A beginner’s guide to glass
Copy article link to clipboard.
Link copied to clipboard.
- Why glass?
- Main types of glass pipes on the market today
- Glass made in U.S. vs glass made in China
- Scientific glass vs. artisan glass
- Choosing the glass that’s right for you
Whether you’re a seasoned stoner or newcomer to the world of cannabis, the fact remains the same: glass is an integral part of the consumption experience. It is one of the best, most commonly used materials for smoking out of, and glass pipes range from small and simple handheld pieces to huge, wildly intricate artistic creations, and everything in between.
Glass pipes range from small and simple handheld pieces to huge, wildly intricate artistic creations, and everything in between. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
What makes glass such a perfect medium for smoking cannabis? What are the different types of glass you’ll find on the market today, and which ones are the best for you? Here’s everything you need to know about glass, helping you to become a cannabis glass connoisseur the next time you visit your local head shop.
The primary reason glass is used for smoking cannabis is that it is a very clean material. To be more specific, when you heat a piece of clean glass, the only thing that really happens is the glass gets hotter. It doesn’t begin to smoke or vaporize, it doesn’t create toxic fumes, and it doesn’t emit odors or flavors. This makes glass perfectly suited for smoking cannabis flower and concentrates.
On the other hand, pipes made out of materials such as metal, plastic, or wood usually end up contaminating the cannabis smoke in one way or another, whether it’s changing the taste of the smoke, altering the odor of the smoke, or worst of all, emitting toxic fumes into the smoke.
Aside from maintaining the purity of the cannabis smoke, there’s an added bonus to using glass: style.
Glassblowers often mix in color pigments to create interesting patterns, adding artistic flair to the smoking experience. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Glassblowers often mix in color pigments to create interesting patterns, adding artistic flair to the smoking experience. Artists who specialize in high-end glass pipes also make large, elaborate pipes in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and designs.
Main types of glass pipes on the market today
Glass is used to make a wide variety of smoking devices. The most common are:
Spoons are widely used and are recognizable for their simple design. One end is a spoon-shaped bowl into which you pack your cannabis. There is a small hole at the bottom of the bowl that allows smoke to travel from the spoon end down into the body of the pipe. Somewhere adjacent to the bowl is another small hole, called a “carb.” You control airflow inside the pipe by covering or uncovering the carb with your finger. Finally, the body of the pipe extends out away from the bowl and carb, ending in a third opening, which is the mouthpiece.
Spoons are widely used and are recognizable for their simple design. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Bongs are defined by the inclusion of a water chamber. As smoke bubbles through the chamber, the water simultaneously cools the smoke and filters out heavy particulates, producing smoother, cooler, and all-around better-tasting smoke.
Bongs are defined by the inclusion of a water chamber. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Bubblers are essentially a mash-up of a spoon pipe and a petite-sized bong. In shape and function, they are just like a spoon pipe. They also include a small water chamber that cools and cleans the smoke. For many consumers, bubblers produce more enjoyable smoke the way a bong does, but with the smaller, more convenient size that a spoon offers.
Bubblers are essentially a mash-up of a spoon pipe and a petite-sized bong. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Glass chillums can essentially be described as a small cylinder of glass you can smoke out of. You pack one end of the cylinder with flower, ignite it, and pull the smoke through the other end of the cylinder.
Steamrollers are basically extra-large chillums that often include a small depression for packing cannabis, a carb for controlling airflow, and a much larger-diameter glass cylinder. The idea is to let you fill the pipe with tons of smoke before clearing it all at one time for a powerful punch of cannabis smoke.
Dab rigs typically use the same water filtration system as a bong, but they include a number of additional features and components designed specifically for vaporizing super-potent cannabis concentrates at higher temperatures than those for smoking flower. Instead of a bowl, for instance, a dab rig typically utilizes a nail or banger made from glass, quartz, or titanium. Once the heated chamber reaches the desired temperature, the concentrate is dabbed and filtered through water before being consumed.
Dab rigs include a number of features and components designed specifically for vaporizing super-potent cannabis concentrates at higher temperatures than those for smoking flower. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Glass made in U.S. vs glass made in China
A common debate in the world of cannabis is whether glass pieces made in the United States are fundamentally different from or of better quality than glass pieces made in places such as China.
One camp maintains that mass-produced Chinese glass is inherently inferior to American glass. According to this perspective, because Chinese glass is mass-produced and is intended to be much more affordable, manufacturers cut corners and don’t create products with as much care or quality assurance as manufacturers in the U.S.
As seen on numerous online discussion boards and cannabis forums, common complaints about Chinese-made glass include:
- Lower-quality glass
- Thinner glass
- Glass that is not carefully hardened through a process called annealing, thereby making it more susceptible to stress fractures and breaking
- Unoriginal designs, with many claiming that Chinese glass manufacturers essentially rip off designs created by smaller glassmakers and then mass-produce them
Another camp tends to be much more open to glass pieces made in China. In general, this cohort sees the quality of Chinese glass as close enough to the quality of any other glass that it doesn’t really make a noticeable difference.
Further, this group often argues that because Chinese pieces are mass-produced for lower cost, they actually serve a valuable function within the cannabis industry, giving people access to very affordable smoking implements. For many, this affordability outweighs whatever drop in quality consumers might get with a piece made in China.
As expert glassblower Luke Wilson put it: “The only difference is [Chinese manufacturers] take everything they make from other people and make it a million times over. . There’s nothing wrong with China glass as far as I’m concerned. So if you need a high-filter piece for your money, then go buy a China piece. But if you want something that’s collectible and that you’ll appreciate, go buy a personal artist piece.”
Scientific glass vs. artisan glass
The other key distinction in the types of glass used for cannabis pipes is if it’s made from scientific glass or artisan glass.
According to The American Scientific Glassblowers Society, scientific glass is specifically designed to meet the rigorous demands and specifications of the scientific community. Per the Society’s website: “Scientific glassblowers provide highly specialized glass apparatus for all universities with graduate research programs, government, private, and industry-research laboratories, production facilities, the semiconductor industry, and many other aspects of scientific research.”
Scientific glass is primarily focused on function, precision, and consistency. And smoking devices made out of scientific glass are much the same. These pieces tend to use thicker glass, are typically more heat-resistant, and have minimal issues with stress fractures or other manufacturing defects.
Scientific glass pipes are primarily focused on function rather than style. As a result, they typically do not have a lot of color or decorations, and the designs are simple and minimal, more in line with something you’d expect to see in a research lab than a stoner’s dorm room. One big advantage of focusing on function is that many scientific glass pipes include high-performance percolators that require a high degree of precision to make well.
On the other hand, artisan glass — often called “heady glass” — is focused much more on design and style elements. Artisan pieces are often one of a kind, made by established artists with recognizable aesthetic styles and a cult following of high-end glass collectors. As such, these pieces can be very fun to smoke out of and many enjoy the sense that their pipe is more aligned with a piece of art than a smoking apparatus.
Artisan glass is focused much more on design and style elements. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
The process of adding colors, crafting pipes into funky shapes, and executing complex designs often requires artists to use a slightly “softer” glass than a scientific glass piece. Additionally, the exclusive nature of artisan pieces often means that they carry heftier price tags than scientific glass pieces.
Choosing the glass that’s right for you
There are three main factors to consider when buying a glass piece:
What type of smoking experience do you want?
Do you want to smoke out of a simple spoon or chillum? Are you interested in the cooler, smoother, better-tasting smoke of a bong or bubbler? Do you want the hard-hitting, massive hits of a steamroller? Answering these questions will help narrow down the types of glass smoking devices that fit your personal criteria.
Form or function?
If you want consistently high-quality, precision performance, you can’t go wrong with a scientific glass piece. If you’re all about personal style, creativity, and flair, then you’ll love exploring the world of artisan glass. And remember, function and style are not mutually exclusive. Many people who like minimalist designs find scientific glass to be very aesthetically appealing.
What’s your budget?
If you’re on a tight budget and you simply need a piece that will get the job done, you might want to experiment with an affordable piece made in China. Don’t be surprised if you run into problems or if the piece breaks — at least replacing it won’t be too expensive. But if your budget gives you more room to shop around, have fun exploring the diversity of glass pieces made in the US by more hands-on glassblowers and artisans.
A beginner’s guide to glass Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents Why glass? Main types of glass pipes on the market today Glass made in U.S.
Glass Pipes – The Complete Guide To Glass Pipes and How to Use Them
What Is A Glass Pipe?
Pipes used for smoking are manufactured using a variety of materials, including glass, metal, corn cob and certain types of wood. However, ask any regular smoker and they will likely tell you that pipes made of glass are the only worthwhile kind.
Glass pipes come in different types and shapes. Each type is best suited for use with specific types and quantities of product. Each has distinctive advantages and benefits.
A Brief History of Glass Pipes
Pipes have been around in one form or another for thousands of years, smoking in general for even longer. Various ancient cultures have inhaled smoke in some form or another for a variety of reasons, often religious/spiritual, but sometimes also for social reasons and even for the promotion of health.
The smoking of various substances using the device we know today as a pipe is most closely associated with early North American indigenous cultures. Today’s pipes were originally modeled on these, although they have evolved a great deal over the centuries. Native American pipes were usually made of wood, clay, corn cob or animal antlers (elk, deer).
When pipe smoking began to take hold in European society as a form of recreation, the materials used to make them became more varied, but were, however, still mainly made from wood. As technology improved and new resources emerged over the centuries, pipe makers began using other materials to craft smoking pipes. Corn cob pops were popular in the 1800s because corn was cheap and relatively plentiful and corn cobs were otherwise waste material.
Although corn cob pipes are still around, they fell out of favor in the mainstream for pipes made with more modern materials, such as metal, which could withstand higher temperatures. The problem with metal pipes, though, is that although they can take the heat without getting damaged, they often get too hot to the touch. This limits their usefulness, particularly when it comes to any substance more exotic than ordinary tobacco.
Enter the glass pipe. It is difficult to nail down the exact origin of the glass pipe. Rather than being attributed to a particular person or company, it is more likely that the glass pipe merely evolved along with glassmaking technology and the art of glass blowing. Early glass pipes were as much works of art as they were devices for smoking (perhaps even more). They began to be produced during the era when glass blowing techniques were honed and perfected, largely over the last 50 years. Glass blowing artisans crafted glass pipes as another form of their art.
It didn’t take long for glass pipes to catch the attention of smokers. They were initially attractive to smokers for their artistic value, but smokers soon realized that smoking with a glass pipe produced flavor that was unmatched by any other material. In fact, it wasn’t really the flavor so much as the lack of flavor that smokers were lured in by. Pipes made of other materials contribute some type of subtle flavor to the product or substance being smoked, while glass pipes produced a pure, clean flavor void of any added taste from the pipe itself.
To illustrate this, think about drinking unoaked wine versus the more common oak barrel-aged wine. Oak-aged wine has a characteristic taste that is not present in unoaked wine. An even more accurate illustration is the difference between bottled beer and canned beer. Beer bottled in glass tastes different than beer that has been sealed inside an aluminum can.
Contemporary glass pipes are still hand blown and are as much works of art as they are functional pieces. They range in design from simple to complex, abstract to concrete, or made to resemble animals or other objects. They are beautiful to look at and amazing to use.
Types of Glass Pipes
Generally speaking, you can find approximately five different types of glass pipes: chillums (hand pipes), spoon pipes (so-named for their spoon-like shape), Sherlock pipes (you guessed it…. the stylized one with the curving, hook-shaped stem associated with Sherlock Holmes), bubblers and steamrollers. Each type has different advantages and contributes something unique to the smoking experience.
This type of basic pipe is shaped like a simple tube. Smoking with a chillum might be considered an updated but still somewhat primitive method of smoking as some early indigenous cultures did using hollow reeds. To use a chillum pipe, you simply pack dry herb into one end, light it and inhale from the other end. The experience is different from using other types of pipes, and the size of the chillum also makes a difference when it comes to temperature and the size of the hit. Due to their small size and simplicity of design, they are only able to take small amounts of dry herb. They also lack carburetors, a feature (as you’ll soon learn) that keeps the flavor of the smoke from going stale.
A spoon pipe is generally considered the next step up from the chillum. It is similar in shape and construction, except for having a “bowl” at one end, where you deposit whatever product you are using. Unlike chillums, spoon pipes have a carburetor, which is really just a small hole in the tube. Smoking a spoon pipe is slightly more complicated than smoking with a chillum. It involves covering the hole with your finger to draw air in through the bowl, and then uncovering the hole to inhale. The smoke remains fresh this way.
The iconic arched stem of this glass pipe style is highly recognizable by just about everyone as the type that fictional literary character Sherlock Holmes smoked. Hence its name. At the end of the stem is a bowl, which holds the product to to which heat is applied. The smoke then travels up the stem. Sometimes this type of pipe has a longer-than-typical stem and may be referred to as a Gandalf pipe, named for the fictional character created by J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings series. These cool glass pipes are sometimes designed with carburetors, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule.
Yes, there is a reason why this glass pipe style has been so-named, and it has to do with bubbles. This type of pipe is a hybrid of the glass pipe and the bong. It’s small like a pipe but uses water like a bong and is therefore these pipes sometimes referred to as glass water pipes. The water acts as a filter for the smoke, diffusing it and creating tiny bubbles. The result is a smoother flavor devoid of any of the substance’s harsher elements and tones. Bubblers can be used with cold (even icy) or hot water, and the water temperature has an effect on the flavor and the overall experience.
Of the five basic glass pipe styles, the steamroller is the most complex and complicated to use. Steamrollers consist of a tube with a bowl on one end. There is an opening at each end of the pipe, with the one nearest the bowl serving as a carburetor. Some styles have an extra chamber that “rolls” the smoke to cool it further. Either way, the steamroller delivers a powerful, fast hit that will “steamroll” the user if he’s unprepared for it. Because of this, steamrollers are not recommended for first-time or less-experienced users, and they definitely take some practice to use.
What to Look for in Good Glass Pipes
With so much to choose from in the glass pipe world, it helps to know what kinds of things to look for when choosing one. There are a number of different factors to consider, but these are the most important:
Glass pipes are not made from the same kind of glass that drinking glasses or even windows are made of. They are typically made from some type of scientific, lab-quality glass, often borosilicate. This type has been specifically engineered to withstand high temperatures and stand up to a variety of substances and chemicals without affecting the quality of the glass or its surface.
When you are shopping for a glass pipe, check what kind of glass it’s made of. The keywords to watch for are “borosilicate glass,” “lab-quality glass” or “scientific glass.” If you don’t see these phrases in the product description, it may be safe to assume that the pipe is made from some other type of glass (especially if the price seems to be lower-than-average). Just because it’s not made from a high-quality glass doesn’t mean it’s a bad purchase. It just means that, likely, your pipe won’t last as long, will be more breakable and may be more prone to overheating.
Additionally, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to purchase a cheap glass pipe, particularly if you are just starting out with smoking. Trying out a less expensive model will help give you a good feel for pipe style without sinking a lot of money into it. Later, when you better know your own preferences, you can upgrade to one with better quality glass.
As we’ve already noted, different types of glass smoking pipes are more suitable for certain types of product and for certain personal preferences (i.e. hot smoke VS cool smoke). Bowl type is also a big deal with a lot of smokers, so get to know the various bowl types. Always choose your style based on the product(s) you like best and other personal preferences.
Not all brands are created equal. Brand matters, even more than price in some cases (just because a device has a high price tag doesn’t necessarily mean it is better in quality). We’ll talk more about glass pipe brands in the next section.
If you're looking to purchase one of the many glass pipes on the market, read this complete guide first. We reveal the top 10 glass pipes and where to buy.