A Brief History of Dabbing
In a 2011 episode of the popular Trailer Park Boys television series, a member of the comedy group is remarking on how he is in the middle of cleaning their trailer, which is quickly subverted by a camera sweep of the littered floor. During this sweep, we see another member inhaling fumes off of a stove-heated knife. Though not explained, we are to assume that this member was involved in a crude form of dabbing, called “hot knifing”. Hot knifing is pretty much what it sounds like: heating a knife and putting concentrate wax on it. Given the “rustic” tone of The Trailer Park Boys series, we could take this to be reflective of how a 2011 audience would view the dabbing community: a bunch of lower class bums. And to be fair, would YOU respect someone smoking off of a butter knife? The same certainly can’t be said of a 2016 dabber, who has put away his mother’s cutlery and moved on to artisanal glass water pipes produced by veteran glassblowers. In short: dabbing has gone places.
Herbal concentrates were around before the tools used to smoke them. Anyone who uses herbs wants to maximize potency and lifespan, which is why every culture has developed concentrates of their local herbs. East Asia was the first region to be associated with plant extracts, which then spread to India, Nepal, The Himalayas, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Morocco as far back as 100 A.D. Their methods were a lot more hands on: these extracts would often be created by using silk screens or by rubbing the flowers until they are left with a powdery substance. Modern chemists have pushed the basic idea of concentrates forward by placing dry plants in metal pipes and heating them with butane in order to extract active ingredients, such as the nicotine in tobacco. Rather than a powdery substance, the product of this effort should be a sticky translucent amber wax. If someone offers you a dark green/black goo and calls it concentrate, politely decline.
The Rise of the Rig
Now you might think, “That wax looks tasty, can’t wait to put it in my favorite spoon pipe.”And one could do that, if you like wasting money. You see, just as it takes butane to fully extract the potency of an herb before it has become concentrate, it takes butane to fully extract the potency of a concentrate while smoking. Non-dab pipes can’t withstand the heat of a butane torch, and regular lighters can’t fully vaporize wax. This means that you’ll lose out on the full effect of your concentrates, clog up your bowl and dirty your pipe with burnt extract.
Earlier smokers realized the insufficiency of smoking concentrate out of conventional pipes and have sought better ways. One of the earliest methods was the aforementioned hot knife, which involves heating a knife with a stove or torch and putting a dab on it. Not only is this dangerous, it doesn’t even allow the smoker to inhale all of the produced vapor. The “swing skillet” method takes this into account by adding a downstem that can be placed over a hot knife or piece of metal. A step in the right direction, but still lacking in ease of use, cleanliness and effect.
Elements of homemade dabbing became central to professionally-made dab rigs. The conductive materials superheated in order to vaporize wax eventually became the concentrate nail. The tube placed over the heated material in order to control the vapor became a dome and carb cap. Information about the first dab rig creators is murky: glass artists such as HMK and JP Toro are credited with being the first glassmakers to make bongs specifically for smoking concentrate. Domes were the first to start appearing commercially, especially “birdhouse” domes that had built-in glass plates to put concentrates on. Dabbers then got the concentrate nail, which at first was mostly titanium. Manufacturers later produced glass, quartz and ceramic nails as well.
What Makes A Dab Rig?
Modern dab rigs are designed to provide the ease of use and comfort previously unavailable to those who dabbed. Like other glass bong water pipes, dab rigs filter smoke through water to help create a pleasant smoking experience. This is further helped by percolators and, occasionally, ice-catchers. Most dab rigs have joints at a 90 degree angle so the smoker can comfortably use the butane torch and place the dab while holding the pipe. No more will dabbers risk their hands just to smoke a sweet dab. Another simplifying innovation is the electronic nail (more commonly referred to as an e-nail), which combines the concentrate nail with the butane torch. Just set it to the required temperature and put wax on it. In time, the e-nail will most likely be a standard tool for all dabbers.
With the popularity of concentrate vaporizers, it seems natural that the smoking community would increasingly embrace dab rigs. Concentrate generally offers a more relaxed smoking experience with more potency. And with concentrate-creating technology moving forward at an exponential rate, it will also be increasingly affordable. With all this in mind, it looks like dabbing is here to stay.