If you’re new to smoking, the world of bongs can be overwhelming. But fear not, because in this beginner’s guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know to make an informed decision when purchasing a bong for the first time. From different materials to various designs, it can be challenging to know what to look for when buying your first bong, but we’ve got you covered. Below you’ll learn about the different types of bongs, the size and shape options available, and the difference between heady and production glass. By the end of this guide, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to confidently choose the perfect bong for your smoking needs.
Heady Vs. Production Glass
Before we jump into the meat of this beginner’s guide to bongs, let’s start by clarifying that this is a bong buying guide to glass bongs. While acrylic, silicone and ceramic are viable options, glass is the most well-rounded and cost effective material out there. Glass bongs come in two main types: heady or production.
Heady glass refers to handcrafted, one-of-a-kind pieces that are often created by independent artists and are typically characterized by unique designs, intricate details and high levels of craftsmanship. These pieces are often made using techniques such as glass blowing, sculpting and fusing, and can feature complex shapes, vibrant colors and creative themes. However, they tend to be very expensive and more delicate than production glass.
Heady glass piece by Windstar Glass, blown live at CHAMPS 2022 in Las Vegas.
On the other hand, production glass refers to mass-produced glass bongs that are created using standardized techniques and designs, often in large quantities. These pieces are typically more affordable and accessible than heady glass, but they lack the individuality and wow factor that make heady glass so unique and sought-after.
If you’re a beginner, we’d suggest starting with a solid piece of production glass first for use as a daily driver since they’re cheaper and tend to be sturdier than the intricate heady glass pieces. After a while, you may want to upgrade to heady glass if you’re careful with your bong and you want a functional art piece to smoke out of. Whichever type of glass you choose, you can use the information below to build a perfect bong for your needs.
There are four main styles or shapes of bongs to consider: straight tubes, beaker bases, side cars and recyclers. The choice of which style to choose comes down to personal preference.
Straight tubes: Straight tubes feature a downstem that leads to (you guessed it) a straight tube with a consistent diameter, although this can vary when percolators are added. People love straight tubes because they clear faster with less drag than other bong styles.
Beaker Bongs: Beaker bases resemble an Erlenmeyer flask from chemistry class and can also come in a bulbous shape that’s less triangular than the beaker bottom. People like beaker bongs because they have plenty of surface area and volume, which allows you to take bigger, cleaner rips.
Side Cars: Side cars are a hybrid of the two, with a wider diameter than a straight tube or beaker base and a neck that bends back at a 45-degree angle, placing the bowl piece around 2-3 inches below eye level. They’re a good hybrid bong as they can be used for both concentrates and flower. They also have a unique aesthetic compared to the simpler versions above.
Side Car Bong
Recyclers: Recyclers are typically used for taking dabs and work by pulling water up through a tube and into a chamber where smoke exits the mouthpiece, with water then flowing back down into the bottom of the bong. Some of them are the right size for use as a bong, and they provide the best cooling and filtration capabilities but they can be a pain to clean.
Regardless of the bong style you choose, you’re going to want to choose a piece made of thick, high-quality glass. Bong glass thickness ranges from 2mm thick to 5mm on average, though there are some out there that exceed 5mm. When it comes to a bong, you’re going to have to pay a little extra for an extra thick bong, but you’re going to be less likely to have to replace it in the long run. The thicker your glass, the less likely you are to damage or break it by accident. Many smokers recommend sticking to glass over 3mm thick, which is a good middle ground. The thicker the glass, the sturdier the bong.
When it comes to downstems, there are two types: natural and physical. Natural downstems feature a joint where the bowl piece sits vertically and leads down to the bottom of the bong. Physical downstems, on the other hand, are glass tubes that can be removed.
If you opt for a natural downstem, be sure to select a bong with a high-quality perc, as there’s no way to upgrade the downstem later. In contrast, physical downstems offer greater customization options. You can choose from side slits, holes, showerhead, or chandelier percs at the end. While this allows for upgrades, keep in mind that a downstem adds one more piece to clean and potentially break. If you can find a bong with a natural downstem and impressive percs, it’s often the better choice.
It’s important for first-time bong buyers to understand the different joint sizes available for bongs. Joint sizes refer to the diameter of the opening where the bowl piece or downstem fits into the bong. The most common joint sizes are 10mm, 14mm, and 18mm with the most popular size being 14mm. You’ll typically find 10mm joints on recyclers, rigs, and smaller bongs and 18mm on the extra large ones.
Knowing the joint size is crucial because it determines what accessories and parts you can use with your bong. For example, if you buy a bong with a 14mm joint size, you will need to purchase a bowl piece or downstem with the same joint size. Additionally, knowing your bong’s joint size can help you find the right size adapter if you want to use accessories with different joint sizes. Understanding joint sizes can save you time and money in the long run and makes your smoking experience more enjoyable.
When it comes to choosing the best perc for your bong, things can get tricky since there are so many options available. The amount of drag and smoothness/bubble action are important factors to consider. Some headshops allow you to water test their bongs, so take advantage of this if possible. Here’s a breakdown of different percs and their ratings, with 10 being the best and 1 being the worst:
- Showerhead percs: A showerhead percolator is a type of perc for bongs that has a mushroom-shaped head with multiple slits around its base, allowing the smoke to diffuse and filter through the water for smoother hits. Showerheads have medium smoothness and high drag, with a rating of 6/10 for smoothness and 9/10 for drag.
- Turbine percs: A turbine percolator is a type of bong perc that looks like a glass disk with angled slits that create a tornado-like effect to spin the water and smoke, producing a cool sound and decent bubble action. Turbines have a cool spinning effect, medium drag, and decent bubble action, with a rating of 5/10 for smoothness and 6/10 for drag.
- Disc Percs: A disc percolator is a type of bong percolator that looks like a glass disc that is slitted around the length of it and sunk down a little from where it starts. Disks have low drag, decent smoothness, and okay bubble action, with a rating of 6/10 for smoothness and 9/10 for drag.
- Inline Percs: An inline percolator is a small horizontal tube with slits or holes that is either built into the bong or inserted through the downstem to filter smoke through water, creating a smooth and cool hit. Inlines have awesome bubbles and perculation, with longer inlines having less drag, and a rating of 7/10 for smoothness and 4/10 for drag at 2″ length, and a rating of 7/10 for both smoothness and drag at 5″ length.
- Honeycomb Percs: A honeycomb percolator is a type of percolator that features a flat glass disc with multiple tiny holes that resemble a honeycomb. The smoke is filtered through these small holes, creating a large number of small bubbles and providing excellent filtration and diffusion. Honeycombs have great percolation and bubble action, with very little drag, but can clog quickly with oil/wax, with a rating of 8/10 for both smoothness and drag.
- Froth Percs: A froth percolator looks like a wide tube structure with slits around the sides. Froths have good bubbles and decent drag, with a rating of 7/10 for smoothness and 8/10 for drag.
- Chandelier Percs: A chandelier percolator is a type of perc that looks like a barrel with multiple holes around it, which helps to filter smoke and create bubbles for a smoother hit. Chandeliers have medium smoothness and drag, with a rating of 7/10 for smoothness and 6/10 for drag.
- Tree Percs: A tree percolator, also known as a palm tree percolator, is a type of percolator that features several arms extending from a central point, resembling the branches of a palm tree. Smoke passes through the arms and is diffused through the water, creating a smooth hit with good filtration. Trees have varying numbers of arms, with decent smoothness and drag, and a rating of 7/10 for both smoothness and drag, but better with more arms.
- Pancake Percs: A pancake percolator is a flat, disk-shaped percolator with slits around the edge that looks like a pancake and is typically attached to a natural downstem. Pancakes have slits around the whole thing and natural downstems, with a rating of 7/10 for both smoothness and drag.
- Stereo Matrix Percs: A matrix percolator is a type of water pipe filtration system that uses multiple small holes or slits to create a matrix-like structure that helps break up smoke into smaller bubbles and increases water surface area for improved filtration and cooling. Stereo matrices are unique and hard to explain, with a ton of holes/slits and great smoothness and drag, with a rating of 9/10 for both.
- Halo Percs: Halos look like incomplete circles with holes in the sides and at the ends, with awesome bubble action and a rating of 8/10 for both smoothness and drag, depending on hole size and whether the ends are capped or open.
- Fritted Disk Percs: Finally, A fritted disc percolator is a type of filtration system in a water pipe that uses a porous disc made of small glass particles fused together to create tiny holes that filter smoke. Fritted disks are the best perc with amazing smoothness and bubble action, with a rating of 10/10 for both, although drag depends on the size of the disk.
Extra Features and Accessories
Bongs come in all different shapes and sizes and come complete with lots of different bells and whistles. Outside of your downstem, joints, and percs, you might like a bong with a couple extra features. If you’re a first time bong buyer, you’ll want to be familiar with these common extra features.
- Splashguard: A splashguard is a must-have for most bongs, especially those with percs located six inches or less from the mouthpiece. Splashguards won’t add any additional percolation, but they will prevent bong water from entering your mouth while inhaling.
- Ice Catch: Icecatchers are another cool addition, although not essential. These are three indentations in the tube that catch ice cubes and make smoking a lot smoother. They’re normally built into the glass. If you like to cool down your smoke, they’re useful. But if you don’t normally put ice in your bong then you don’t really need one.
- Ash Catchers: Ash catchers are a great upgrade usually sold as an attachment or accessory. They slide into your downstem and add an extra chamber, usually with an extra percolator, to help filter your smoke and prevent scoobs from getting sucked into your bong. That just means you’ll only have to clean a small chamber rather than your entire bong. They’re a very cheap and helpful upgrade to any bong.
Pro Tips For Buying a Bong
When shopping for a new bong, there are numerous considerations you should make before making a decision.
Think about cleanliness: When you’re buying a bong, know that you’re going to be running ash, resin and smoke through it. Your bong should be pretty easy to clean, so if you’re new, you may want to avoid bongs with a ton of tiny percolator holes that are likely to get clogged and may be difficult to clean. As a good rule of thumb, you should change your bong water after every sesh and deep clean it with rubbing alcohol and salt whenever you start seeing resin build up. If you want a ton of percolators, stay on top of bong hygiene. If you know you’re not the best at changing your bong water regularly, you may prefer a simpler design.
Keep size in mind: If you’re going to be buying new bongs in the future, keep track of the size you use. When it comes to bongs, the most common joint sizes are 14mm and 18mm, so it helps to opt for a bong in one of those sizes. Some bongs come with joints as small as 9mm or as large as 26mm, but these uncommon sizes may make it difficult for you to swap accessories, bowls or downstems from one bong to the other. It’ll be more convenient to choose a bong with a universal size so you don’t have to buy a bunch of new accessories if you decide to upgrade your bong down the line.
Opt for stability: If you intend to buy accessories like an extra perc, ashcatcher or reclaimer, you’re going to want to make sure the bong you buy is table stable. Some bongs have a narrow base and feel topheavy, which won’t be good for using attachments or accessories. If you want attachments, pick something with a solid, stable base and a good weight to it. At the headshop, ask to put the accessory you like in the bong you like and test out its stability. You don’t want to buy something that is going to tip over at the slightest movement and break.
Think about cost: Cost is a big factor of a new bong purchase. Think about your budget, and stick to it! You can get a really high quality bong for as little as $50, or you can pay thousands for heady glass that may look super cool but be prone to clogging or breaking. You’ll also want to factor your accessories into your purchase. You may need to buy a bowl, a downstem, an ash catcher, additional percs, dab nails, or otherwise to get your bong where you want it. But with that said, a $50 bong could end up costing you $100 or more with the other parts. It helps to look at complete bong kits at first, and read plenty of reviews before making a choice.
Best Bongs for Beginners
If you’re looking for a good place to get started with your first bong, below are our top three picks.