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So What are Glass Pipes, Exactly? A History Guide

From Thailand to Ethiopia to America, glass pipes have made their mark on the world. Often considered works of art, the extensive selection of pieces available cater to both novice and connoisseur smokers. This extensive guide to glass pipes introduces readers to the varied designs and accessories on the market as well as the benefits, best practices, and safety tips for using the device.

What are Glass Pipes?

A glass pipe is a water-filtered smoking device that produces smoother, cooler, cleaner “milk.” By filtering the smoke from dried herbs through water, heavy residue particles and water-dissolving molecules do not enter the respiratory system. Although they are available in an endless array of sizes, shapes, and styles, glass pipes have three distinguishing features in their construction.

Water Chamber: The bottom of the glass pipe consists of a bulbous chamber that holds water, which functions to filter and cool the smoke so that it feels smoother on the throat and lungs when inhaling.

Tube: Once the smoke passes through the water chamber, it flows upward into a long-neck vertical tube and out through the mouthpiece. While tubes are often straight, glass pipes are also created with elaborate chambers that further filter the smoke and provide artistic beauty to the piece.

Downstem: This diagonal stem protrudes from a small hole in the tube. The bottom of the stem rests in the water chamber while the top flares into a bowl to hold dried herbs. Its purpose is to draw the air and smoke into the water as the user inhales, which creates bubbles. When the downsteam is stationary, it is accompanied by a carb, a small hole above the water line that is covered by the thumb and then released when the user is ready to clear the tube. When using a slider downsteam, the smoker pulls the stem out instead. Depending on the preferences of the user, the bowl on top of the stem can be small or large and is often decorative.

Glass pipes are similar in function and construction to hookahs, which are also based on water filtration, but they are smaller and do not have hoses. While any vessel that is air and water tight can technically be transformed into a glass pipe, most pieces are made from acrylic, glass, wood or ceramic.

The Cultural Evolution of Glass Pipes

Glass pipes have a rich history that flourished amongst ancient cultures in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Historians disagree on where the water pipe actually originated from variations on ceremonial, recreational and medicinal smoking exist in many societies.
Archeological excavations in Africa have upturned 13th-century earth pipes made of horns, bamboo, gourds, and earthenware. An underground duct connected the buried chamber to a mouthpiece. Earth pipes have also been found in Central Asia. During the 16th century, hookahs popped up in Persian cultures while the popular bamboo glass pipes spread from Thailand to China. Amongst the nobility, the Thai baung was often made from bronze and adorned with inscriptions and jewels.Through travel and trade, glass pipes spread throughout Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries before making their way to America. These Victorian water pipes were often made of ceramic and elaborately decorated. The glassblowing arts movement in the late 1970s led to one of the first patents for the glass pipe being filed in the U.S. Glassblowing artists became entrepreneurs as demand for their intricate artwork grew, particularly in the 21st century.

Today, glass pipes are mostly made from hand-blown glass that usually changes colors. However, translucent acrylics, wooden tubes, and detailed ceramic versions are readily available on the market. They range in size from portable mini glass pipes to massive water pipes that stand 15-feet tall. The least expensive models are smaller and plainer. Prices increase based on the thickness of the glass, the styling of the artwork and the intricacy of the accessories.

The Various Kinds of Glass Pipes

The size, shape, and height affect the way a glass pipe pulls the smoke through the water chamber and into the tube. The diameter of the downstem and bowl also determine the flow of air and smoke. The most popular versions include:

Percolator Glass Pipe

The percolator glass pipe incorporates a suspended glass filter into the water chamber that breaks up and spreads out the bubbles evenly by circulating the smoke through the water. This process creates smaller bubbles that are more efficient at filtering toxic substances and cooling the smoke. Even though there is more drag when milking, the inhalation is smoother. More holes and smaller slits in the perc provide better diffusion yet increase drag. Some pieces add an additional perc sub-chamber in the tube, providing additional benefits but requiring a harder pull.
There are several types of percolators:

  • The diffuser incorporates slits into the downstem.
  • The tree uses downward facing “arms” that create flow paths in the water. Drag decreases with more arms. Artistic adaptations include twisting branches and angled arms.
  • The spiral perc coils its way up from the water chamber through the tube. Smoke is diffused through tree arms on the bottom and small holes or slits throughout the cylinder. This design forms the basis for the double helix and the glycerin-filled wraps that can be frozen.
  • The disk-shaped dome perc pushes the smoke to the bottom of the water chamber before pulling it upward through holes. The honeycomb design includes dozens of tiny holes to produce small bubbles. A showerhead is a horizontal tube with slits or holes along the sides.

Bubbler Glass Pipes

The handheld bubbler is a hybrid of a glass pipe. This lighter-weight, more portable version is horizontal like a pipe instead of vertical and features a drop-down water chamber that filters and cools the smoke. The glass piece produces a smoother, lighter drag although it is easier to inhale water if the user pulls too hard. The long neck ends in a small hole at the mouthpiece and a carb replaces the slider stem. Due to their design, bubblers are more challenging to clean.

Mini Glass Pipes

The mini glass pipe is popular for the same reasons as the bubbler: it is portable, easy to hold and lightweight. It is also lower in price. Ranging between 6 and 10 inches, most rely on a carb system. The drawbacks of the small glass pipe include a greater chance of inhaling water, thinner glass that is easier to break and tighter crevices that are more difficult to clean.

Scientific Glass Pipes

The sleek scientific glass pipe is made from laboratory-grade borosilicate glass, which is stronger and heat resistant. Usually sporting a clean, transparent look, scientific glass pipes range from simple straight tubes with beaker bottoms to intricate designs featuring bent mouthpieces, fancy percolators and ash catchers. These high-end pieces are prized for producing a smooth drag and thick milk. Scientific glass pipes are also available in vapor versions for smoking concentrates.

Homemade Glass Pipes

Glass pipe users are creative in their tactics for making homemade water pipes. Most are constructed from plastic or glass bottles although fruits and vegetables, such as apples, bell peppers and coconuts, are used to provide extra flavor. The gravity glass pipes consist of a plastic jug with punctured holes on the bottom that is submerged in a bucket of water. While lighting the herb, the user slowly raises the jug, using gravity to displace the water with smoke. Once the water is drained, the jug is pushed back into the bucket, rapidly forcing the smoke out through the mouthpiece. A variation on this is the waterfall glass pipe, which simply allows the water to drain out from holes in the bottom.

Dabbing Glass Pipes or Dab Rigs

There are two methods for medicating using the oils and concentrates from flowers. Since these doses are sold at dispensaries in the form of waxes, butters and shatters, they must be melted in order to be smoked. While the structure of a dabbing glass pipe is basically the same as a traditional glass pipe, the downstem differs drastically.

Instead of a bowl, the top of the downstem on a dab rig incorporates a heating element that vaporizes the concentrate. It can either be a skillet or a nail that is made of glass, titanium or quartz, which is contained inside an open-top glass dome that catches vapor splashes. The design of the dome can be plain or an intricate piece of art.

The function of a Recycler Rig is to filter the smoke through water twice. The piece contains a tube that allows the smoke and water to travel together toward the mouthpiece before the water circles back to the reservoir. The design produces a cooler, fresher, more flavorful taste since the percolated bubbles pop closer to the mouth.

Who Would Want a Glass Pipe?

Due to their intricate nature and larger size, glass pipes are typically more expensive than other smoking devices. Owners are often drawn to the beauty of the artwork. As collectors, they are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on unique, highly technical devices. Since many people believe their pieces are a reflection of their personalities, selecting a glass pipe is a deeply personal choice. Some owners even give their pieces names.

Glass pipes are usually bought by experienced users who want smoother smoking sessions. Many owners strongly believe that their glass pipes enhance the potency of dried herbs and conserve the amount consumed. Medicinal users may also benefit from the cleaner filtered smoke.

Those new to water pipes often start with acrylic or wooden versions because of the affordable prices and durability. These pieces are harder to clean than glass, quickly absorb resin odors and ultimately influence the taste of the herbs. Most have carbs to support the stationary downstems that are made from plastic or metal and sealed with rubber grommets. It is common for experienced glass pipe users to upgrade to a quality glass piece.

By |2018-04-02T12:48:48+00:00March 8th, 2018|Industry News|0 Comments