Dabbing has taken the cannabis world by storm in recent years. The explosive popularity of concentrates has introduced not only a new method for consuming cannabis, but also an entirely new culture, vocabulary, and a range of specialized tools and components. This article will give you an extensive breakdown of the tools needed to dab like a pro and make the most of your encounter with cannabis concentrates.
Aside from the rig itself, nails are the most vital part of the dabbing experience. A nail is essentially a shallow dish that slides into the downstem of your dab rig, and is the component to which you apply heat and onto which you will drop and vaporize your concentrates.
There are two main types of dab nails you can use with a dab rig:
Nails with dome
These nails require the use of an additional piece called a dome, which slides over the top of a heated nail to help evenly distribute heat and retain vapor.
When you use a nail and dome, you heat the nail to the desired temperature, slide the dome over the top of the nail, drop your concentrate onto the hot nail, and pull in the vapor.
Just as the name indicates, domeless nails do not require the use of a dome. Instead, they feature a larger dish and an opening in the center through which the vapor travels into the rig.
Today, many dabbers prefer using domeless nails, since the larger dishes allow them to hit larger dabs. Using a domeless nail also tends to be a bit simpler than the process of heating a nail and then sliding a dome down over it.
In the absence of a dome, it is now very common to use a carb cap with a domeless nail. A carb cap rests on top of the nail while the concentrate is bubbling and vaporizing, and is lifted off the nail when you're ready to clear the vapor. This creates a small chamber of heat that lets you dab effectively at lower temperatures for a cleaner taste.
The material of the dab nail is another critical factor to consider. Here are the primary options currently available to concentrate consumers:
Titanium nails are metal, which means they heat quickly and retain heat well. They are also very durable and hard to break. However, after extended use, you may see titanium oxide buildups, which can impair the performance of your nail. Additionally, titanium nails are sometimes not medical- or food-grade products, which means there is always the possibility that the nail could leach harmful contaminants at high temperatures. This is why, if you decide to take the titanium route, many seasoned stoners consumers stress the importance of using a dab nail made of medical-grade 2 titanium.
Ceramic nails take the longest to heat up, but once they're at the desired temperature, they tend to retain heat better than other types of nails. Unfortunately, cracks or breakage are more common with a ceramic nail due to the material's inherent fragility. Because they are medical- and food-grade products, ceramic nails eliminate any concerns about harmful contaminants leaching into your weed vapor.
Quartz nails, typically called quartz bangers, heat up quickly but tend to lose heat quickly, too. For that reason, it's best to use a carb cap with your quartz nail. Like ceramic, quartz nails do not leach harmful contaminants and are very safe to use.
Glass nails tend to be the least durable, as they can crack or even shatter at the high temperatures needed for dabbing. However, glass nails are usually the most affordable option, they retain heat relatively well, and are easy to use. But if you dab frequently, be prepared to replace a glass nail at some point when it breaks.
Many dab rigs include a percolator, often referred to as a “perc.” Also found in most bongs, these components elevate the performance of your water pipe by creating tons of bubbling action that leads to water filtration. There are so many styles of percolators on the market today, including:
- Disk percs refer to any sort of disk-shaped percolator with a network of openings designed to create bubbles. Given their relatively compact shape and size, it's easy to stack multiple disk percs into a single rig, allowing you to customize your piece.
- Tree percs feature a number of separate arms, each with an array of small holes or slits. The numerous arms and holes create tons of bubbles, which translates into tons of filtration.
- Shower head percs sit at the bottom of the downstem, submerged in the water chamber. Designed in the shape of a ring, this type of perc includes a series of small openings, just like a shower head. When vapor passes through these holes, they instantly create thousands of tiny bubbles for increased filtration.
- Frit disk percs are made by bonding together a bunch of small glass particles into a disk-like shape. This process leaves behind numerous tiny openings throughout the disk, and these little openings create massive bubbling action — arguably more bubbling than any other type of perc. The only downside is that pulling through all those little holes requires some serious lung effort and they can easily become plugged by leftover reclaim.
- Honeycomb percs feature holes cut in the same structure as a honeycomb and tend to produce more bubbles than standard disk percolators.
- Inline/stemline percs work a lot like standard downstem percs, but instead of sitting at a downward slanted angle, an inline or stemline perc sits horizontally across the water chamber. This means that all holes in the perc are at the same level in the water, rather than some being higher up than others, thereby ensuring a more even filtration process.
- Helix designs are percs arranged into multiple arms that tend to twist or wrap around each other inside the water chamber.
There are two primary ways to heat your nail: manually using a blowtorch or electrically using an e-nail.
When it comes to using a blowtorch, many recommend steering clear of propane torches and opting for a butane torch instead. The quality of the gas is one of the most common reasons people give for choosing butane. And while propane is a less refined gas, experts actually report that dabbing with propane is not significantly more dangerous than dabbing with butane, since you're heating the nail before inhaling anything instead of inhaling directly off the flame.
With that said, propane can sometimes heat nails too intensely, potentially damaging the nail.
Aside from deciding between butane and propane, you can also select from full-sized blowtorches or mini-torches. In general, full-sized torches are a bit more cumbersome and difficult to use — especially when you're feeling the effects of a deep dab session.
Finally, if you want to avoid the hassle of manually heating your nail, you can go with an e-nail vaporizer. These devices typically have a digital interface that lets you input precise temperatures , while also displaying the current temperature of your nail.
Dabbers are simple tools used to scoop out a dab of concentrate and then drop it onto the heated nail. You can get dabbers made out of metal or glass. Both are equally effective, but remember that if you leave a metal dabber on a hot nail for too long, it will also get hot, so be careful when handling.
Today, the most popular dabbers come as a combination tool with a carb cap on one end, and an extended handle with a scooper on the other end.
To keep your dab rig performing at peak levels, and to ensure the best possible dabbing experience, it's important to constantly keep your gear clean. At the minimum, you'll probably need the following cleaning tools for a traditional dab rig:
- Cotton swabs to wipe out your nail. Give it a quick swipe after each dab.
- Cleaning wipes for all glass components.
- Pipe cleaners to clean the downstem and other glass cylindrical components.
- Cleaning solution for your water pipe and percolator — you can use either a solution formulated specifically for water pipes or go with more makeshift options such as isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol or tea tree oil mixed with salt.
Beyond these basic cleaning tools, you can also purchase more specialized dab rig cleaning kits that contain specific cleaning tools designed for each component.
With so many separate components, dab rigs require some special storage equipment. And while there is a seemingly endless array of storage options and new products hitting the market all the time, there are a few essentials that every concentrate consumer should have.
When it comes to storing your glass pieces, it's generally best to look for a sturdy case with plenty of padding and individualized space for each fragile component. These types of cases also make it very easy to transport your rig. Along with a lid that snaps shut tightly and securely, you can also opt for the added security of a lockable storage case.
For storing your concentrates, go with either silicone or glass storage jars specifically designed for dabs. Concentrates won't stick to containers made out of these materials, making it clean, convenient, and easy to scoop out dabs when it comes time to consume them.
Additionally, many concentrate jars can be stored inside odor-proof storage boxes. These are an excellent addition to a dab storage kit, as they give you a neat, discreet, and organized place to store your concentrates in a single location. As a bonus, many storage boxes also include holders for storing dabbers and dabber/carb cap combination tools.
The popularity of dabbing has given way to a new niche industry of dab accessories. And while there are numerous highly specialized accessories on the market, some of the most helpful and important include:
A reclaimer is a glass attachment that fits between the nail and the water chamber, where it collects any runoff concentrate, as well as any concentrate that condenses out of the vapor. After enough reclaim oil builds up, you can either scrape it out or apply some gentle heat, melt it, and let it drip out.
Either way, lab tests have found that reclaim oil is very potent, typically containing between 40% to 50%, THC as well as high levels of at least four other cannabinoids. Additionally, because reclaim has already been heated, it's fully decarboxylated, making it an excellent ingredient for cooking or baking applications.
There are a number of multi-tools on the market, all relatively similar to one another. Typically, they include a number of dabbers and scrapers, possibly a small carb cap, cleaning tools, and other handy gadgets like tiny flashlights, scissors, and tamping tools. Having a good multi-tool on hand can make the process of dabbing a bit more convenient and streamlined.
Dab mats might not seem like a necessary addition to the tool kit, but they actually make a notable difference. Most dab mats are made out of silicone, giving you a slip-proof place to set up your rig and making it very easy to clean if any concentrates or other substances drip onto the mat.
As you become a more experienced dabber, and as you figure out your preferred dabbing setup, you can start hunting around for more specialized accessories to personalize your experience further.
Other ways to consume concentrates
Using a full-sized dab rig isn't the only way to enjoy cannabis concentrates.
You can also hit dabs using a nectar collector, dab straw, or honey collector. These are relatively simple devices consisting of a quartz or titanium tip; a body made out of glass or silicone, which may include a small water chamber, percolator, or reclaimer; and a cylindrical mouthpiece made out of glass or silicone. After heating the tip, you slowly drag it across a dab, inhaling the vapor as you set the device in motion.
Similarly, vape pens are another incredibly popular concentrate consumption alternative to full-size dab rigs. Most models include a small glass cartridge filled with cannabis oil and a heating element made out of either metal or ceramic. The cartridge then screws onto a battery, which provides power to the heating element and allows you to vaporize and inhale the oil.
Both nectar collectors and vape pens are noted for their ease of use and portability. Vape pens in particular have rapidly become a mainstay in cannabis culture, as they are incredibly discreet, clean, and easy to carry and use — all while delivering a potent product.