Bong, water pipe, bing, binger, billy, moof… It goes by many names. And while it is one of several paraphernalia used to wring out some THC or CBD; it is sort of a coming-of-age totem for the cannabis newbie crowd and a reliable must-have for connoisseurs.
That said, water pipes vary a ton and the best bongs may be different devices to different people (for different reasons). Which is where this extensive guide comes in. It is a holistic attempt to give everyone—regardless of expertise and primarily for those looking to make an informed buying decision—an in-depth rundown of the most important things to know about bongs.
Clearly, it is only proper that you at least have ground knowledge—types, parts, benefits, how they compare to alternatives, usage tips, and more—before making a substantial investment into what may well become a cherished companion in your herbal pursuits; or a thoughtful gift for your fave stoner pal.
And when you’re done, you’d want to check out our select picks of the best bongs currently available.
Understanding the Basic Structure and Functionality of a Bong
In its most basic form, the water bong is a simple device. It cools and filters the heated marijuana (tobacco or other herb products) smoke through water for a smooth, cool, enjoyable hit. Passing the smoke through the water allows for the filtration of water-soluble molecules and heavy residue particulates.
Although a good percentage of water pipes (especially enthusiast-level bongs) have a slightly more complex process, the gaseous diffusion through water is the bedrock regardless of the complexity. In fact, these more sophisticated bongs build on the gains to make the “milk” cleaner, smoother, and cooler.
By nature, bings are very easy to use and maintenance is a cinch.
Bongs have a lot in common with hookahs. They have similar construction and function (water filters the smoke for smooth, cool milk). However, compared to hookahs bongs do not have hoses and are smaller.
Major parts of a water pipe
Bongs have about a dozen different parts, but only a handful of them are critical to their core functionality.
- Bowl or Slide(r)
The bowl holds whatever you’re smoking. It is a bulbous attachment of sorts and is often removable. It earns its ‘slide’ or ‘slider’ name from the ability of some bowls to slide out from the downstream just before a draw (inhalation).
Sliders typically double as bowl and downstem and have to be removed to create an opening through which you’d clear the bong of smoke.
In general, there are three major sizes of bowls: 9mm, 14mm, or 19mm. Measurement is the outside diameter of the base (where the bowl fits the bong’s female joint).
- Downstem or Diffuser
A traditional downstem is a small, diagonal tube that directs the smoke from the bowl to the water. This downstem may be non-removable or removable. Typically, a removable downstem is attached to the bowl; and the hybrid part is called a slider.
A downstem may be a simple tube or have a notch (or multiple notches) at the bottom. Downstems with one or more notches (holes/slits) are referred to as diffused downstems or diffusers. A diffused downstem helps for better aeration for a thicker, smoother, and cooler hit.
Regardless of downstem type, the water level should always be higher than the basal end of the downstem (as illustrated in the image).
- Water chamber
Located at the base of a bong is the water chamber, which as its name implies, holds water. The water percolates the smoke funneled into it by the [slider] downstem.
- Tube or Chamber
Smoke filtered in the water chamber ascends into the vertical tube. In general, the tube is long and straight. However, some bongs may have tubes outfitted with elaborate chambers or other parts (say an ice pinch) for improved functionality and aesthetics.
The mouthpiece is essentially the top end of the tube where you place your mouth.
History of the Bong
Historians and aficionados contest the origin and evolution of bongs. This is because there is very little evidence to back a theory that’d be widely accepted. The variations in recreational, ceremonial, and medicinal smoking across ancient societies complicate things further. Recent discoveries have punched holes in earlier theories, and there’s an understanding that new discoveries in the future would have a similar effect.
Regardless, there is incontrovertible evidence that several cultures strewn across different continents have used bongs (or at least one of its crude forms) over centuries. The oldest known use of bongs was by Scythian tribal chiefs. They used solid gold bongs, some of which were unearthed in Russia a while back. These excavated bongs were 2400 years old.
Another chronologically important discovery was of earth bongs found in an Ethiopian cave that dated back to between the 11th and 14th century. Later use of bongs was documented (first written records of bong usage) in 16th century China. Although water pipes gained prominence during the Ming Dynasty, they became the device of choice for smoking during the Qing Dynasty.
So much that there were two main types of water pipes—the standard homemade bongs made of bamboo used by the commoners and metal bongs used by the elite. As time progressed, as the metal version began to seep into the urban areas and merchant class; nobility used even more elegant bongs made of silver and decorated with jewels.
A noteworthy account is of the Empress Dowager Cixi who was buried with at least three of her prized bongs. Clearly, the artistic element of bong making isn’t a uniquely modern phenomenon.
The standard bamboo bongs were also popular outside China, eventually having an extended reach throughout Central Asia. The Thai name—“baung” is the root word for the adapted ‘bong’ now widely used. As tobacco became a cash crop in Asia, the bong industry flourished in commerce majorly through the Silk Road for centuries.
It also flourished in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, eventually getting to America. These Victorian bongs were often made of ceramic. Later on, the glassblowing arts movement of the late 1970’s led to the popularity of the modern glass water pipes. Currently, bongs are made of different materials and in widely varying styles.
Types of Bongs
When considered historically and over different civilizations, materials used in the manufacture of bongs varied wildly—wood, bamboo, earth, and precious metals. In specific timelines however, the materials of choice were often limited, say gold for the Scythians or bamboo & silver in China.
Today, thanks to our more sophisticated manufacturing capability, bong makers (and by extension, buyers) are spoiled for choice, as a wider swathe of materials is available. Each has its pluses and negatives and we’d go over them singly.
Although Phoenicians laid the foundation of glassblowing in the 1st century, it wasn’t until the 70’s that Bob Snodgrass helped kick start what turned out to be a glass pipe revolution. This groundbreaking revolution helped morph glass into the preferred material of choice for the vast majority of contemporary bong users.
Glass bongs are the crème de la crème of water pipes. And they are overwhelmingly represented in the high-end bong market.
What’s so special about glass?
- Tolerates repeated exposure to extreme heat and moisture. This is a given for any material used in making bongs. But glass takes it to a whole new level as it doesn’t balk—crack, bend, split, or warp—when put under the stress of these conditions. It also holds its own over time as well.
- Chemically inert. If you are a fan of a pure, clean hit, then glass bongs are a perfect choice. They don’t alter the herb’s flavor, unlike some alternatives (bamboo, metal…).
- Maintenance is a cinch. The transparent nature of glass enables easy monitoring of resin buildup and thorough cleanup. Together, all three plus points help guarantee longevity (if well cared for).
- Fragile. Glass bongs perform exceptionally, but they’re as fragile as eggs; which is doubly concerning when you consider their relatively higher retail prices. Bong makers try to make glass water pipes shatterproof by increasing the thickness.
It helps, but it isn’t a magic fix. Any glass binger will break if the impact is strong enough; as such you’d have to treat them with extra care.
To buy or not to buy
Yes, glass bongs are delicate; but so too are contemporary smartphones with sandwiched glass designs. Doesn’t mean they aren’t worth getting. Glass pipes are as aesthetically pleasing as they are functional.
And with most made from high-end, lab-quality borosilicate glass (yea, preferably go for glass bongs made from this type of glass—scientific glass); it is immediately apparent why they are very popular. The prices they tout may halt some in their tracks; but be rest-assured that they’re well worth it.
Plastic or Acrylic
Acrylic bongs have many things going for them. Like glass bongs, they are often transparent (helpful in checking buildup), available in different colors. However, compared to glass bings, they’re sturdier and considerably less expensive.
For all their pros, they have a number of significant cons that rain on their parade and impede them from becoming more popular than they are currently.
- Durable. If you were to inadvertently drop your plastic bong from a height, you’d only have to deal with spilled water; unlike the tiny broken glass fragments that’d greet you if it were a glass bong.
- Cheap. Plastic bongs cost only a fraction of glass bongs. As such it is perfect for those on a budget.
- Isn’t sufficiently heat-tolerant. Gravity is to glass water pipes what heat is to acrylic water bongs. Sometimes, you may unfortunately apply excessive heat to the plastic, which will scorch, melt, or warp the plastic.
- Flavor altering. By itself, the food-grade plastic used in an acrylic bong doesn’t leach into the smoke. However, because of the shabby heat resistance of plastic, it is necessary to use metal bowls, which typically alters the flavor (giving it a taste described as “metallic” or “harsh”).
- Flavor memory. Plastic bongs are a chore to clean. Sure, they are transparent and you can monitor resin buildup, but getting them squeaky clean is easier said than done.
Furthermore, they don’t age well. So expect them to retain traces of the flavors of materials that had passed through over time—residue from past use, stale water, substance used to clean the bong, and in select cases, the plastic itself leaching.
In comparison, a thorough wash of a glass bong would in effect make it brand new. Hits will be as untainted as ever.
- Regular replacements is in the cards. The three cons above often ruin the lifespan of acrylic bongs. They may not get damaged soon enough, but performance will take a dip. Thankfully, they are inexpensive, and you can replace them as often as you want.
- Customization is limited. Plastic bongs are often basic and don’t have complex patterns, styles, and additional parts.
To buy or not to buy
The negatives may seem overbearing. However, they aren’t necessary deal breakers. Plastic water pipes are meant to be inexpensive, and that inevitably comes with its own baggage. They are great as starter bongs or as first time purchases and are perfect for traveling, (folks who need bongs that they can slug around at will without worrying a ton about durability).
That said, you should endeavor to buy plastic moofs that are PVC-free and use food-grade plastic. Food grade plastic is better resistant to heat and leaching.
Wood is perhaps the oldest known material on this list used to make bongs. It has its eccentric appeal—mainly its much appreciated flavor leaching and durability. With that out of the way, there isn’t exactly a favored type of wood as is the case with glass (borosilicate glass) or plastic (food-grade plastic).
In general, any of the hardwoods—maple, rosewood, walnut, oak, et cetera—are good choices. Softwood bongs are known for their cool look, but they don’t measure up quite well in long-term performance (they get soggy with regular use) and aren’t exactly great at tolerating heat.
Besides hardwoods, bamboo is a common feature among wooden bongs. It does have a niche following, especially in regions where it is cheap and plentiful. Technically, it isn’t actually wood, as it classified as a grass. Still, bamboo bongs, also called BooTubes, are about as durable as any hardwood bong and can be touched up with aesthetic embellishments.
Wooden bongs are adequately resistant to heat and moisture to last a while, especially when properly cared for.
Bootubes in particular characteristically weigh less than hardwood bongs and may have a metal or glass bowl. Bamboo bongs are also well receptive to the use of metal, paint, or varnish in their design to liven their appearance.
Leaching can be a worry for a substantial section of smokers, but there’s a crowd that absolutely relishes the mild leaching of wooden flavors. In which case, this isn’t exactly a negative, but subject to individual tastes.
In general, a bootube would leach less than a hardwood bong: However, the mixed flavors are distinct.
To buy or not to buy
Today, wooden (and bamboo) bongs are generally used by smokers who fancy or don’t mind the unique flavor mix. That’s perhaps the most important quality to check out, as its structure is hardly ever a concern. In any case, verify that the wood bong you’re interested in is watertight and doesn’t have cracks or splits before purchase.
If you get an excellent specimen and your taste aligns with its production, a wooden bong makes for an exciting and satisfactory buy.
In general, metal bongs are head-turners, are not fragile like glass, and sit somewhere between glass bongs and plastic bongs on the price spectrum. For the most part, it paints the allure of being a step-up from going for a cheap acrylic bong but not quite at the premium level of glass water pipes.
- Sturdy. Metal is sturdier than glass and plastic, and so the last thing you’d worry about as a metallic bong owner is its lifespan.
- Affordable. Metal bongs are in the same price range as plastic bongs, and so offer considerable savings compared to glass bongs.
- Metallic taste. Leaching is a given with metal bongs. The hits from metal bongs have a harsh, metallic taste that some find off-putting.
- Heat conduction. Metal are excellent conductors of heat. It’s a great quality for the bowl, but if you inadvertently heat the bong’s body, you’d rue your mistake as it’d make the bong uncomfortably hot to touch. This can be a fairly common source of inconvenience (at least until you get used to it).
- Maintenance can be a chore. On one hand, you’d find it difficult to tell when cleanup is due; and on the other hand, you’d find a thorough cleanup to be dicey as you can’t monitor progress.
To buy or not to buy
Metal bongs may not be as popular as glass and plastic bongs, but there’s a compelling case to be made for them. They look stylish, are sturdy and so would last a long time, and are relatively inexpensive (for those not looking to splurge on a water pipe just yet).
Granted, the metallic taste is a downer, but it’s a small price to pay; and many don’t mind. Plus, they are a decent alternative to plastic bongs for those who want bongs they can take about. With that out of the way, make certain that you go for high quality metal bongs made from stainless steel or aluminum.
Ceramic is by nature a heavy material. Add that to its famed fragility; and ceramic bongs are just as delicate as glass bongs, but even more wieldy. They are less expensive than glass bongs though, so there’s that.
However, because clay is easy to work with, ceramic bong makers are able to let their creativity run wild when crafting pieces. This is why ceramic bongs are as much a work of art as they are smoking devices. You’d find them in different shapes, colors, styles, and sizes (although they’re typically smaller than glass bongs to keep weight within usable limits).
- Aesthetics is pleasing. Iconic ceramic bongs are prized possessions. You could ogle at them all day, and the best part is that there isn’t any compromise in performance.
- Hit is excellent. Ceramic bongs aren’t quite as inert as glass bongs, but they are as close as any alternative material. Many actually find the trace leaching to be amazing.
However, because ceramic isn’t great for heat conduction, the bowl is typically made of metal. Which unsurprisingly makes the smoke taste a tad metallic. In theory, while the smoke is a mixed bag (hint of metallic and ceramic leaching), feedback on the hit quality of ceramic bongs is generally positive.
- Relatively inexpensive. Ceramic bongs are cheaper than glass water pipes. But are more expensive than plastic bingers because of the effort and skill that goes into making them, especially if you are getting an unorthodox design.
- Heavy and fragile. This disconcerting combination limits usage. You aren’t going to be traveling with a ceramic bong often; and it wouldn’t likely be your daily smoker either. If you don’t smoke regularly, are in the market for another bong (to add to your existing collection), or more concerned about artistic value; then the added weight and fragility wouldn’t be dealbreakers.
Furthermore, ceramic bongs aren’t transparent, and so it can be hard to track resin buildup. Also, their chambers can be difficult to clean.
To buy or not to buy
A ceramic bong may not be an obvious choice for bong buyers looking to make their first purchase, but it does have its place in the market. They do require extra care during use, when storing, and in the maintenance department; but you’d get outstanding performance out of them that’s second only to glass bongs.
Before buying a ceramic water pipe, endeavor to inspect it carefully for cracks (and confirm that it isn’t overly porous).
Straight-tube or simply tube bongs have the most basic bong design. It is practically a tube closed at the basal end, which doubles as the water chamber; and an open end, which serves as the mouthpiece. The bowl + downstem assembly sticks out of the side.
Using it is just as simple and efficient. Pour some water in the tube, place your herb in the bowl, light it up, and there you go.
Beaker bongs look a lot like beakers used by chemists in labs, hence the name. A beaker-shaped bong is essentially a tube bong with a flared, larger base, which improves stability. Aside the cone shaped base, tube and beaker bongs are the same in features and usage.
Go with a beaker-shaped over a straight tube bong for the extra piece of mind that a fit of mindless clumsiness wouldn’t be the end of it.
A round-base bong is a tube bong with a spherical water chamber and a flat base. The difference between a beaker bong and a round bong is that while beaker bongs have a cone-shaped water chamber that by nature has a level base for better stability, a round-base bong has a round water chamber with the base made flat for stability reasons.
Besides that, there isn’t any other difference. In terms of stability, beaker bongs are ranked highest of the three, as the flat surface area is larger; round bongs are next; and tube bongs have the least stability. The basic mechanics of using straight-tube, beaker-shaped, and round-base bongs are the same.
Any bong with a percolator is a percolator or bubbler bong. It could be a tube, beaker, or round bong; or it could have a more complex style. The function of a percolator is to disperse or dissipate smoke through tiny slits before it is aerated through water. This leads to even better filtration and cooling.
During the percolation process, the dissipated smoke creates bubbles in the water—the bubbling effect, which is the reason for its alternate name (bubbler bong).
Percolators have varying number of holes and the size of slits differ as well. Percs with more holes and smaller slits provide the smoothest inhalation (as they enable better diffusion). However, the downside is that drag increases (harder pull) when milking, which is an acceptable tradeoff.
Furthermore, perc bongs may have one or more percolators and may be located:
- at the basal (bottom) end of the bong—single chamber percolator bong;
- in a different chamber—multi-chamber percolator bong;
- in both the basal end and a different chamber—multi-chamber, multi percolator bong
Percolator Bong vs Bubbler Pipe
It is important to note that while the terms ‘percolator bong’ and ‘bubbler bong’ are synonyms, there is a distinct smoking device called a bubbler or bubbler pipe with a different structure. It is understandably easy to confuse them, but here’s the major difference between both:
- A percolator or bubbler bong is a standard bong with a percolator.
- A bubbler or bubbler pipe is a miniaturized, handheld cross between a bong and a pipe.
Gravity bongs work on a basic principle—when water leaves an enclosed space, it creates a vacuum in the vacated space that generates sufficient pressure to pull in smoke. It is ingenious and isn’t exactly a water pipe in the full sense of the word, as there is little, if any, aeration of the smoke in water.
However, gravity bongs are able to provide more smoke with less bud compared to water pipes, since by design they limit smoke from escaping freely.
There are two types of gravity bongs:
- Bucket gravity bong
A simplistic version of a bucket bong involves using a plastic bottle cut at the bottom and a water-filled bucket. With the bottle partly submerged, the ganja in the makeshift bowl is lit, and the bottle is slowly pulled up.
Smoke collects in the vacuum left by the water, which you can then inhale after removing the bottle cap that doubles as the bowl/stem assembly.
- Waterfall gravity bong
A waterfall gravity bong is relatively simpler. The basic version involves using only a plastic bottle. The bottle would have a hole made at the bottom while the top end will be like that of a bucket gravity bong (in that the bottle cap doubles as a bowl/stem assembly).
Rather than have a bucket of water, the bottle is partially filled with water (with a finger or tape over the bottom hole of course). The marijuana in the bowl is lit and the bottom hole is opened to let the water out, mimicking a waterfall (where it gets its name).
As the water pours out, it creates sufficient pressure to pull smoke into the vacated space. The water is allowed to pour out completely before the bottom hole is plugged (with a finger or tape). Afterwards, the cap is removed to inhale the smoke.
Compared to the bucket gravity bong, a waterfall gravity bong is more convenient (at least in its crudest form). For instance, you could tape the bottom hole shut and replace the burrowed cap with a bowl/stem assembly with a normal bottle cap to seal the smoke in for later use.
Gravity bongs versus traditional bongs
- The milk from gravity bongs is not as smooth as that from traditional bongs, as it is not well aerated.
- For this reason, it is important to try out a homemade take before dropping serious coin on a commercial model.
- If you do like the hit from your home-built gravity bong and intend to use it regularly; there’s no escaping the fact that you’d have to buy a professionally built plastic or glass model. Commercial gravity sets look better and last longer than their DIY analogs.
Multi-chamber bongs, as the name suggests, are usually straight bongs (some may be round-based) with at least two chambers connected by two tubes or paths—an up path/intake tube and a down path/drain tube (some complex multi chamber bongs have more than two tubes).
They are called recyclers because water and smoke constantly move from one chamber to another in a cycle for smoother (more filtered) and cooler hits.
Recycle bongs may be used for smoking both flowers and concentrates. However, they are far more popular within the concentrate space for eccentric reasons—mainly to maximize water to glass contact (permitting longer contact between smoke and water) and minimize vapor to glass contact (which causes re-condensation that is more of a concern for concentrate smokers).
There are three main types of recycler bongs:
- External recyclers, the standard variant;
- Internal recyclers or incyclers;
- Klein recyclers, a hybrid of an external recycler and an incycler
In general, multi-chamber bongs are more complex, more difficult to build, and so are more expensive. Accordingly, cleaning is also harder.
In the previous section, we had a concise overview of percolator bongs. With that out of the way, the popularity of percolator bongs makes it noteworthy to discuss the different types/styles of percolators. The list is by no means exhaustive, but enumerates the commonest types.
Diffuser/Diffused Downstem/Straight. This is the simplest type of perc. It is essentially the downstem with slits bored at its base to make it double as a percolator. The slits typically number between three and six, but some diffusers have complex mini-percs at their ends.
Dome. It is a dome-like enclosure with its slits or holes placed at the bottom. A sub-type of dome percs is a barrel percolator. Barrels have smaller enclosures or chambers but have more slits.
Drum. Shaped like a drum, a drum perc generally has many slits for excellent diffusion.
Fritted Disc. Fritted disc percs offer by far the most percolation. They have microscopic holes that provide an astonishing number of bubbles for exceptional filtration and cooling. The drawbacks are that they have harder draw (drag) and need to be cleaned often (as the minuscule pores clog easily).
Helix/Coil/Spiral. It is a tube in the shape of a spiral. When two tubes are used together in an intertwining style, the setup is called a double helix perc.
Honeycomb. It is disc-shaped and like a drum perc has many holes. However, its slits are tiny for producing small bubbles.
Inline. It is a horizontal tube with holes cut across its length. When an inline perc branches straight off the joint, it is called a stemline percolator.
Matrix. A matrix perc is a puck-like construct with lots of tiny holes arranged in a matrix-like order. A stack of two matrix percs is called a stereo matrix or birdcage perc.
Ratchet. It is a disc perc but with its holes lining the disc’s perimeter. Like most disc percs, they are stackable.
Reti. It consists of two tubes of unequal diameters. The smaller tube sits inside the larger tube, with both having opposite diagonal slits.
Showerhead/Tire. It is a vertical tube with a flared out (widened) base where the slits are placed; much like a bathroom showerhead. However, there are horizontal variants with the slits positioned along the sides.
Sprinkler. It looks and functions like the sprinkler on your lawn. It shoots water and produces lots of bubbles while doing so.
Swiss. A swiss perc bares a close resemblance to Swiss cheese. It is a vertical perc with a different makeup to most percs. Rather than have smoke go through its holes; it goes around them. The holes are also uncharacteristically (though intentionally) large.
A perc with similar makeup but is way simpler is the donut perc. It is circular and has only one large hole.
Tree. Tree percs are among the oldest types of percs and is often the perc people think of when a perc reference is made. The basic structure of a tree perc comprises a central tube—the stem (analogous to the trunk of a tree), which opens up at its top end into smaller tubes—the arms (analogous to tree branches).
The arms of a tree perc descend into the water and have at least two slits on its side. The basal end of an arm (the end in the water) may be open or closed. Tree percs may have between 4 and 64 arms. Thus, trees may tout anywhere between a few tens to over a hundred holes, which allows for thorough percolation and filtration.
When in operation, smoke ascends through the stem and travels down the arms (a lot like capillary action in plants) where they escape through the arms’ slits into the water.
Turbine/Cyclone. A turbine perc is a disc perc with angled slits that creates an alluring visual effect that’s like a tornado or cyclone. Since they have low height like honeycomb and matrix percs, they are stackable.
A cyclone percs is also pretty effective as a splash guard, as the cyclone effect throws water along the edges rather than through the middle. Its splashguard functionality is enhanced when the walls above the perc meet a ceiling where tube narrows.
UFO. A UFO perc is a showerhead perc variant with bulging spheres in the middle that give it an appearance of a flying saucer parking inside your bong. However, it has more slits than a standard showerhead percolator.
Making a decision
Basic water pipes diffuse smoke through water. For every percolator added to a water pipe assembly, aeration happens again. Therefore, if you have one percolator, percolation occurs twice. And bongs with multiple percolators (of the same or different types) aerate smoke multiple times.
Theoretically, every added perc makes the hit cooler; however, the effect each percolator contributes diminishes as the numbers rise. In other words, a third percolator will not have as much a cooling effect as the first of similar percolation power.
Still, there is no such thing as excessive percolation. That can only occur when the surface area of the bubbles produced are equal or greater than the surface area of the smoke. Instead, the opposite is true with every perc on the market.
Consequently, manufacturers are restricted by size, weight, artistry, and price when adding percs to bongs. Percolation power and drag aren’t as high up as you’d think.
Nonetheless, the last two properties should be important to you. Not all percs are equal, and some are better aerators than others are. However, visual appeal (aesthetics) is just as, if not more important to many water pipe buffs. Drag—relating to how hard you have to draw to get hits—is also a given with percolators. The rule of thumb is that percs with more and/or smaller holes are associated with increased drag.
With all of that said, a simple majority of contemporary smokers prefer the smoother, velvety hits of percolator bongs, and understand their higher price tags & harder draws. Whether you fall into this crowd would depend on your taste preference and budget (although, you can always start with a standard bong that has a diffused downstem).
Additional Bong Features to Note
Besides the basic parts and percolators, bongs may also have one, a few, or all of the useful features discussed below.
Carburetor/Carb/Kick Hole/Hole/Shotty/Choke/Rush. As you’d rightly guess, this part goes by many different names. A carb hole is an opening that controls the flow of air into a bong. It may be located just above the water chamber or higher up the tube close to the mouthpiece.
The carburetor is covered when the bowl is being lit, and is let open at or soon after the user starts inhaling smoke. The fresh air that enters the bong through the uncovered shotgun hole serves two purposes:
- to increase pressure, thereby forcing the smoke into your lungs (making the hit feel more intense)
- to clear the last bit of smoke so it doesn’t taste stale
Kick holes closer to the water chamber provide both functions effectively, while those closer to the mouthpiece are more effective at doing the second function. Chokes just above the water chamber may be of two types:
- a pull carb, a hole you have to cover with a finger; or
- a slide, when the downstem is removable such that the hole doubles as an inlet to receive (slide in) the downstem before lighting the bowl and as a carb when the downstem is removed to let fresh air in
Some water pipes have both types—‘cos why the hell not?
Splash guard. The job of a splashguard is simple: Let the smoke through, but stop the water from reaching the lips of the user. It typically sits between the percolators and ice notches (if present).
A dome splash guard sitting between an ice catcher (above) and a tree perc (below)
The commonest type of splash guard is a dome splash guard. It has is a dome-like structure with slits where smoke escapes. There are several other types including disc, maria, horned, curved/bent, custom concepts, et cetera. Heck, ice notches sometimes serve as a makeshift splash guard.
Ice notch/Ice catcher/Ice pinch. Ice pinches are ridges in the tube (near the mouthpiece) that function as an extra layer of cooling before you inhale. As the name implies, ice catchers catch (hold) ice cubes. As amazing as it sounds, an ice catcher is only a necessary feature to look out for if you are a fan of chilly smoke. Some prefer the hit to be a bit warmer or less cold.
Ash catcher/Precooler. The ash catcher (when present) is the first layer of filtration as it is positioned just below the bowl to trap the majority of ash before the smoke enters the water chamber. Thus, they are vital to extending use time (how long you can use the bong) before a comprehensive clean is necessary.
Ashcatchers vary complexity. Some use water while others don’t. Some ashcatchers using water have built in splash guards to prevent spillbacks. Then ash catchers come in various styles and joint angles.
Ashcatchers that work with water and have percolators (note that dry ash catchers may also have percs) are sometimes called precoolers because they also filter the smoke (thanks to the percs) in addition to trapping ash. This is much like the standard water chamber, thereby making the smoke cooler than it’d have been even before entering the water chamber for follow-up (actually the main) aeration.
Precoolers may also be recyclers, additional percs, or both.
Ashcatcher with Showerhead Perc
A carbon filter may not be as popular as an ash catcher, but it is a viable alternative that is able to filter out carcinogens and toxins to make the smoke healthier, smoother, and less odorous. The biggest drawback with activated carbon filters is the inevitable clogging, unlike ash catchers that you can clean with ease.
Important Factors to Consider When Buying a Bong
Size and Usage
Unless you’re a walking encyclopedia of bongs, it’s difficult to have an accurate appreciation of the extensive spectrum of bong sizes. After deciding on your preferred material (glass, acrylic, metal, wood, or ceramic), you should take your time to figure out what bong size would be right for you.
The factors that should influence your decision include:
- Storage. Where would you keep it when not in use? Do you have to fit it in a shelf or cabinet?
- Usage pattern. How often would you use it (frequency of use)? Do you need to be able to take it with you anywhere you fancy at home? Or are you good with it couch-restricting you? Do you need it to be portable because you’d be traveling with it a lot?
- Your lung capacity. You want to be able to fill the chamber and preferably clear it in one go (to avoid binging on less than pleasurable stale smoke). A general rule of thumb is that the height of a bong directly correlates with the extent of draw needed to clear it.
Armed with requisite answers, estimate a preferred chamber size; and add a few inches (so you do not get bored with it after you get the hang of it).
With that done, get a measuring device (a ruler will do) and use it for comparison why shopping for models online. Comparing measurements directly allows you to better adjudge the sizes of models you check out to forestall the hassle of making a return.
- If you intend to buy a bong sized 12 inches or less, endeavor to get a device with a splashguard (as they are more prone to splash backs of bongwater)
- If portability isn’t a major concern, then invest in a “technical bong” with most of the bells and whistles (with high-powered percs, ash catchers…) that’d guarantee exceptional performance. Technical bongs are ultra-premium models and relatively expensive.
Earlier on, we went on about the different types of materials used in making water pipes. We especially hammered on the durability of each material. That’s because it’s a factor you can’t afford to dismiss.
If you’ve decided on a plastic, wooden, or metallic bong, you could skip to the next factor on this list. However, if you’re in the market for a glass bong (which is by far the most popular choice), then you want to note the tips below.
- Go for glass bongs made of borosilicate glass. It is better suited to the rapid temperature changes you’d subject the bong to and it has a solid hefty feel.
- Take a few seconds to confirm the glass thickness. In general, the ranges are 2-3mm for thin glass, 3-5mm for glass with average thickness, and 5-7mm for thick, hard to break glass. The recommended minimal thickness is 3.5mm: anything above it is fine.
- Confirm that the bongs have reinforced/Dewar’s/two-pronged joints.
- Preferably opt for bongs with wide, stable bases. You don’t want every slight nudge to topple your bong.
An increasingly popular material for bongs with the inertness and high temperature tolerance of glass but without the fragility is silicone, specifically food-grade silicone. It’s still the early days, so you’d be hard pressed to find models with built-in extensive percolation (or similar extra features), as is the case with glass bongs.
However, they do have standard joint sizes, angles, and genders; so they are compatible with most attachments available. They are worth checking out.
We’ve gone at length about percolators in two sections already. As such, there’s no reason to repeat already provided info. That said, there is a lot to percolators than is covered in this guide, and you’d do well to research specific styles and variants for their percolation power and draw difficulty if you’re finicky about percolation.
YouTube videos and forums like grasscity are a good place to start. The difference that percolators make in the bong smoking experience makes it necessary to at least consider its suitability for your needs before making a choice on which water pipe model to get.
Extra Features or Attachments
The additional features and assorted range of atty (short for attachment) provide improved functionality and all too often add extra oomph to a device. These features/attachments may be percolators, concentrate atty (try getting a dome/nail bong attachment if you don’t want to commit to a fully-concentrate rig or opt for a dual-function water pipe that can smoke both dry herbs and concentrates), pre coolers, ash catchers, splash guard, ice pincher, et cetera.
Note that they add to the final cost, although you may alternatively buy the main water pipe first, and stock up on attachments over time as your budget allows.
Joint size, angle, gender
If you choose the latter option, you want to make sure you go for a bong with a standard joint size, angle, and gender.
If you get a bong with non-standard sizes and angles, you’d find it difficult to get your hands on attachments that’d fit, and you’d be missing out on most high end atties making the rounds.
- Joint sizes. The vast majority of aftermarket bong attachments meet one of three standardized fittings:
- 10mm; also referred to as 9.9mm, small, or micro joint
- 14mm; also referred to as 14.4mm, 14.5mm, medium, or standard joint
- 19mm; also referred to as 18.8mm, 18mm, or large joint
However, some bongs have custom fittings.
- Joint angles. The two major variants are 45º and 90º.
- Joint genders. Either male or female.
Here’s the deal: At some point, you’re going to have to give your bong a thorough clean. How often you have to do that within a set timeframe and how much effort you have to exert during a cleanup depends on a couple of factors:
- How often you use the bong?
- How often you change the bong water?
- How often you do light washes?
- Does the bong have an ash catcher, detachable downstem, or maneuverable size?
- The complexity of the bong. More features and attachments mean more nooks and crannies to fiddle through. Not to forget that cleaning some parts (for example, some types of percs) can be very demanding.
The last two points are especially important. For instance, you can easily get carried by the visual appeal of a perc that you fail to inquire about its “cleanability.”
The price range of bongs is wide… like very wide… You can find inexpensive acrylic bongs for less than $15, all the way to collection pieces that enter six-figure territory. However, top quality mass-produced hand-made blown glass bongs sit in the low to mid hundreds, and putting down any more usually means going for a premium artsy piece.
Two major factors influence the price of a bong—the material type it is made of and design complexity. Cost may not be the first box on your checklist, but it pays to have a realistic idea of what your budget can cover because checking out different models. And unless you have an unlimited budget, it’s okay to make compromises as your knowledge of and experience with bongs expands.
- Clean thoroughly before first use.
- Remove stale water as often as possible. Stale water heavily diminishes aromatics of the herbs.
- Exercise care with your choice of liquid if you don’t want to use water.. Trust us; others have tried to be creative. And many have experimented with several different liquids.
The deal is that they most options that’d have been popular alternatives have drawbacks to their use in a bong. Carbonated sodas and sugary juices stick to the sides (considerably increasing the difficulty of cleaning a bong) and attract bugs. Alcohol and fats absorb THC, as such alcoholic beverages and dairy products are out of the question.
Decent alternatives to water are flavored sugar-free water, citric juices, and herbal teas.
Risks and Safety Tips
- Preferably buy a padded bong bag as an accessory for secure storage of your glass or ceramic bong.
- Avoid chipping the ice notches or cracking the glass by dropping ice cubes into the ice pinchers gently.
- Do not drink bong water.
- Avoid the use of toxic cleaners
- Don’t exhale. Exhaling would lead to water entering the stem and soaking your herb.
- It isn’t advisable to use hot water, as it’d make the smoking experience harsher.