipes is thanks in part to the innovation of ground glass joints, also commonly referred to as glass-on-glass connections. This technology was borrowed from laboratory science, where there was a need to quickly and easily fit leak-tight apparatus together. In the world of water pipes, these connections are used to easily connect components such as slides, domes, and ashcatchers using universal joint sizes. Glass-on-glass joints were first used and developed by a German glass pipe producer called Roor, and subsequently, these joints and connectors are quickly replacing the old rubber seal design.
Pipes that are set up for smoking dry products are simply referred to as water pipes. A pipe that is set up for smoking concentrates, while still categorized as a type of water pipe, is usually specified as a concentrate rig (a.k.a. an oil rig or dab rig). When choosing the right pipe for your needs, the main things to consider are the size of the pipe, the amount of diffusion involved, and the accessories that are included.
The Classic Flower Pipe
When smoking flowers, any size pipe will do just fine, although medium-to-large is usually preferred. The most important factor is diffusion – incorporating a percolator of some sort to help diffuse the smoke.
This is due to the fact that smoking flower involves combustion –applying a flame to the substance and inhaling the smoke. Combustion is by far the most common method of ingestion and dates back thousands of years; however, it isn’t necessarily the purest or most health-conscious method. When you burn any type of plant matter, the smoke is going to contain some amount of undesirable byproducts, some of which may be considered ‘toxins.’ This is where percolators come in – diffusion helps to filter out a good portion of these byproducts while simultaneously cooling the smoke down, creating a much smoother hit. Whether it’s a pipe with a built-in tree percolator, or an added ash-catcher or simply an upgraded downstem with a multi-hole diffusor tip, having some diffusion in your pipe will help filter the smoke to create a much smoother and tastier experience.
It is worth noting here that too much diffusion can be a bad thing – it increases the draw resistance, meaning it takes more lung-power to pull the smoke through the pipe. Also, the more diffusion you have, the more residue your pipe will collect, causing it to potentially get clogged more often. Be sure to change your water regularly and learn how to clean your pipe of residue.
Regarding accessories, flower pipes usually include a ‘slide’ – the removable bowl piece that your dry product goes in.
For concentrates, the general consensus is to use a smaller pipe with minimal diffusion. This surprises some people – until recently, larger pipes were always regarded as inherently superior. So why a smaller pipe? Well with concentrates or essential oils, all of that plant matter that would normally go up in flames has already been removed from your product, leaving behind only the desirable compounds. Running this smoke through percolators will filter out a substantial portion of these delicious compounds, leaving them behind as residue in your pipe. This is why many smaller concentrate rigs are affectionately called ‘flavor savers.’ A smaller pipe is also ideal because your hit is generally going to be smaller anyway. This is because you’re smoking a smaller amount of product at once, since it takes a lot less to get the job done with concentrates. Hence the phrase, ‘Just a little dab will do ya.’
Concentrate rigs don’t include your typical slide for dry herbs. Instead they will have some sort of ‘nail’ – this is a removable piece that is made to be heated with a torch lighter. Once the nail is sufficiently heated, the concentrate is applied and immediately vaporizes. If the nail is at the perfect temperature, the result is actually described as more of a vapor than a smoke. Some nails require a ‘dome’ piece to work properly. The dome simply prevents the vapor from escaping as you apply your concentrate to the nail. Other nails are designed to pull the vapor in properly without the need of a dome – these are simply referred to as domeless nails. A popular domeless nail design is the banger, which is simple a bucket-shaped dish attached to a tube that leads to the ground glass joint.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider getting a piece that works well for both dry product and concentrates. Thanks to glass-on-glass connections, switching out components is a breeze. Some pipes even come with all the appropriate accessories required to be used interchangeably. Other pipes don’t come with any accessories at all; the decision is left up to the buyer. A great solution for a 2-in-1 set up would be to pick out a small- to medium-sized pipe that would work great for concentrates, and then get a compatible slide for flowers. Also consider adding an ash-catcher to add some diffusion and volume for when smoking dry product.
It’s important to consider how durable your pipe will be. Make sure you choose an American-made pipe made with borosilicate glass (also known as Pyrex). Any pipes that were mass-produced in China, Indonesia or similar origins were probably not annealed properly and were made in a hurry by inexperienced and over-worked entry-level laborers (many of them children). These are often made of low-grade glass riddled with potentially toxic impurities. Some manufacturers will even produce pipes out of some other type of glass that can have very serious health consequences when used for smoking. Bulk glass sourced from China is known to have many of these impurities. The best rule of thumb is to avoid buying glass from cheap corner stores, gas stations, bodegas, and shops of that nature as they almost always exclusively sell cheap Chinese glass. Another good rule of thumb is to consider the price; if it’s dirt cheap, it’s probably too good to be true.
When browsing, also be sure to look for thick glass, especially around joints and narrow tubing. The thicker the glass, the more likely the pipe will withstand being knocked over, dropped, or otherwise jostled around. A cheaper pipe made with thin glass might crack from simply being set down on a hard surface such as a granite countertop or even a wood coffee table. Also check for any hairline cracks before making your purchase.
CupboardGlassPipes is proud to carry quality, American-made glass that has been inspected for any cracks or other flaws.
Of course, not every pipe is going to be crafted with toughness in mind, especially pipes that were made to be artistic. It’s all about finding a good balance and getting what’s best for you.
Another thing to consider is where you’re going to be using the piece. Do you want something you can easily bring on vacation, on camping trips, or to your buddy’s house on weekends? Or do you simply need something that can easily be passed around a circle without being too fragile or otherwise hard to handle? If portability doesn’t matter much to you than you would probably be just fine with a bulky table-top piece; perhaps a large triple-percolator straight tube, or an intricate art pipe to use as your living room centerpiece. But if you’re looking for a traveller’s pipe, consider sacrificing a little bit of size, functionality, and aesthetic value for something a little more compact and durable. You want to avoid pipes that have a lot of fragile glass sections that protrude outward.
For safe and easy transport you can also consider getting a foam-padded case such as a Pelican or Turtle case for your pipe. In fact, with the proper foam-padded case, you can safely transport just about any piece no matter how fragile.
Scientific vs. Artistic
Finally, the last notable factor to consider that we will discuss now is artistic value. For most smokers, getting the most bang for your buck is the primary concern. If you want something that does exactly what you want it to do, nothing more and nothing less, then a scientific glass pipe is what you’re looking for. Scientific glass refers to pipes that prioritize function over form. They are usually made with mostly clear
glass, and often take a simple utilitarian approach to achieving superb functionality. Don’t expect these pipes to be rare or unique – pipes of the same design are often hand-made in large quantities by the artist. However, these pipes are going to be much more affordable and are known as production line pipes.
On the other end of the spectrum is what’s known as heady glass. This refers to glass pipes that were created as a functional work of fine art. These pieces are one-of-a-kind, and often prioritize the aesthetic element over pure utilitarian functionality. Heady glass pipes are often made with colored glass and advanced lamp-working techniques like fuming, implosions, line-working, copper electroforming, and bubble trap, just to name a few. A single art pipe may take a Master glass artist hours or even days of work to complete. It requires meticulous attention to detail, unwavering patience, long hours around a torch, kiln, and other hot equipment, and years of experience; but the results are intricate, stunningly beautiful, and utterly unique.
In recent years, the glass art pipe scene has exploded, with many glass artists gaining a loyal following through glass blowing competitions, demonstrations, and through social media. If you find an artist on Instagram who has thousands of Instagram followers, chances are their works are going to be very sought-after. High demand means a high price, so these pipes are generally reserved for serious collectors. Many of them end up in galleries such as the Corning Museum of Glass. Sometimes these pipes end up in the hands of folks who don’t even smoke but merely appreciate the art form and relate to the counterculture. Many of these pieces will retain their value as collector’s items, and for certain artists, the pipe may even increase in value over the years or occasionally, very rapidly. If it’s any testament to their value retention, high-end art pipes have even become a means of money laundering among dispensaries and other legal marijuana businesses.
For many functional glass art collectors, the pursuit of heady glass can be much more of an artistic or even spiritual experience. This means connecting with the art. It means falling in love with the processes used to create a piece, as well as falling in love with the process of using your piece. And most of all, it means connecting with the culture. Artistic glass is much more of a social movement than just a product on a shelf. Buying hand-blown made-in-the-USA art fosters a deep connection to an immediate community and also an enormous network of artists trying to evolve, teach, contribute, and spread the love.
Whether you’re just getting started on your glass journey, or you’re looking to upgrade your every-day-driver, or simply looking for something new and refreshing – we hope that you find something that’s perfect for your specific needs and lifestyle at The Cupboard and CupboardGlassPipes.com.