By Smoke Cartel Crew on Mar 25, 2014

When it comes to getting the most out of precious herb, picking the right bong size can make a big difference in your experience. Most cannabis connoisseurs are flavor aficionados, so working with the right equipment means maximum flavor, ease-of-use and effectiveness.

Water pipes can work for concentrates as well as dry herb. A water pipe that has a “nail” to heat concentrates on is a dab rig. That same pipe with an herb slide is a bong. But both use the pipe the same way.

Water acts as a filter when smoke is pulled through it. It also swirls and cools smoke for a smoother hit. With dry herb, water captures any burnt bi-products created from combustion and pulled through the bowl and into the water.

Depending on whether you are using a screen (for dry herb), debris can measure in microns or centimeters. There are also add-on devices that work with many bongs called ash catchers that trap burnt particles before ever hitting the water.

So you know you want a water pipe, you just aren’t sure which one. Well read on, because bongs come in many shapes and sizes. Do you want a micro, a feed through, straight neck, bent neck, beaker?!? How about percs? Showerhead, 8-arm tree, honeycomb?!?

Not to worry, we’ll break it down here.

Different Bong Sizes

Water pipes are usually measured by height in inches, and by the size of the joint in millimeters (no, not that kind of a joint). A bong’s joint is where the bowl slides into the downstem. Joints are either ground (sandblasted) or groundless (clear), and have male or female anatomy.

That’s right, your bong has a sex. A male joint works with female gear, and female joints take male add ons (removable tools like bowls/herb slides, nails, ashcatchers, percs, etc. ).

Now joints and their corresponding add on tools come in three standard sizes, 10mm 14mm and 18mm. Don’t bust out a ruler, because those sizes aren’t exact; they’re rounded to nice even numbers.

Plus, there’s a trick you can use to measure joint size; if a dime is larger than the joint, it’s 14mm. If a dime can just cover the joint, it’s 18mm. We won’t worry about 10mm because those sizes are better as dab rigs, not bongs (smoke needs more cooling than vapor).

Both joints and add ons have tapered male or female bits. These sexed bits come together (get you mind out of the gutter), creating a snug, airtight seal as one slides into the other (pervert!). Snug connections create a vacuum until you pull the slide to clear the chamber.

So, size of the joint is a big consideration when buying the best rig. You can pull much more air more quickly through an 18mm joint than you can through a 14mm or 10mm one. But that also means you use your lung capacity much faster too. If the rig is tall, large, or has lots of percs then clearing the chamber in one breath is next to impossible.

How tall should my bong be?

Spark works best when the pipe is good for your lung capacity. If you can power hit, a taller bong with multiple percs may be your best bet, but many others will have a hard time clearing the chamber(s). Yes, big bongs give great smoke, but may be overkill for many.

NOTE: As a general rule, like heighth, the more percs a pipe has, the harder the chamber is to clear in one pull. Tall, multi perc pipes with fancy design elements also cost considerably more money than a standard water pipe.

Bongs can range anywhere from micros that are inches (there are fold-away pocket models) to multiple feet tall. I’ve personally seen a 10 foot bong that must have come with a ladder. I’m sure there are even larger out there.

So yes, the taller a bong is, the more impressive it can look, but harder it is to clear. So, most people will opt for a mid-size bong in the 10-to-15 inch height. These water pipes fit well in almost any hand and have reasonably sized chambers and generally fewer percs so chambers are easier to clear.

Popular bong shapes

Water pipes have a wide variety of shapes with new styles appearing when great glass masters create them. Designs differ to accommodate percolators, multiple chambers and other design elements like ice catches and splash guard domes.

But first, let’s break down some of the more popular shapes here.

Straight tube bongs are as basic as you get. The most basic models have down stems that are set at 45 degree angles. There are also 90 degree downstems, some, called fixed meniscus, have reinforcing glass supports. These models can range from inches to feet.

A beaker bong is another basic model you can find in any head shop. Most beakers resemble an erlenmeyer flask from a chemistry lab. These models usually always have down stems set at 45 degree angles.

Rounded base bongs are basically the same as beakers, but, you guessed it, with a round base. That shape can range from squat and fat to long and oval. Again, these usually have down stems that are at 45 degree angles.

Bent neck bongs have a angled tube to keep water from going straight up and into someone’s mouth. It basically acts as a splash guard and allows the smoker’s face to stay further away from the flame of a lighter.

Recycler bongs have multiple chambers for smoke to travel through, and a line between chambers that recirculates the smoke for a second pass through water. This is really a design element more than a style of bong, but usually has a unique look and feel.

Faberge egg water pipes are a hot new trend because their oval shape. This design splashes water in a way that acts as a perc. So, when an egg bong has an added perc, it provides a unique look and clean pull.

Bong design elements

Multi Chamber Bongs in a bong are also common without recyclers. Two (or more) chambers are probably the most common design element of the modern bong since the advent of boro glass pipes. Each separate chamber can have separate water and/or percs as well as other design elements.

Recycler Bongs connect one chamber to another, allowing smoke to pass through water multiple times. This double filtration not only diffuses smoke again, but also cools it further for smoother, cooler hits.

Percolators / Percs” as they are called, are a way to diffuse smoke even more than just pulling it through water. A perc forces water through smaller holes, creating more bubbles for more diffusion. Some percs even swirl smoke as it’s drawn through the bong. Examples of the most popular percs include shower head, matrix, honeycomb, multi-arm tree and inline.

Bent Neck Mouthpieces have a stem that goes back, away from the bowl. This backwards angle does two things; keeps the face further from the flame than a straight neck, and keeps water from the pipe’s chambers from splashing into the mouth.

Fat Can Bases are a thick, wide base for a bong or rig. These sturdy bases, usually used on tall straight tube bongs, keep everything upright, preventing tip over accidents.

Removable Down Stems are usually done on a 45 degree angle. These easy-to-clean parts have an 18mm end to secure to the water pipe, and accept 14mm Male attachments like bowls and ash catchers. These can make clean a bong much easier and are replaceable if broken.

Splash Guard Domes usually sit at the top near the mouthpiece. Smoke is pulled through a lower chamber then sent through a small opening which is domed off to prevent any water from entering the smoker’s mouth.

An Ice Catch is a way of holding ice cubes in the neck to cool smoke as it passes, before being inhaled.

Popular bong percs

Percs can go a long way to enhancing your smoke sesh. They diffuse smoke so it condenses as it filters, for cooler, smoother smoke. Here we detail popular styles and the effect they produce.

NOTE: All percs are less effective when used at an angle which happens the way many people hold a bong.

Diffused Downstems are the most common perc. Small slits cut into a downstem towards its end allows water to be broken up into seperate bubbles, increasing surface areas and thereby increasing filtration.

Tree Percs were one of the first percs used in glass bongs after the diffused downstem. Tree percs have a line running up through the middle which mushrooms out into several arms. Each arm is another downstem which submerges back into water. Each arm usually has several slits to diffuse water and create multiple bubbles, just like diffuser downstems.

NOTE: Tree percs can be fragile as they are made from several pieces, fused together. They can also be hard to clean, but are very effective at diffusing smoke.

Showerhead Percs are called by many different names including UFO, Bell and Tire perc. That’s because of the shape created by a pipe that comes up through the middle, is then covered by a larger tube which eventually flares out towards its base where the diffuser slits are cut.

NOTE: Showerhead percs can be fragile, being made from at least two separate parts fused together. They are often used in stemless bongs.

Honeycomb Percs are disks with multiple holes across their surface. This highly effective design is also very stable being only one piece. They are easy to make, take up very little vertical space, create very little drag, and can be stacked in multiples without increasing draw too much.

An Inline Perc is just a multi-slitted tube, much like the diffuser downstem, but laid sideways. They are often used in place of down stems on stemless pipes. An inline perc usually has slits resting on the bottom. It’s an effective perc that’s fairly stable being just one piece.

NOTE: The longer inline percs are, the more fragile they can be. Inline percs are often used in stemless bongs as a first minor perc leading to a main perc above it.

A Matrix Perc is a circular design and similar to stacked showerhead perc. A main tube rises up the middle to be capped by a larger tube that pulls smoke back down where multiple stacked slits all around the bottom edge diffuse into tiny bubbles.

NOTE: Smoke, water and bubbles follows the path of least resistance. So, the top row of slits do most of the work, leaving the bottom row unused. Matrix percs are often used in stemless bongs in place of the down stem.

Turbine Percs are designed to channel water in a specific direction from multiple slits when water is pulled through, creating a vortex effect in water and smoke. They are similar to honeycomb percs being one piece, but with fewer holes (and less diffusion).

NOTE: Turbine percs splash water outwards, towards the wall rather than the middle and works as an effective splash guard.

A Fritted Disk Perc is like a porous stone, with countless outlets making countless bubbles. Like all other disk percs it is extremely stable as one piece, and stackable because it takes up very little vertical space. A fritted disk perc out-diffuses all other percs but with notable down sides.

NOTE:  The down side to the fritted disk perc is the same as its appeal- all those countless holes. They are easily clogged, so a fritted disk perc takes more maintenance than other percs. Also, the porous nature of the fritted disk perc creates a lot of drag and can be difficult to pull through (especially if clogged).

Faberge Egg bongs and Swiss Perc bongs are also listed in the design elements section of this article because of their unique appearances. But their functionality as a perc lands them in this section too. These percs are basically hollow walls with indentions that create holes. The design works with another perc, spreading out bubbles for greater surface area meaning greater cooling and filtration.

Smoking for flavor

Smoking herb through a bong dates back millenia. Water filtered pipes are one of the oldest ways to inhale smoke, as archeological sites have revealed. However, many advances in glass artistry mean cleaner tasting smoke and even better smoking experiences.

People have appreciated the value of bongs forever because smoke seems cooler and less harsh when pulled through water. As long as you learn to spark a bowl in the correct manner, you can also get the full effect of terpenes too.

Flavor profiles in cannabis are just one of the many things to improve since (re)legalization has begun sweeping the world. The scent and flavor that plants like cannabis produce come from their terpenes, the extremely pungent outer part of the bud that’s the sticky while growing and crystallize as they dry.

During the drying and curing process of cannabis, the terpenes slowly lose their liquid nature, but all that goodness is absorbed into the bud, contributing its flavor profile which is obvious when smoked, smelled or baked.

Terpenes are primarily what hashish has typically been made of. This is also what your herb grinder’s pollen chamber / kief collector is there for, collecting dried terpenes to be turned into hash.

When cannabis is illegal, it is shipped and handled in very rough ways, often destroying much of the terpene structure. But if you are lucky enough to be able to walk into a dispensary with jars and jars of perfectly handled herb, it’s a joy to smell, like a fine brandy, and your proper-sized bong is a snifter.

Let the bong games begin!

But terpenes are temperamental and flavor can be fleeting. For this reason, it’s great to have the right sized bong, so you can play a little game called ‘Spark.’ You need nothing regular smoke sesh supplies.

Once you have found the perfect bong for your needs, load a bowl as usual. When you go to light it, though, try and keep the flame just far enough away from the bud to pull heat through, but not light it. This is the world’s first vaporizer, and if you do it right, you should get a taste of the terpenes alone (along with some lovely, light THC vibes).

Pass the pipe to anyone else in the smoke circle to let them try. The first person to cause the light the bud loses. You can play where the loser has to pack the next bowl, or they lose a turn to hit. Whatever. You decide the rules from there.

What is the right size bong?

The short answer is, whichever you prefer. This article has given you some of the considerations that will help you make an informed choice. Technically, any water pipe that can hold a bowl can be a bong. But, like Goldilocks, your choice can be juuuust right when you consider all the options.

First, remember that combusting dry herb releases a lot of junk you don’t want in your lungs. Water was designed to mitigate much of that. Plus, modern herb means crisp flavor profiles, so make sure you can clear a chamber in one pull for maximum appreciation.

That cunning cloud of tasty terps and tantalizing cannabinoids is pulled through water, cooling it quickly, condensing into more and more compact hits, IF you can clear the chamber. The more percs, the more diffusion, but the harder it can be to pull.

A bong that’s too big can also make cleaning a pain if there are a lot of nooks and crannies.

Final thoughts about bongs

If your lungs are great, then the bigger the better! The more percs a pipe has the smoother and cooler the smoke. But, when talking bong hits, a larger chamber can be impossible for most people to clear. Smoke caught inside goes stale quickly, meaning a loss of flavor.

Another consideration on the best bong for you is complexity of the pipe. If there are multiple water chambers and/or percs, that can make it harder to clear the chamber AND harder to clean. But if you can smoke it through comfortably, it also means extra filtration and diffusion for cooler smoke.

Super small water pipes, like 10mm micros that are only inches tall, are usually meant for dabbing concentrates. Less water is better for vapor, but not smoke. So, I would stick to larger sizes for dry herb.

Finally, 14mm mid-size bongs are the most popular for being juuuust right in most ways. In the 8-to-15 inch range, there’s a wide range of styles, designs, percs and matching add-ons. Plus, the size of the chamber on most 14mm rigs means not too much water to pull through, thus preserving flavor profiles while cooling and filtering smoke. Mid-sized bongs usually have fewer percs too and an easier-to-clear chamber.

Now bowls... well, that’s a whole other article.

Happy Hitting!

About the Author

Smoke Cartel - Online Headshop

Smoke Cartel Crew

Written by the staff here at Smoke Cartel. Our passionate team of headshop professionals are dedicated to educating people on products in the online headshop industry, from glass, to vaporizes, and all the consumption devices and accessories in between.

We believe that knowing how your products are made, what they were originally designed for, and how to properly use them - is essential to keeping our customers happy. If you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to reach out to us!


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