Chillums are one of the oldest style smoking devices known to man and have been discovered in archeological digs all around the world. No doubt this is because of the straight forward design, and I mean that literally.
Chillums are straight tubes with a conical interior. Chillums can be made of glass, metal, clay, wood, bone, bamboo and stone. Basically, anything that can be a straight pipe with one side large enough to hold a bowl’s worth of weed or tobacco can be a chillum.
But figuratively, the word ‘chillum’ can cause a lot of confusion too. Some people think that chillums can be other shapes of hand pipes too. They can not. A chillum is also not a one-hitter. These small pipes, often called aluminum ‘bats,’ work with dugouts, and have a bowl big enough for, you guessed it, one hit. A chillum usually has a much larger bowl.
The history of the chillum
The word, “Chillum,” comes from Hindi word, “Chilam,” as it was reportedly first invented and used in India by Hindu Monks dating back to at least to the 8th Century A.D. These style pipes, though, have been used in African and elsewhere for centuries as well.
So yes, while all chillums are hand pipes, it’s not true that all hand pipes are chillums. A bent smoking tube is called a pipe, and those have all sorts of shapes. Hand pipes can range from traditional tobacco pipes like the Sherlock, Bent Apple and Stovepipe to the more cannabis-oriented steamroller, spoon pipe and one-hitter.
Conical design, tapered chamber
Traditional Hindu chillums were made from clay. In the process of rolling the clay out, it is left in a long, tapered cone shape. The inside is hollowed out so the walls are the same thickness, leaving a chamber with one end much larger than the other.
In essence, the chillum was the world’s first glass blunt, without the plunger to push out ash. And like glass blunts, chillums can range drastically in size as well as have newer modifications.
While most chillums are big enough to be held like a small cigar, there are models out there made out of an animal’s horn and even 8 foot bamboo versions. In short, chillums have no set size, just a set shape- straight.
As for the modifications, since the green rush has created a glass renaissance, there are a number of changes in the design of a chillum. Some of the pricier models can even include inline percs that are designed to swirl and cool smoke before being inhaled. There are also models with ash catching designs to keep debris from “de” mouth.
Glass pipe artistry
While chillums can be made of any material, it’s glass artistry that has brought this popular design back into vogue. Chillums of all styles and lengths are made possible with intricate glass blowing which is good for looks, for strength, for price and for heat handling.
The glass used in high quality smoking gear is scientific grade borosilicate glass. While this has been around for over a century, using this glass as both form and function in works of art is a new phenomena.
A renaissance happened among glass artists starting in the 1980s. Glassmakers of all stripes found that boro glass had superior durability and brilliant color-holding abilities. The fact that you can freeze forever the fluid nature of glass at its hottest moment or capture, with amazing clarity, a crisp, detailed scene with beautiful imagery made glass chillums and artists natural amigos.
So first and foremost, glass is the go-to material for glass pipes for its beauty. It almost makes it easy to forget the real reason borosilicate glass makes great smoking tools, its strength.
But for the purposes of a glass master’s eye for beauty, borosilicate is most impressive as a smoking tool because of its scientific properties. Its dense chemical composition means boro glass has a higher melting temperature than standard silica glass.
Its dense atomic structure means it’s shock resistant, heat resistant and shatterproof. You can drop and crack a boro glass pipe, but there’s also a good chance it will survive. This superior strength and structure means borosilicate is both chemical and heat resistant.
The strength from boro glass means anything blown from it lasts a long time, delivering an impressive temperature endurance range. So it’s used for scientific chemistry tools like bunsen burners and erlenmeyer flasks as well as select kitchen glass too. It’s used in some High Intensity Discharge light bulbs for its extreme temperature endurance, as well as fine parts of medical implants for its durability.
Borosilicate can also go from the freezer to hot water without shattering like standard glass would. It can withstand temperatures up to nearly a thousand degrees too! So, not only can you freeze a piece like a chillum to cool a bowl (or two), but that same glass can then stand up to torch lighters too.
How to use a chillum
It seems pretty straight forward, right? I mean, a chillum is the simplest of designs as a straight tube; a bowl on one side and a mouthpiece on the other. But there’s a feew more considerations than that.
A lot of your smoke sesh experience with a chillum will depend on personal preferences. The chillum you chose, was it short and squat or long and slender? If the hole that runs through the pipe is big enough, you can get ash mouth pretty easy, depending on your grind.
And there’s another personal preference, many smokers prefer dried herb that is finely ground, to the point of passing it through a sieve. Others like a more coarse grind, but the best option for airflow is probably something in-between. I’ve been known to just wedge a whole bud into a hole and slowly chip away at its edges with a low flame.
You’ll figure out the right grind after a few experimental tries. But to keep your mouth as ash free as possible, take a tip from the hindus. When loading a bowl, stop and look on the ground for a pebble the perfect size to stop debris from getting through the hole, but shaped as to not keep smoke from getting through. It’s a natural way to screen out ash and debris.
How to clean a chillum
Again, a chillum proves to be a very straightforward piece when it comes to cleaning. Usually it’s just a hole to clear of debris and sticky resin. However, there are more complex considerations when a chillum has newer design elements.
Some chillums have built in ash catchers that bend the path of smoke enough to stop debris, or permanent screens with multiple small holes. Some models have seperate chambers divided by percs, making a regular pipe cleaner hard to use.
Soaking a glass or metal smoking piece as the first step in cleaning is usually a good idea. You can also soak more porous material like wood, clay and stone, but this can leave residue that affects flavor and even color, so do so sparingly.
Soaking is ideal because liquid can easily reach hard to clean places. Soaking can loosen built up carbon helping it clear away with pipe cleaners, but still not harming the chillum’s finish.
Keep in mind that smoke will ultimately color even clear glass. Over time and many bowls, this coloration will be a permanent, amber petina. That’s the sign of a well used and well maintained hand pipe.
Bottom Line on Chillums
So choosing a chillum is a matter of personal choice, how you like to chill. Short pipe or longer? Artistic or plain? Big bowl or small bowl? Round mouthpiece or tapered? Glass? Metal? Stone? Wood?
Fortunately for us smokers, sometimes choosing a pipe is a bit like magic, the pipe chooses the puffer. You can tell it’s a good fit the moment it hits your hands (and sometimes your eyes).