The world of smoking has by all accounts exploded, and with new products revealing themselves constantly, this world is no longer contained to simply smoking. Whether you are curious to explore the many ways in which you can apply, ingest, smoke, or vape CBD, dry herbs, or tobacco , there is as much possibility and innovation as anyone could ever desire. In this progressive and unstoppable context, new technologies have helped to create sophisticated gadgets to satisfy any fancy. But in the midst of this din stands a rather ancient, stoic, and by no means forgotten technology: the humble bong, also known as a water pipe.
The bong’s simple, flawless design has enabled it to pass through many fads and many histories without being forgotten or lost to time. The surge in new materials and technologies (not to mention becoming a mainstay of popular culture) has, rather than obscure the bong forever, helped to further refine and perfect its abilities without losing any of its timelessness.
What has made the bong so absolutely resilient? The bong’s success story is one of design, material, and historically sound technology. By exploring the history of the bong, along with the new technologies that are only adding to its perfection, learn why the bong is still so widely used and what it can offer any user, whether experienced or brand new.
How Does a Bong Work: Design and Science
There is nothing wasteful about the design of a bong, and every part has a specific and necessary use. Quite simply, a bong is used to smoke dry herbs like lavender or tobacco by first passing the smoke through a liquid to create a cool, smooth inhalation. From its use by tribal chiefs 2400 years ago, to its travels along the silk road all the way to China, up to the present day, the fundamental design of a bong has remained the same.
All bongs house the same elements:
- Mouthpiece - this is where the simple science of bongs comes into effect, and where the mouth is placed
- Chamber - The majority of the bong is comprised of the chamber. The top of the chamber is where a user inhales from, known as the mouthpiece, and the base of the chamber is where water is placed
- Bowl - The bowl is where the dry herb is packed, and where a filter can be placed to ‘catch’ the ash and keep it from clogging the mechanism
Pretty simple, right? Most, but not all, bongs also contain a downstem, or a tube that angles into the water in the chamber that pulls smoke from the bowl, through the liquid, and up the chamber to the mouth, and a carburetor or hole in the side of the base that creates clear airflow by lifting the bowl off of the downstem.
It is important to mention that any bong can also be converted into a dab rig, depending on what you’re smoking. Dab rigs require a dab nail that sits in the same place where on a bong you would house your bowl. A dab nail needs to be heated with a torch before an oil or concentrate is applied to the head of the nail, which is then inhaled through the body of the bong/rig.
All Bongs Use the Same Science:
Bongs don’t need any other power sources besides your own body and a flame to make them work, the rest of the science is built right into their design. The simple beauty of the bong is that to achieve the desired effect of inhaling a smooth and cool vapor, all the user needs to do is ensure that as they inhale, their seal around the mouthpiece stays tight and their flame lit. This basic principle of physics is known as the vacuum and don’t let the term ‘basic’ fool you. By basic we mean fundamental, and very very important.
If the vacuum is tight, as the flame creates smoke and the user inhales, the vacuum draws the smoke into the chamber of the bong where it passes through the cooling liquid. The smoke remains in the chamber as it has cooled down, and we all know what happens to vapor when it cools, right? But besides creating a cooler inhale, the water in the base of the bong also
Works as a filtration device, trapping unwanted particles like tar and ash as they bind with the molecules in the water, but allowing the finer bits that you want to escape.
Variations of a Bong: Materials, Size, and Shape
Now that we have established the fundamentals, we can explore the many variations of bong that exist and learn what their unique personalities and benefits are. To start, bongs can, and are, made out of several different types of material. Let’s explore these in more detail:
- Glass - By and large the most popular choice for bong material, glass provides a pure and clean smoking experience every time as glass does not affect the taste of the smoke. They are also thought to be more hygienic because glass cleans easily
- Plastic - A modern-day material, plastic adds durability to the design of a bong. Also, as plastic is cheap to produce, this is an excellent option for any beginner bong user. However, plastic cuts on flavor and smoke quality what it makes up for in durability
- Ceramic - Beautiful but heavy, ceramic bongs can be quite fragile and tend not to travel very well. However, for those looking for an excellent smoking experience and a piece of art all in one, ceramic bongs are just as collectible as glass.
- Bamboo - The most ancient of bong materials, bamboo not only carries the weight of tradition on its back but also provides an option for anyone looking for a bong made out of natural materials.
But does size matter? The most diplomatic answer is probably the most factual: it depends on your needs. A larger bong means that you can inhale more smoke at one time, but it also means that the smoke you inhale has a chance to take full advantage of the filtration offered by the water or liquid in the base (and they have extra room for add ons which will be discussed momentarily). But, larger bongs are more awkward to transport, and of course heavier.
And so what about shape? Well, fundamentally a bong’s shape denotes its purpose, as discussed above. At the most basic level, bongs are usually straight-based, beaker-based, or round-based with the same internal function. The different shaped bases indicate varying degrees of water chamber space and surface area for the base of the bong, but all function very similarly.
Bongs and Technology: Extra (Percs)
Even though bongs present an ideal and almost perfected functionality in their own right, advancements in materials and technologies has rocketed them from ancient tool to 21st century gadgetry. Percolators, or percs, or percolator bongs, are probably the most pragmatic variation, and are devices that are instantly reminiscent of Italian coffee machinery, and in essence, they are quite similar when applied to a bong.
Percolators basically move vapour through space. In bongs, the main chamber is fitted with a percolator, or series of sub chambers, that is filled with water. As the smoke is inhaled, the difference in pressure between the top and the bottom of the perc causes the smoke to move through the liquid. If the smoke is able to make its way through more area, the resultant smoke is smoother and cleaner.
There are an abundance of percolator choices, from simpler to more complex designs, all with their own unique attributes. Very briefly, here are a list of the more common ones and what they bring to the table:
- Diffused Downstem - A downstem that contains extra hole or slits, these percs are simple and effective, making vapour contact more water, cooling and smoothing it as much as possible before it reaches your lungs.
- Turbine Percs - A disc shaped percolator, turbine percs have slanted slits that create (you guessed it!) a whirlwind effect when you inhale. Drawing the vapour into a spiral makes it come into contact with more water, creating a smooth drag. Oh, and it’s gorgeous to look at as well.
- Spiral Percs - Spiral shaped glass tubes wind gracefully around each other, this perc is vertical so requires a bit more space than a disc shaped perc. The verticality creates a mechanism to cool your vapour even more, and again, it’s very pretty
- Showerhead Percs - Not only do they actually look like showerheads, these percs contain a tube connected to the main chamber that pulls smoke up and through a larger tube. The vapour is then pushed downwards and out of a round base with varying sized holes, again creating more diffusion.
- Honeycomb Percs - Shaped like little honeycombs, the many holes in this disc shaped perc borrow from nature an ingenious design and maximise the amount of vapour surface area that comes into contact with water.
- Swiss Cheese Perc - Although the look might not seem so, these percs are functional as well as beautiful. The chamber of these percs is littered with large holes (not unlike Swiss cheese) that filter vapour with minimal drag.
Whether you’re looking for a simple, stress free bong to make your smoking experience smoother, or a veritable work of art, bongs prove over and over that they still have, and will continue to have, a lasting effect over us. And although many variations exist to further enhance your bong experience, the simple fact remains that the bong’s fundamental design verges on perfection. And as the bong’s continued popularity attests to, this perfection is well appreciated and completely steadfast.