Falling somewhere between smoking a bong and vaporizing, using a dab rig is a relatively easy and smooth way of taking in a cannabis concentrate. Typically, if you know somebody who has a rig for dabs, inviting them to talk about it means you’re probably going to get your ear filled with an avalanche of what sounds like technobabble, leaving you more confused than you were at the start.
The good news is that dabbing doesn’t require a master’s degree in weed wizardry – It does require both the right equipment and a little technique, but that takes some money to blow and a bit of practice. So if you’ve heard about dabbing before but haven’t been able to make your way through the mountain of (often overwhelming and wrong) information available, then this is the article you need. So keep reading below for our beginner’s guide on how to get your dab on!
What Do I Smoke Dabs With?
As mentioned above, “dabs” (don’t call it a “d.a.b.s,” it isn’t an acronym) is a cross between smoking and vaporizing, though much closer to the latter than the former. When “dabbing,” you use a special bong-like object known as a “dab rig”; in fact, these are so similar to regular water pipes that a newcomer might mistake the two at first glance. There are some key differences worth going over, though, so let’s walk through each piece step by step.
Mouthpiece, Neck & Water Chamber:
Like any pipe-like device, these may look different from piece to piece but ultimately serve the same purpose – Water goes into the chamber, mouth goes on top, lungs inhale, smoke or vapor builds up in the chamber to be cleared. If you’ve smoked a bong before, you’re familiar with this part of the setup.
Now things start to get a little different. One way you can tell if you’re looking at a bong or a dab rig is the angle of the downstem. For most bongs and water pipes, the downstem goes straight into the water chamber, usually at something around a 45-degree angle. On a dabbing pipe, though, the downstem will likely have a sharp right angle, going straight down and then making a 90 degree turn to enter the water chamber; a good dab rig will have a small bulging area at this joint where leftover melted concentrates can gather to be used again. As for the bowl, that’s where things change completely.
Nails, Domes & Bangers:
Unlike the bowl on a bong, designed to hold dried plant material, the top of the downstem will instead have one of two things: a “nail” or a “banger.”
Nails & Domes
Nails are often shaped much like you’d expect; long and somewhat like a spike, with a flat, wide head on one end; slightly more bowl-shaped objects can also be used in dab rigs and are also often referred to as nails, despite the lack of visual similarity. If the nail is a traditional nail-shaped object, it may or may not have a “dome” used to cover it – The dome helps ensure that the vapor made by applying concentrate to the nail doesn’t escape into the surrounding air.
Bangers will usually look more like the traditional herb bowl one is used to, though it works much the same as a nail – The banger is heated up to a high temperature before placing concentrate inside to be vaporized. Compared to a nail, a banger is generally considered easier to use and less wasteful but can be pricier depending on its material.
Whether using a nail or a banger, this section of the pipe is heated up to a very high temperature, typically using a butane torch (though electrically heated models exist); after reaching the right temperature, a concentrate is then either held up to the nail or placed inside the banger where it turns into vapor on (or near) contact. For this, you’ll need the use of a dabbing tool, which we discuss below.
PS: When it comes to bangers & nails, every material has its own pros and cons. Quartz is cheap and holds heat but is heavy and takes time to bring up to temp. Ceramics are light and heat quickly but lose that heat rapidly and can be very fragile. Titanium is durable but can discolor with use, and some claim it can give concentrates an “off” flavor. Our advice is to try out different types and see what you prefer.
This isn’t an attached part of the rig, but it is a vital component (particularly if you’re going to use oil over wax), so we’re listing it here. Once your nail or banger has been heated to the right temperature, you’ll want to apply your concentrate to it – Enter the dab tool, which can also be made out of a variety of materials, though glass, quartz, and metal are the most common. These typically look somewhat like a writing stylus, and their main job is to take a small amount of your chosen concentrate and either place it on or hold it very near to the heated nail; the heat coming off the element will be enough to turn the concentrate into vapor, which you can then “smoke.” And speaking of concentrates…
What Do I Use in a Dab Rig?
When it comes to cannabis, the word “concentrates” can mean many things – Vaping liquid, tinctures, hash, budder, the list goes on and on, and all have their own levels of potency and harshness. However, for dabbing purposes, you’re usually looking for the highest-purity concentrate you can find, with THC percentages of 70% or higher common. Concentrates in this range are usually translucent to the eye, colored but not opaque, and the more clarity a concentrate has is an indication of the purity of THC.
At this level, concentrates are usually either in a glass-like form (called “shatter”) or in a semi-fluid state, referred to as “wax,” “honey,” “BHO,” or even just “oil.” For a first-timer using a dab rig, we generally recommend going for something more solid and viscous over a runny oil – Solids and semi-solids such as shatter and wax tend to be easier to apply, particularly if you are using a nail & dome setup over a banger (as oil requires a dab tool to apply).
How Do I Use a Dab Rig?
Now we get down to business. Before you can hit a dab rig, the nail/banger has to be heated to the optimal temperature – To do this, you’ll need a high source of heat, and anything less than a butane torch that can produce blue or white flame won’t cut it. Unfortunately, there’s a rule on how long heating the element will take; it depends entirely on material, size, construction, and other factors, so trial and error may be needed here. But, as a general rule, expect a minimum of 30 seconds of direct heat to get started.
Once you’ve heated your dab rig, make sure to let it cool down a bit – Your banger/nail is going to be too hot right after being heated to properly vaporize your concentrate, as high heats (anything starting to enter the 480°F range) will destroy THC in wax and oil and render your concentrate completely inert. After you’ve let your dabbing rig hang out for about 45 seconds or so, hold your hand near (NOT ON!) the heating element – You should feel the warmth radiating off of it like a lit fireplace. Now that your rig is up to temp, you’re ready to take your first puff.
Using your dab tool to gather up a very small amount of your concentrate – All you need is a little dab of material (hence the name). Remember, this dab is a concentrate and contains a high percentage of THC, so there’s nothing wrong with starting small and scaling up on your next hit. If you are using a more solid concentrate like wax, tweezers can work great here; otherwise, the pen-shaped tools are what you’ll need for oils. Either way, using your dab tool, bring the concentrate toward the banger or nail and prepare to inhale.
As you bring the concentrate closer to the heating element, the dab will start to bubble and give off vapor – This is when you need to begin drawing in. If you are using a solid-like wax or shatter, you can drop the concentrate directly against the nail or into the banger bowl; if using oil, hold the dab tool as close to the heating element as you can, rotating the tool as you inhale to help ensure the concentrate is vaporized evenly (think of this like moving your lighter over a pipe bowl of marijuana for even heating).
And there you go – Clear the neck, and you have just done a dab! Once you get the concept and the movements down, it’s just as simple as hitting a traditional pipe, only without any of the harsh smoke. There are some good accessories to look into (carb caps are considered mandatory for most, and quartz balls can be nice for bangers), but in truth, dabbing doesn’t have to be rocket science.
Can I Smoke Dabs Without a Dab Rig?
The answer here is a tentative “yes,” with heavy reservations.
We talk about consuming hashish in our “How to Make Hash” and “How to Smoke Hash” articles, and the same principles apply there as they do for any concentrates – You want something that’s hot-but-not-too-hot that can vaporize your concentrate without flat-out burning it. A pair of hot knives are a classic solution; take two bare metal knives and place your concentrate between them, heating them and breathing in the vapor as it’s released. Of course, you can achieve the same result with something like a car lighter or any other metallic surface, but the real question is whether or not it’s worth it. And in our opinion? It is not.
Heating a high-percentage concentrate like wax or oil without a chamber to hold the vapor in means you’re losing precious THC to the air around you – A concentrate benefits most from an enclosed environment, and two butter knives and a lighter mean you’re just letting most of your THC float off toward the ceiling and wasting what was probably very expensive concentrate. Concentrates can be loaded into a bowl or a joint if you take care, but our advice is if you want to start getting into smoking dabs, it’s worth it to go ahead and invest in a rig, or even pick up a dabs pen or vape pen if you’re looking for something more portable. There’s no sense in letting your dabs go to waste.
Using a Vaporizer or Electronic Dab Rig
Another way to smoke dabs is to use certain specialized vaporizers or a “smart” rig like Puffco products. If you haven’t heard of the Puffco Peak, it’s an electronic dab rig that takes a lot of the hassle out of dabbing since you don’t need a torch. There are other products out there, too, now that industry is evolving. These products are still dab rigs, but they’re a little less traditional.
We hope our article on how to smoke dabs has given you some confidence in going out and trying dabs for yourself – It’s a great alternative to actually smoking cannabis flower or hash, and even if it may look complicated at first glance, it really isn’t. Just make sure you don’t hit the wax too hard your first time – As the old saying goes…. a little dab will do ya (sorry; couldn’t resist). Enjoy!