Beginner's Guide to Bongs
Bongs have been around in various forms for thousands of years, but that doesn’t mean that every smoker is schooled on the basics of water pipes. If you’ve been sticking to dry pipes and rolling papers and want to broaden your horizons, or if you just want to refresh your A-B(ong)-Cs, here are the fundamental facts you need to know when looking into buying a new water pipe.
What are the Parts of a Bong?
To see how bongs are made, click here.
Regular bongs are usually more simple than dab rigs, with a base that holds water, a bowl that holds tobacco and dry herb, a downstem that connects the two, and a mouthpiece to inhale from. The benefits of a bong over a hand pipe lies not just in its size but also in its filtration ability, which is similar to a bubbler’s while also adding additional volume for the smoke to fill. The water that sits in the bong’s chamber works to help remove some impurities in the smoke and often results in a cleaner, tastier hit than what a spoon can provide.
The Bong's Smoking Process
On a basic level, the smoke begins to form in the bowl once it’s heated, travels down the downstem into the filtering water at the base, collects in the body of the bong, and is then pulled up and out through the neck and mouthpiece. Both fixed and removable downstems are available, but the latter are more popular because they are easy to clean with some 91% isopropyl alcohol and rough-grained kosher or Epsom salt.
Common Bong Designs
Bong designs usually have to do with the water chambers which come in a number of different designs, but most fit into one of three basic categories: beaker bongs, which have wide bottoms that taper back towards the neck; straight tube bongs, which maintain the same cylindrical shape throughout the piece; and mini bongs, which can come in a number of designs usually under 8” tall.
Here are some examples of each design.
Straight Tube: Nucleus 15” Honeycomb Perc Straight Tube Bong
What are Bongs Made of?
Bong makers have long been ambitious with materials, using everything from acrylic to silicone to make water chambers. Scientific, borosilicate glass has emerged as the gold standard for bong bodies, although these pieces tend to be on the pricier side. Acrylic bongs are avoided by most smokers because they have been identified as leeching materials into the water and smoke. Silicone bongs are a solid new option for the clumsier smoker, offering a taste-free alternative to acrylic that won’t break on impact (in fact, plenty of silicone bongs even come with suction cups on the bottom to avoid tipping). Ceramic bongs are also available, and although they’re certainly less popular than glass or silicone ones they’re also generally more affordable than either of those materials.
The same material logic goes for bowls and downstems as does for the body of the bong. While metal (usually titanium) pieces are available, glass bowls and downstems are more well-regarded.
What Additional Features Can Bongs Have?
The most popular feature for bongs, especially straight tubes, is an ice catcher. An ice catcher is a set of notches put into the neck of a bong to hold ice cubes that cool down the smoke before it gets inhaled. Cooling the smoke is one of the most crucial parts of maintaining a well-balanced bong experience. This can also be done with a glycerin coil.
Other options include percolators, which are booming in popularity. These include a variety of filters—disc, honeycomb, tree, showerhead, and so forth—that work to break down the smoke, cooling it in the process and creating drag that allows the bong to fill with more smoke than it would otherwise. Many bongs now come with these as built-in features, but there are also ashcatchers available to connect between the downstem and the bowl of your new piece in case you want a simple-bodied bong to transform into a next-level smoking setup with little cost or effort.
When it comes down to it, the most rewarding benefit of bongs is their customizability. Since the majority of joint sizes are standardized to 14mm and 18mm, as long as you find pieces with matching sizes you can essentially build your water pipe out to whatever specifications you want—that is, until, the whole thing begins to fall over under its own weight. That’s when you might want to consider a taller bong or at least one with internal percolators.