In the market for a new water pipe? Here’s a complete breakdown for beginners, outlining everything you need to know about the anatomy of a water pipe and what to look for in a quality piece of glass.

What are water pipes and what are they used for? 

Water pipes, also known as bongs, dab rigs, or simply as glass, are smoking apparatuses used for enjoying cannabis and other dry herbs. They come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, materials, and include all sorts of different options that can enhance your overall smoking experience. However, they all have one thing in common: they utilize water to help cool your smoke and make for better flavors and bigger hits than you’d experience from a pipe or pre-roll.

There are many different options to choose from out there, and each one comes with its own unique design and pros and cons. However, when it comes to choosing glass, it’s important to take a look at everything from aesthetics, materials, functionality, and performance, to size, filtration capabilities, and more. Below we’re breaking down what basic water pipes look like and some additional features that come into play when you’re choosing a new water pipe.

Anatomy of a water pipe 

Water Pipe Anatomy

A standard water pipe comes with all of the features we’ve outlined below. It’s important to familiarize yourself with each part and how it works to avoid selecting a piece of glass that may not work for you.

  • Mouthpiece: The mouthpiece is found at the very top of a water pipe, and it’s where you’ll place your mouth to inhale the smoke. They come in two major designs and various sizes. Some will appear flush with the neck while others are flared to offer better suction.
  • Neck: The neck of the water pipe is situated right below the mouthpiece. It’s the channel that the cooled smoke from the pipe travels through before it hits the mouthpiece and eventually your lungs. They come in all different shapes and sizes and can be either tall or short, completely straight or with a curve. Curved necks are ideal for table-top setups while straight necks are great for passing around.
  • Base:  The base of the water pipe is the foundation or bottom of the whole apparatus. It’s used to keep the water pipe stable on a surface and is usually thicker than the rest of the water pipe for added weight and stability. With that said, the wider the base, the sturdier the foundation and the less likely you’ll be to accidentally knock it over.
  • Water Chamber: The water chamber is the area of the pipe that holds the water. In basic designs there is only one chamber, though some water pipes contain several. Smoke will pass through the water chamber(s) to cool the smoke before you inhale it into your lungs. Chambers also contain smoke that has been filtered and cooled down until they’re ready to be inhaled through the mouthpiece.
  • Downstem: The downstem is a small tube near the base of the water pipe that typically dips into the water chamber. Downstems usually contain a small percolator or small holes that help to break up the smoke for cooling in the water chamber. Some water pipes feature removable downstems that can be cleaned or replaced, while others have a fixed downstem that can’t be removed.
  • Bowl or Slide: The bowl is the most important part of a water pipe and it comes in many different designs, sizes and shapes. It slides into the downstem and is easily removed to help clear smoke from the chamber when you’re done hitting it. The bowl (also known as the slide) holds the flower and is typically made from borosillicate glass to prevent it from getting too hot to remove while you’re smoking it. Many feature a handle for easy sliding.

Additional water pipe features 

With the basics out of the way, it’s time to discuss some of the extra bells and whistles you might find on the water pipes at your favorite head shop. These features aren’t totally necessary for smoking from a water pipe, but they do help make your smoke sesh more comfortable.

  • Ice Catchers: Ice catchers, also known as ice pinches, are small cone-shaped prongs built into the water pipe that hold ice cubes. They are typically found in the chamber just above the water line, or they’re situated in the neck. If you prefer an icy cool smoke, they can hold ice to help further cool your hits.
  • Percolators: There are dozens of different types of percolators out there, and each one provides additional smoke filtering to promote smoother hits. They are specially designed to help break up the smoke within the water and filter it through bubbling. They can usually be found in the water chamber, though they may appear in different areas of the water pipe, too. Each perc design offers different filtration effects, with the most popular being trees, showerheads, honeycombs, and seeds of life.
  • Splash Guards: Splash Guards prevent dirty water from getting into your mouthpiece, or worse, your mouth. These are ideal for straight-necked pipes, as most water pipes with curved necks and flared mouthpieces are naturally protected from splash back.
  • Glycerin Coils: Glycerin coils are clipped into a water pipe using a keck clip. They can be removed and thrown into the freezer, providing similar cooling capabilities as an ice catch. However, glycerin coils have the added benefit of cooling to lower temperatures than ice cubes without the risk of flooding your pipe as the ice melts into the water chamber.
  • Ash Catchers: Ash catchers are attachments that slide into your downstem. They typically feature an opening at the top where you can slide your bowl, though they attach directly to your water pipe. They help keep your water pipe cleaner. Some feature percolators that can provide additional filtration and cooling to your hits.

What are the different types of water pipes? 

There are many different types of water pipes, and each one comes with it’s own unique function and intended purpose. Below we’re breaking down the 7 most popular designs.

1. Bubblers

bubbler water pipe

Bubblers are the most basic water pipe designs. They feature a straight neck and a downstem near the bottom, along with a flat base or a stand. Bubblers are stable and feature a wide base. Even though they’re not the fanciest, they perform well and are easy to clean thanks to their simplicity.Yes it would make sense to

2. Straight Tubes

Straight Tube Water Pipe Terp Tube
Straight Tube Water Pipe from Terp Tube

Straight tubes are everywhere as one of the most popular designs. They are shaped like a tube and are usually taller rather than wide. They don’t come with a super wide base, but they look sleek and are lightweight since they can’t hold very much water. Many straight tubes come with a removable downstem as well as percolators and ice catchers.

3. Beakers

beaker water pipe
Beaker Water Pipe from Terp Tube

Beaker water pipes feature a beaker-shaped base. They hold plenty of water for plenty of cooling and usually come with removable downstems. Some also include percolators which allow for ample amounts of smoke and flavorful hits.

4. Dab Rigs

dab rig water pipe
Dab Rig from Terp Tube

Dab rigs are typically on the smaller side and feature a quartz banger or nail for vaporizing concentrates instead of a bowl slide for flower. The chamber is close to the mouthpiece to encourage better concentrate flavors and minimal filtration. Dab rigs can also be used as water pipes, though you’ll usually have to buy a bowl slide separately.

5. Recyclers

Recycler Water Pipe
Recycler Water Pipe from Pulsar

Recyclers are easy to distinguish from other water pipes because they feature a lot of tube-like chambers and percolators. Unlike most water pipes, they don’t transfer smoke from one section to the next with bubbles. Instead, a recycler circulates smoke and water multiple times before it reaches the mouthpiece. Because of their delicate design, they tend to be the most expensive water pipes on the market, but they provide a superb smoking experience for both dry herbs and concentrates.

6. Percolator Designs

percolator water pipe
Terp Tube Water Pipe with Dual Percolators

Percolator water pipes feature an intricate design with several different percolators that all help cool and filter smoke. The more percs you have, the more functional and flavorful your hits become. Water pipes with lots of different built-in percolators can provide some of the smoothest smoke, but they tend to be pricier and more difficult to clean.

7. Multi-chamber Designs

Multi-Chamber Water Pipe from RooR
Multi-Chamber Water Pipe from RooR

Multi-chamber water pipes have multiple water chambers located throughout the pipe. They tend to be on the pricier side, but they usually also feature multiple percolators, ice catchers, and splash guards. Because they’re designed to hold more water and percs, they’re usually more sturdy and provide incredibly smooth hits.

What to consider before buying a water pipe 

Now that you know the basics of water pipes and a few of their different designs, it’s time to break down a few things to consider before making a purchase.

  1. Size — Sizes of each water pipe come with their own pros and cons. Mini pipes are great for smoking on the go due to their size, but because of their size they typically don’t come with all the bells and whistles that provide quality filtration and cooling. Large water pipes on the other hand offer the best filtration and cooling since they’re big enough to have all the features, but they’re not great for traveling because of their large size. Medium sized water pipes are somewhere in the middle. They’re not the easiest to travel with, but they can be used on the go. They also contain a good amount of features that boost their filtration and cooling capabilities. Always take your lifestyle into consideration before picking your ideal size.
  2. Joint sizes — If you already have a bowl slide you like, make sure that the water pipe you buy will work with it. Many parts on water pipes are interchangeable, including ashcatchers, percolators, downstems, and slides. Take care to measure parts you already have when hunting for a new piece. However, if you’re going all out on a new piece, make sure the new slide or downstem you purchase will have the same joint size as the water pipe. You should also double check if the piece has a male or female slide to ensure you’re buying the right thing.
  3. Materials — Water pipes can be made with all sorts of different materials. The most popular choice is borosillicate glass since it’s easy to mold into all sorts of designs, and it’s heavy and less likely to crack under high heat.  Ceramic water pipes are also an option since they don’t heat up as much as glass or other materials, but they tend to be a lot more brittle and simplistic than others. Acrylic water pipes are practically indestructible and very cheap, but they’re very basic and don’t feature exciting percolators or attachments. But somewhere in the middle is silicone water pipes. Silicones are better than acrylic and plastic since they can hold up to extremely high temperatures. They’re also portable and dishwasher safe, though they typically don’t come with any additional bells and whistles.
  4. Maintenance requirements — All water pipes will need to be cleaned here and there. If you don’t make a lot of time for cleaning your piece, you might want to go with something more basic and get something with a removable downstem. Recyclers, percolators, and pipes with additional water chambers can be difficult to clean after prolonged use. If you don’t have a lot of time for upkeep, keep it simple.
  5. Price — Last but not least, don’t break your bank for a piece of glass. There are all sorts of different designs out there at countless price points, so depending on where you order or buy your glass, you can find something you like in your price range. Remember, the more bells and whistles you want included with your water pipe are going to drive the price up. Additionally, buying glass from an artist will always be more expensive.

All in all, there are a lot of things to consider when making your first water pipe purchase. If you’re looking for the ultimate first-time experience, stick to the tips and specs outlined in this handy buyers guide for best results.

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