How Dab Rigs are Made
There’s nothing like handblown glass to give a piece style and character, and when buying a dab rig, it’s hard not to wonder how it was made. Though their mechanics are easily understandable, dab rigs certainly look like intricate pieces of equipment. Some have recyclers, some have percolators, others are covered in intricately designed decorative glasswork. Unlike with most pipes and bongs, the visual complexity of dab rigs demonstrates the level of artistry and precision that it takes to create one. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that though the steps may read as simple, making a dab rig takes the honed skill of an expert glassblower. They certainly don’t create grav bongs from a half-cut jug in a bucket of water, and it’s clear from the amount of effort that goes into making one of these that they’re worth paying attention to as the product of a great amount of skill and craft.
How the Pros Do It
Professional glassblowers use a host of tools to create the rig, most frequently in a studio-based setting. Using a superheated hand torch propped on a stand, a long, thin glass rod is fired and hand-turned by the glassblower until it creates a coil pot, looking much like the clay pot a potter would make without a wheel. This part of the glass is developed into the dab rig’s tubing, the part that meets your mouth. Next up a separate piece of glass, also a thin tube, is used to make the base of the dab rig, or “can.” This part is fired by the glassblower until it forms a bulbous, glowing hot end. The two pieces must fit together in order to make the dab rig work correctly, so it is important that the glassblower has a strong sense of the relative size of the pieces.
These two halves are torched into one another via a glass weld to create a single rig. Once they’re connected, the blower removes the extra glass handle from the bottom of the base with a metal tool and heat, stripping it down as much as possible so that only the base of the rig remains. The glassmaker then blows into the air pipe, which is still connected to the forming rig via a long glass handle, and works to flatten the bottom of the dab rig’s base by pressing it against a hard tabletop surface. This ensures that the rig stands straight on a table and will not tip over when being used. Dab rigs with large bases are overall safer and more stable. It’s certainly an impressive transformation from a thin glass rod, to say the least! After treating this main part of the dab rig in the kiln, it is put aside to wait for the rig’s external glass features to be made.
Glass Tubing is Key
More glass tubing is used to create the rig’s recycler/diffuser and joint. The glassmaker needs to be sure to keep track of the relative thickness of the glass in order to ensure that it matches the rest of the rig. (If you can’t tell already, a scrupulous, attention-heavy nature is key to creating any—but especially this—kind of handmade glass piece.) After being double-checked for size, these pieces are glass-welded to the body of the dab rig through a hole created in the rig’s body with the torch. After being bent to the right shape, the diffuser and joint are all put in proper alignment with one another in order to create the intricate-looking maze of glass pipes that frame the body of the dab rig and allow for air to cycle through and create a cooled cloud of vapor. A “plug”—basically a glass placeholder—is used to hold the shape and size of the spot where the nail slides in so that it conforms to 14mm or 18mm standards.
Next the neck of the piece, which is at this point still attached to its glasss handle, is bent by the glassblower before the whole thing gets fired in the kiln once again. After this process is over, the glass handle is removed and the mouthpiece polished before an overnight stay in the kiln for a process called annealing. Annealing slowly cools the hot glass to ensure that the stress put on it during the dab rig’s production is removed. Done properly, this process lessens the likelihood that the dab rig will crack or shatter under heat pressure or stress, which is obviously important for a device that works only when subjected to high heat.
Practice Makes Perfect
Though the process might seem simple when written down, it takes a seasoned and well-managed hand (and studio) to safely and consistently create high-quality dab rigs and accessories. Next time you consider buying a new rig, take a second to think about all of the work that went into giving you the best dabbing experience possible and reflect on the true artistry and skill that is required to make a fully functional, complex piece with a couple of thin glass tubes and some fire.
Want to Learn More?
Glassblowing is not a new development by any means. Learn about this artform’s storied history.