A pipe designed for vaporizing cannabis concentrates, sometimes referred to as an oil rig, vapor rig, or concentrate pipe. Similarly to a bong, a dab rig filters concentrate vapor through water at the base. In addition to the central piece, dab rigs include a glass, quartz, ceramic, or titanium platform (called a nail or banger) to hold the concentrate or “dab”. Consumers also use a long, slender tool to apply a dab to the nail and a butane or propane torch lighter to heat the nail before the dab is applied.

I prefer using a quartz nail with my dab rig.

Dab rigs or oil rigs require flash-heating, so be sure to use a butane torch.

What are dab rigs?

A dab rig is the chamber of a glass pipe, connected to a nail or banger, used for dabbing, in the place of a traditional bowl typically found on a bong. New dabbers may be overwhelmed at the technique, upfront cost, and number of accessories required to use dab rigs and pipes. But they may also appreciate the strong, streamlined effects and heavy terpene flavors that concentrates and dab rigs provide. 

Once you get the dabbing process down, using a dab rig can be easy and efficient. The key steps are simple: heating the nail with a torch, placing a dab of concentrate in the nail, and inhaling the resulting vapor. 

The modern-day dab pipe typically includes the glass piece, a nail, a dabber, a torch, and a carb cap. Carb caps have become popular accessories because they allow the user to dab at lower temperatures and hold vapor in the nail for a longer time. If you want to find the perfect dab rig for your concentrate consumption needs, several considerations should be made before a purchase.

dab rigs Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Why are dab rigs small?

Both bongs and dab rigs are technically considered “rigs,” or pipe chambers connected to a nail or bowl that holds cannabis products for smoking. If you're new to dab rigs, you may have mistaken a dab rig for a bong, or seen a smaller dab rig or pipe and wondered: Why is that bong so small?

Although both bongs and dab rigs come in an array of shapes and sizes, the dimensions can usually be used to indicate which type of device you're looking at.  

The essential difference between a bong and a dab rig is that dab rigs are optimized for concentrates. In addition to the banger or nail replacing the bowl, dab rigs are typically smaller than bongs. A smaller chamber provides less drag, which means the vapor travels to the lungs more quickly. Many quality glass artists and production glass companies make mini rigs for those who enjoy a rich terpene profile from their cannabis extracts.

Other differences between a bong and a dab rig

Until recently, dab rigs were also typified by a 90-degree male joint that would connect to a female attachment. A male joint has a narrow opening and is meant for accessories to fit over it while female joints have a wider opening for accessories to be inserted into. Male joints have gone out of fashion — as have the types of nails that made them popular. 

As of 2018, dab rigs are usually fitted with 10 millimeter or 14 millimeter female joints. The size of a female joint is measured by the inner circumference of the opening.

History of dab rigs

Before dab rigs entered the scene, “knife hits” were the most popular method of vaporizing concentrates. Cannabis users from the '60s to the '90s would heat two knives on a stove and place a piece of hash on them once they were glowing red. The resulting vapor was then inhaled through a tube or soda bottle that had the base removed. An early form of the dab pipe was made by using a “swing skillet” instead of a bowl on a bong — basically a bong downstem on top of a titanium plate that when heated with a torch vaporized the hash.

The first dab rigs

The originators of the first pieces that could be called “dab rigs” or “dab pipes” were from the brother-and-sister glassblower duo Hashmasta Kut (HMK) and Lucy Carson (GGirl) around 2006. HMK's and GGirl's design incorporated a titanium swing tied to a titanium skillet that would lower beneath a glass arm. On the heated skillet, the dab would vaporize to be inhaled through the glass arm. Their pieces were popularized by Toke City, a highly influential online forum in the days before social media. 

The glass dome and nail

The second iteration of the dab rig came in the form of a glass dome and nail — the first commercially available glass attachment that could turn any bong into a dab pipe. A glass artist known as WBM was one of the first to post about a glass nail for dabbing that fit inside the downstem of a bong, with a dome that was placed above it. Fellow glass artist and Toro Tubes founder JP Toro led the charge in making the dome and nail a commercially viable dabbing device. The nail was heated with a torch, then the dome was placed on top and a dabber, typically a paperclip in the days before proper dabbing tools, was used to put honey oil on the nail.

Emergence of dab rigs as functional art

As more states have legalized recreational and medical cannabis, the appreciation for hand-blown, original pieces from increasingly popular and well-respected glass artists has blossomed. Simultaneously, the growing popularity of dabbing has caused a boom in one-of-a-kind dab rig pieces. According to Brad Melshenker, co-author of “This Is A Pipe,” a book about the evolution of glass pipe-making and the development of dab rigs, “flower pipes switched over to oil rigs in 2009-2010, and artists really stopped making flower pipes.” 

Heady glass and “headies” have become synonymous with artistic pieces tailored to the consumption of concentrates. Artists utilize advanced glassblowing techniques to create shapes ranging from a traditional looking bong to sculptural masterpieces. There are numerous online retailers specializing in selling dab pipes and dab-related products, but the rise of social media has helped to spread the art pieces that glass artists are sharing with the industry at-large.

Dabbing has become so integral to the cannabis market that it has its own holiday. July 10, or 710 (“Oil” turned upside down with LCD-style numbers), has become a popular “stoner's holiday,” arguably in league with 4/20. Most dispensaries have 7/10 sales on concentrates and other dab products. Where dabbing and dab rigs once made up little more than a fringe sector of the cannabis market, they are now a prominent part of contemporary cannabis culture.

Dab tools and accessories

Similarly to the wide-ranging paraphernalia associated with cannabis flower, a dab rig can be paired with numerous accessories to suit a wide variety of individual preferences. These are some of the essentials:

  • A dabber
  • A carb cap
  • A quartz, titanium, glass, or ceramic nail
  • A butane torch (propane torches have the potential to damage nails because the flame burns at much hotter temperatures than butane)
  • An electronic nail
  • A dab pad
  • A clock, timer, or stopwatch
  • Cotton swabs
dab accessories Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Are dab rigs expensive?

In general, dab rigs tend to be more expensive than a regular bong. That's primarily because dab rigs require a number of additional components and tools.

Beyond that, dab rigs are very similar to bongs in that you can spend pretty much any amount of money on high-end artistic pieces that are handmade. But for purely functional purposes, plan on spending more for your dab rig kit than you would on a regular bong, especially if you're planning to purchase a high-quality or handmade piece. One popular avenue for consumers looking at high-end dab rigs for sale is browsing under the #glassforsale hashtag on Instagram.

What's the best nail for dabbing?

Determining the best nail or banger for dabbing is mostly about matching your gear to your rig and personal preferences. Here are some general guidelines to help you figure out which type of nail is best for your consumption needs:

  • Titanium nails: These tend to heat quickly and retain heat very well. They are also very durable. However, after extended use you may see a buildup of titanium oxide that could compromise the performance of the dab nail and that could leach harmful contaminants at high temperatures. If you decide to go the titanium route, it's recommended that you purchase a nail that is rated medical-grade 2. 
  • Ceramic nails: These take the longest to heat up, but once they're at the right temperature, they retain heat the best. Additionally, ceramic nails tend to be very clean and do not pose the risk of leaching harmful substances into your dabs. But because they're ceramic, these nails are generally more vulnerable to breakage.
  • Quartz nails: Also known as quartz bangers, quartz nails heat up rapidly but also lose heat relatively fast. Like ceramic nails, quartz nails are known for being very clean and not leaching contaminants.
  • Glass nails: In general, glass nails heat quickly and hold heat well. Typically made of borosilicate glass, these nails are also typically the cheapest to buy. However, glass nails are the most prone to breaking and can sometimes shatter at very high temperatures.

How to use a dab rig

It may take some time and repetition before you really feel like you know how to use an oil rig. But once you get an intuitive sense of the simple steps involved, it's an incredibly efficient way to consume cannabis concentrates and use them to their full potential. If you're about to embark on your first dab, keep the following steps in mind, or have them on hand until you get a hang of the process: 

Step 1 

Newcomers to the world of concentrates may find themselves wondering: Do you have to put water in a dab rig? The answer is yes. Before you do anything else, fill the base of your rig with enough water so that the downstem is submerged. As with a bong, this water will help cool and filter the vapor coming off your dabs.

Step 2

Heat up the nail with the torch. If it is your first time and you are using a quartz nail, heat it up until it is glowing red. This will ensure that any small particles are burned off the nail, and that you are starting with the hottest possible surface.

Step 3

Wait for the nail to cool down. It may sound counterintuitive, but you want to let your nail cool down so that you don't scorch your dab. The amount of time you need to wait is dependent on the thickness and material of your nail. Your target temperature should be around 300 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, or 149 to 232 degrees Celsius, to get the most flavor out of your concentrates. It usually takes 30 to 60 seconds, depending on how hot your have heated up the nail and the thickness of your nail.

Step 4

Place the dab on the surface of the nail and slowly start to inhale the vapor. Unlike a typical bong hit of dry herb, dabs require a long, slow inhale as the majority of the concentrate does not vaporize instantly. To make the most out of your experience, take a slow, deep breath.

Step 5

If available, place a carb cap on the nail to better vaporize the dab while inhaling. The carb cap will act like an oven and trap all of the heat within the chamber of the nail, ensuring you get the most out of your concentrate.

Step 6

Exhale the dab vapor immediately after inhalation. Keep in mind that you don't need to hold in your vapors before exhaling. Your lungs do an incredibly effective job soaking in all of the active terpenes and cannabinoids.

How to clean your dab rig

There are a few essential cleaning steps that you can take to ensure you get the most flavorful dab experience time and time again.

If your temperature was just right, there should be some residual oil globs at the bottom of the nail. If you are using a quartz nail, wipe the inside of the nail with a cotton swab to remove any residual oil. This helps keep the nail clean, provides a more flavorful dab, and extends the life of your nail.

To break up resistant residual oil, use rubbing alcohol to clean the components of your dab rig. Isopropyl alcohol, or rubbing alcohol, is a potent solvent that dissolves the difficult-to-remove oil that can collect in your nail or banger, or along the sides of the chamber. If wiping with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab won't do the trick, soak your glass in alcohol to break up the oil particles before running a cotton swab or pipe cleaner along the surface. Be sure to completely rinse and dry your rig before use since alcohol is flammable.

E-rigs for dabbers

E-rigs are similar to vape pens that are used to vaporize distillate, but they offer a more powerful platform for vaporizing all forms of concentrates. The first versions were stationary and had to be plugged into an electrical outlet, but current iterations are often battery-powered. These devices are somewhat of a cross between a dab rig for home use and a discreet, portable vape pen. E-rigs combine discretion with power and durability, making them ideal for concentrate fans who are trying to find a travel-ready alternative to a dab rig and torch. 

The main benefit of the e-rig is the ability to precisely control the temperature of your dabs. Unlike a traditional rig, in which you're at the mercy of the flame and a timer, with an e-rig you can dial in the precise temperature you prefer and rest easy, knowing the nail will remain within a narrow range of your desired temperature.

Turn your bong into a dab rig

While it's not the most ideal scenario, it is technically possible to transform a regular bong into a workable dab rig.

The most important element in this process is making sure you find a nail that fits into the downstem of your bong. To do this, first make sure that your bong has a removable bowl. If it doesn't, you won't be able to successfully turn it into a dab rig. If it does, however, remove the bowl, measure the diameter (typically in millimeters) of the downstem's female joint, and then find a nail with a male joint that will fit the downstem.

Be aware that most bongs or water pipes use a downstem situated at a 45-degree angle, which is very different from a dab rig's usual 90-degree angle. As a result, your nail will also be sitting at an angle, so be sure that your melted concentrates don't spill out of the nail while you're taking the dab.

Once you're nail is fitted into the downstem of your bong, you're basically ready to go. Simply heat the nail as usual, drop down a dab, cover it with a carb cap, and inhale through the mouthpiece. Small bongs are best for using as a dab rig, as this will make it easier to pull in the vapor and will help maintain the pristine flavor profiles of your concentrates.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on July 30, 2021.