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Dab Rigs: What They Are and How to Use Them

Dabbing can be intimidating. Straight up. This is true even for the most seasoned bong tokers the first time they encounter a dab rig – unless they’ve read up on it beforehand. Which is why you’re here, right?

I’ve been smoking weed for more than 20 years and would consider myself a true veteran - yet I only heard about dabs a couple of years ago when I first wrote about it. In fact, I only dabbed myself for the first time about a year ago. So. Glad. I. Did. Let me tell you, love at first sight does exist.

I can say from personal experience that dabbing is not overrated. If anything, it is the exact opposite. Dab rigs are the shit and all the hype is legit. Find out how to use a dab rig and why you should buy one and add it to your personal stoner arsenal in this ultimate guide to dabbing, rigs, and accessories.

What is a Dab Rig and What Does It Do?

Dab rigs are tools used for taking “dabs” or “hits” from concentrates. Usually, the substance is a form of cannabis - specifically a purified THC compound such as resin, budder, shatter, THC crystals, or oil. Rigs range from small water-less pipes to large bongs.

A dab rig's main components are the nail, stem, percolator, and chamber (which may or may not hold water). Smoking cannabis concentrates and oils is known as dabbing. Dab rigs are different types of bongs or pipes that are used for this purpose. To hit off a dab, three basic processes must take place:

  1. A flame from a torch or electricity is used to heat the nail or surface area of the banger or nail;
  2. The concentrated extracts are gently “dabbed” onto the nail surface to vaporize the extract; and
  3. A hit of vaporized smoke is inhaled by the user and enjoyed (obviously).

What are the Basics About Dabbing?

Dab rigs are also referred to as vapor rigs, concentrate pipes, and oil pipes. Many of these are designed similar to bongs with built-in water-filtration systems that help to break down and even cool the vapor coming through the rigs, although, not all rigs use/need water.

Nano rigs are becoming all the rage because they pack a powerful punch which is usually created by additional features such as honeycombs or barrel percolators. Still, these options are usually in the taller small rigs. Even the less expensive rigs come with at least a filtered downstem, which cools and breaks down the vapor coming in via the heated nail.

Most modern rig pipes include a glass mouthpiece, a nail, a dabber, and a carb cap. In fact, carb caps are super popular accessories because users can dab at lower temperatures and hold in the vapor for a longer time. Check out  Quartz 2-in-1 sidearm carb cap and dabber. Keep reading to learn more about dabbing and the considerations you should have when it comes to buying a dab rig online.

Understanding the Anatomy of a Dab Rig

To know what you are doing when it comes to dabbing, you must have a basic understanding of the different equipment you might be working with. Consuming a concentrated form of cannabis by vaporizing a small amount, referred to as a dab, requires a specific setup and set of tools. While it might sound intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Keep reading to get familiar with the equipment used for dabbing.

  • Banger or Nail: The nail or banger, is where the cannabis concentrate is placed once it has been heated. This piece needs to be heated to a high enough temperature to evaporate the dab of concentrate, usually between 450 and 700 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this is sometimes just based on either user preference or the specific dab rig. Some of these are electronic and are referred to as “e-nails”. Whether electronic or not, nails can come in a variety of materials, including:
    • Glass
    • Ceramic
    • Quartz
    • Titanium
  • Glass Dome: The piece that fits over the top of the nail after it has been heated is known as the glass dome. This piece will protect your fingers from accidental burns while also conserving your vapor so that you do not lose any of that succulent hit.
  • Downstem: The downstem serves as a corridor for the vapor and air to pass through the water (if there is any in the particular dab rig being used) as it’s being pulled up into the chamber. There is a 90-degree bend on the downstem, which holds the nail upright vertically at the top and the other end is attached near the bottom of the base of the dab rig.
  • Base/Chamber: When the concentrate heats up, the vapor that is produced passes through the water-filled in the bottom of the chamber that serves as a filtration process. This delivers a smoother experience and some dab rigs have additional features, such as percolators and/or other filters inside the chamber such as honeycombs. A dab rig chamber is much smaller and designed to hold much less water than a bong, and it typically does not have a flared design like some bongs.
  • Mouth Piece: A seal is created when you press your lips against the mouthpiece of the dab rig. You only need to open your mouth enough to slowly draw in the air steadily and consistently as the chamber bubbles and slowly fills with the vapor from the concentrate. The experience is similar to that of drawing in a hit from a bong. Do keep in mind, no matter how many huge bong rips you’re used to taking in, dabbing is a whole other kind of beast and it’s best to take your time and don’t start huge concentrated hits if you are new to the world of dabbing. Actually, that is pretty good advice - even if you are a seasoned dabber.

Tools and Accessories Used for Dabbing

  • Butane torch: A small butane torch is typically used to heat a banger or nail unless it is an e-nail that is heated electronically. The torches used for dabbing are small, portable butane torches. When using the torch, aim it away from the rest of the rig to prevent cracking, and obviously away from your body as well. If you are a little sketched out about using a torch, opt for an e-nail, which means you won’t have to deal with guesswork temperatures or open flames.
  • Dabber: This dabbing tool is usually made from metal or glass, and it is used to transfer a small amount of concentrate or “dab” onto the heated nail. These are used because the concentrates are far too sticky to manage with your fingers reasonably. Plus, you obviously would never want to put your digit that close to a scolding-hot nail. These dabbing tools are fairly inexpensive. Therefore, you will definitely want one on hand if you plan on dabbing.
  • Carb cap: These dabbing accessories are fairly common and can provide an enjoyable low-temp dabbing experience. Carb caps go over the top of the nail or banger once you have dropped your dab onto it. They trap in the heat and enhance the convection process as your extract vaporizes.
  • Dab pad: Also known as a dab mat, this accessory is placed underneath a dab rig to protect the table or surface area from any excess residue that may drip from the nail.
  • Dab timer: When using a butane torch method for heating the nail or banger, a dab timer can be used to ensure you achieve more consistent temperatures by keeping track of how long you heat and cool your dabs. You can actually find really cool dab timer apps for your mobile device, such as Errl’s Dab Timer.
  • Dab cotton swabs: You can actually buy cotton-based swabs, that are often organic, that can be used to help clean your dab rig.

How Does a Dab Rig Work/How Do You Use It?

Once you have prepared the dab rig, you can get started. Dabbing can definitely be an intense experience, which is true for even veteran smokers, so it is always advised to be sitting when dabbing.

  • Step One: Fire up the torch and aim that baby directly at the nail. A good indicator that the nail has been heated sufficiently and ready to go is when it turns firey-hot red. If you are not using the torch method and instead have an electronic nail, reefer *pun intended* to the next section for more information.
  • Step Two: When the nail is hot and ready to go, turn off the torch. If you have a quartz nail, you should first allow it to cool for about 45 seconds, and if the nail is titanium, then it should cool for about 35 seconds. If you have a timer, this is when it can come in handy because you need to be sure that the surface temperature is not too hot.
  • Step Three: Touch the dab directly onto the nail with your dabber. As the concentrate begins to vaporize, slowly start to inhale. Rotate the dabber tip over the nail to prevent wasting any oil that might be stuck to it.
  • Step Four: Cover the dab with the carb cap as you continue to inhale. The cap is what can help you regulate the airflow. Therefore, it’s always best to cap your dabs.
  • Step Five: Exhale your dab. Lay back. Enjoy. One or two good dabs is all you need. You know the saying, a “little dab will do you?” - well, it’s true.

Cleaning Your Nail

Dabbing can cause a buildup of reclaimed oil, carbon, and other particulates to build-up on the nail. Some stoners are religious about cleaning the nail after every single hit, which is a good practice, but you should at least do it at the end of each dabbing sesh. The following are some different ways to clean your nail:

  • Torch method: One of the easiest ways to get a nice clean nail is to use a butane torch to burn off any of the excess residues stuck to your nail. When you use the torch on either quartz or ceramic, be sure that you do not accidentally expose your nail while red-hot to any rapid change in temperature as that can cause a stress fracture. After the process is done and the nail has become completely red-hot and the residue has dissipated, be sure to let it completely cool down before you clean it with a final scrape.
  • Scraping method: If your dabbing nail has some minor buildup, you can use a sharp dabbing tool and scrape your nail very lightly. Take extra care so that you do not chip the glass.
  • Soaking method: You can use 91% isopropyl alcohol to soak your nail for about 10 minutes.

What are the Differences Between Dab Rigs and Bongs?

You may be a bit confused between bongs and dab rigs. A lot of that stems from the fact that - at first glance - dab rigs actually look a lot like bongs, aka water pipes. Don’t let the appearance mislead you. Dab rigs are full of their own special features and tricks. Dab rigs rely on different functions and processes unlike those of dry flower bongs that most seasoned smokers are used to.

The most obvious difference between bongs and dab rigs is going to be the size. Please don’t underestimate the dab rig's power according to its size. The hits off dab rigs produce vapor and just very little smoke. These vapors are much stronger than the smoke inhaled when combusting dried herb or flower in a bong. When you are shopping for a dab rig, it is definitely not the size that matters, although you will still find beaker designs that look like bongs.

Bongs, on the other hand, come in a variety of types, shapes, and sizes. If you are interested in learning more about buying a bong and which one is right for you, check out our previous post, “Different Types of Bongs – How to Find the Perfect Bong for You”.

Generally speaking, a glass rig will range from about 20-28 cm or 8-11 inches in height, but there are plenty smaller than that. In fact, portability is a huge factor when it comes to certain customers, so there is a huge market for adorable small dab rigs, such as this Rio Makeover Portable Rig.

What are Dabs?

“Dab” or “dabbing” refers to the vaporizing of the highly flavourful and potent oils and cannabinoids found inside marijuana plants. With so many dabs to choose from, it is important to have some information on all the different types and how they work to buy the best product that gets the job done the way you like it. So continue reading to learn more about the typical cannabis extracts you’re likely to encounter in the world of dabs.

  • Shatter: This cannabis concentrate is best vaporized on a flat or pointed dabber. What’s nice about shatter is that it is easy to handle and manage because of its glass-like consistency. Use a sharply pointed or flat-bladed dabber to cut the right size of shatter accurately. Here is an example of a pointed dabber that can help you accurately cut your shatter:
  • Wax / Crumble / Budder:You can find this cannabis concentrate referred to as wax, crumble, or budder interchangeably. This is a hybrid form of runny oil combined with chunky THC crystals. This cannabis concentrate is best used with a flat/scoop/spoon dabber because it can be a bit difficult to work with and it’s easy to lose small crumbs. A flat titanium nail is ideal for this type of extract, such as the one on this silicone nectar collector.
  • Live Resin: This cannabis concentrate is dark yellow in color. It is very pliable and its consistency comes in somewhere between a sauce and a wax. It’s not too wet nor too stretchy like taffy either. However, depending on your resin source, the consistency may vary somewhat from one to the next. What makes live resin such a popular cannabis extract is that it has a complex terpene profile, so it delivers compound effects that may be considered by some as being more intense than those of the other concentrates. Live resin products also have a high emphasis on flavor profiles and this can also contribute to the desired effects users are looking for. This is a concentrate that is easy to work with and a set up like this heavy-duty riggler set this is perfect for dabbing live resin.
  • Sap/Distillate: This type of cannabis oil has low viscosity, so that it can be very runny and gooey. For this type of extract, a flat or scoop-shaped dabber works best, such as this spoon-shaped dabber.
  • THC Diamonds: With a name like THC Diamonds, who would not want to try this cannabis concentrate? This concentrate is extremely popular and probably the newest hype among oil enthusiasts. This type of dab has the appearance of rock candy and when it’s super dank, it comes submerged in extra terpy sappy oil. For this one, you will want a dabber with a sharp edge to accurately dose your THC crystals and help you pick up the gems without getting the extra oil on your fingers.
  • Crystalline:This cannabis concentrate holds the bragging rights for being one of the purest in THC, ranging from 99.5% to 99.9%. Having said that, this stuff is no joke but it does not come at a low price! It is not sticky at all, so carefully scoop a decent pile and place it on your dabber with care! Definitely go with a scoop or spoon-shaped dabber for crystalline.
  • Pull & Snap / Taffy:The name of this cannabis concentrate says it all.At first glance, this looks like shatter, but if you spend any time playing with it, you can quickly find yourself entangled in a long string of it! What’s cool about this stuff is that you can press it down and quickly and briskly pull away from the dabber to “snap” off the desired hit without leaving behind a mess.

What are the Different Types of Dab Rigs?

  • Recycler Rigs: Recycler dab rigs are the smoothest way to dab. The name is derived from their unique design which delivers smoke that has gone through the percolator many times before it reaches your lungs. Usually, these pieces have gorgeous designs and they are fun to watch in action. With the added percolation and accessories, they can run on the more expensive side of dab rigs.
  • E-Rigs: These are the most portable dab rigs on the market. Most of them can be taken all the way down and placed in a case, which makes them easy for cleaning and they can even fit right into your pocket. A great feature about e-rigs is that they allow you to set the temperature control and they also have rechargeable batteries that make them easy to heat up quickly with very little mess involved.
  • Mini/Nano Dab Rigs: Most of these tiny beauties measure less than 18 cm or 7 in tall. If they are made of glass, it is usually thick borosilicate glass, but you can also find many mini rigs made of silicone. These bad boys might look small, but they pack a massive hit while still delivering on that smooth taste. These glass nano rigs can be expensive, as oftentimes, the designs are quite intricate with many pipes for cooling or additional percolators for filtration, etc.
  • Nectar Collectors: You might also hear these called “honey straws”, but both are the same. Regardless of the name you choose to use for this device, these dab rigs work differently from the others on the list. With a honey straw, the process is reversed, and effectively, you place the heated nail directly to the extract on a glass dish. These little things are incredibly portable, and when it comes to price range, they are also very affordable. But, they hold little to no water, so you do not get to benefit from the filtration or percolation effects of some of the other dab rigs.

Buying a Dab Rig and Accessories Online

Like I said in the beginning, if you feel a little intimidated - that’s normal - but you don’t have to be. I had been a daily smoker for more than 20 years before I ever encountered a dab rig, and the process only takes a couple of minutes from start to finish.

Now that you’ve read everything you need to know about dab rigs and how to use them, take a look at our online store and browse our selection of dab rigs and accessories, including models that start under $60. We offer free U.S. shipping on orders over $99 and some of the best prices on heady glass in the online market.

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