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The Differences Between Dab Rigs and Bongs

| Madison Gillespie
Dab rigs and bongs are very different and can provide you with a very different experience. Here's everything you need to know.

Bongs and Dab Rigs share similarities but have notable differences. To choose your ideal water pipe setup, prioritize your preferences.

Is durability and ease of use your main concern? Or do you crave cutting-edge technology? Perhaps you seek an elaborate, handcrafted glass art piece for display.

Consider these factors when deciding on your water pipe. The decision significantly impacts its use.

With numerous options available, starting can be challenging. This guide explores water pipe science, differentiates dab rigs and bongs, and helps you choose the one that suits your needs best. Let's dive in!


Water pipes, whether for flower or oil, offer a popular and satisfying smoking experience. They come in various shapes and sizes to provide a smooth smoke. The primary function is to cool and filter the smoke through water, removing unwanted materials. The complexity of this function varies; some prefer a simple water filtration, while others opt for multiple chambers and gadgets.

The end result is a smoother, gentler hit on the lungs compared to joints or hand-pipes. Additionally, you avoid harmful additives and carcinogens from burning papers or wraps.


Is there a difference between a dab rig and a bong? Essentially, no. The key distinction lies in whether you've attached a bowl or a nail, but significant differences exist between the two.

Bowls are for dry herb, combusted with a direct flame and pulled down into the water or an inner chamber.

A dab nail, used for wax and oils, functions differently. It's a nail with a hole in the middle to pull in smoke, and walled edges prevent concentrate spillage.

A small blowtorch heats the nail for vaporizing wax or oil, pulled into the hole in the middle.

They are frequently made of metal, but can also come in quartz (INTERNAL LINK HERE).


The science behind how a water pipe works is really quite simple.

Cannabinoids and terpenes have extremely low water solubility, meaning that running smoke through water will filter out unwanted byproducts like tar and ash, without sacrificing any of the chemicals you do want. The result is a less harsh, condensed, smoother tasting hit, which gives you much greater use of your buds.


As mentioned earlier, transforming any water pipe into a bong or dab rig involves replacing parts. However, other factors, such as size, play a crucial role in optimizing your experience with bud or wax.

Some people might consider a larger bong an unnecessary gimmick, but it actually serves a purpose. Those oversized, extra tall bongs are specifically designed for flower. Combusted smoke, the more space inside the pipe to cool and filter your hit, the smoother it will be.

While a novelty 6-footer might be overkill for regular use, a 12-inch glass tube can effectively cool a hit more than a bubbler or mini bong.

When enjoying concentrates, however, the fundamental difference is that you inhale vapor, as opposed to smoke. Since vapor contains fewer harsh byproducts, you need less water filtration to cool down a hit.

Thus, using an oversized piece for dabs is generally unnecessary, and most users forego the mega-sized piece and stick to a smaller, more manageable rig.


Now that we know how water pipes work, let's take a closer look at some of the common types that you can find.


  • Straight Tube

The tried-and-true, old-school favorite. A straight tube is always a solid choice for practicality-minded smokers, with their thick glass, wide range of sizes, and being super easy to clean. They also frequently feature stems in the neck of the pipe which allow for ice to be added, giving you an even cooler hit.

  • Beaker/Round Base

Another old-school design, this type of pipe has also been the preferred tool of straight-forward stoners for generations. These can come with an Erlenmeyer flask or globe-shaped base. They also frequently come with ice-catcher nodes in the neck. Classic look, tough to knock over, and easy to clean. What's not to like?

  • Percolators/Multi-Chamber

Here's where we start to get into fancier territory. A percolator is an additional water-filled component which diffuses the air into bubbles when pulled through, cooling the hit even more. These come in a vast range of designs. Some water pipes come with percolators built in, but you can also purchase attachments that go between the bowl/nail and down-stem.

At the higher price range, you can even find pipes with multiple internal chambers, with each one holding water and filters to run the smoke through, all of which cooling it down for a smooth hit. These will often be more expensive because their intricate, often fragile designs require expert manufacturing and premium materials.

  • Recycler

Recyclers feature an even more elaborate filtration system. After going through a central percolator, smoke is then pulled through tubes back to the bottom of the chamber, to be filtered through the water once again.

This results in one of the smoothest hits you can achieve with a water pipe. Of course, because of their intricacy and quality, these types of bongs are also the most expensive on the market.

  • Zong

If you want something with a bit more visual flair, you may be interested in the z-shaped Zong. As smoke makes its way up, the chambers at each edge of the "Z" collect and cool smoke, also acting as a splash-guard from the water at the base.

One thing to consider with this type of piece is their top-heaviness, making them easier to knock over and break.

  • Ice Pipes

Adding ice to your bong is another way you can cool down your smoke for a smoother hit, and some designers take that approach to the extreme.

These days, you can find everything from rapid-cooling glycerin coils that are frozen separately and placed in a special chamber to bong-shaped molds that can be used to make a pipe made entirely of ice.

  • Gravity Bong

Another classic method, gravity bongs are a quintessential work of stoner engineering. Originally made with plastic soda bottles and a bucket, you can now find specially made glass gravity bongs which elevates that old-school, nostalgic experience from trashy to classy.

  • Bubbler

A bubbler essentially combines features of a hand-pipe and a mini bong. What distinguishes it from most water pipes is that it recesses its bowl and down-stem into the water-filled chamber, rather than having an external slide and bowl that you remove to clear the hit.

Although it operates differently, it still performs all the same functions as a "true" water pipe - it cools down your hits by running them through water.


The material of your water pipe significantly impacts your experience. Traditionally, people made them from natural materials like wood or bamboo, but today, the market offers more effective options to enhance your experience.

Ideally, you should look for durable and high-temp resistant material that won't melt or have any effect on the taste of your hit, such as plastic or acrylics. The best option is always high-quality scientific borosilicate glass.

Here is how we would rank the quality of the materials commonly available, from worst to best:

  1. Metal/Acrylic (Not recommended)
  2. Bamboo
  3. Glass
  4. Ceramic
  5. Scientific Glass


An important note on the subject of materials - always seek American-made, artisan-crafted glass. The market is flooded with cheap, easily breakable glass imported from overseas. Repeated heating and cooling can cause the glass to expand and contract, eventually creating fractures and shattering.

To make a judgement call on whether a piece is of legitimate quality or not, simply refer to the price - does it make sense?

If you find a surprisingly low-priced large, complicated piece, it's safe to assume it's an imported knock-off. Consider the cost of materials and labor that might go into a handmade piece—would someone price a genuine, quality product at $15?

Another trick is to look for dust on the inside of the chamber. This is likely glass dust, meaning that the hole for the down-stem was drilled and will likely crack without much use.

A quality water pipe doesn't need to cost you an arm and a leg, but your instinct should tell you if the price on a piece seems unrealistically low.


  • Cost

Of course, the first option to consider is your budget. If you're minding your spending, there are plenty of great options available. A straight tube, beaker pipe, or bubbler can be a great choice. Typically these can be found for under or around $100.

If money is no issue, then your options open up considerably. You can splurge on one of a kind sculptural pieces, premium-quality glass, or fancy accessories. Which of these you choose all depends on your priorities.

If you want the smoothest imaginable hit, go for function. If you want something beautiful to put on the shelf and admire even after you're finished using it, then form will be your guide.

  • Durability

Everyone hates a broken water pipe - durability is another crucial factor in your choice. If you use your bong or rig on a daily basis, then thick, high-quality glass with a simple design is generally preferable.

If you only pull it out on special occasions, then it can be more practical to buy a specialty piece with an unconventional shape or features that may be a bit more fragile.

In either case, again, you will certainly want to look for American-made glass and avoid cheap, easily-breakable imported knock-offs.

  • Look and Feel

How does the pipe feel in your hands when you use it? Is it a pain to light the bowl without nearly setting your hair on fire because of shoddy design? Does it have a goofy-looking graphic on the side?

A more personal factor to consider is your overall physical experience of the pipe. Of course, everyone wants something that they like to look at, and can use without any frustrations. When making your selection, consider these subjective factors to ensure the most enjoyable experience.

  • Portability

If you're someone who likes to take your water pipe on the go, ease of portability should also be considered.

Today, there are models specially designed for this purpose. You should avoid a large, unwieldy, or fragile water pipe if you plan on taking it with you out of the house. If you need the maximum portability and durability, a collapsible or silicone piece might be worth considering.


At the end of the day, whether you prefer flower or concentrates, there are countless options available to give you your optimal smoking experience. With legalization growing across the U.S., it's easier than ever to find a piece that fits your preferences and budget perfectly.

Now that you understand the differences between dab rigs and bongs, you can go forward with your purchase in confidence that you'll come home to the finest session imaginable.