Nailing It: How to Choose the Right Dab Rig For You

As cannabis concentrates like butane hash oil, wax, and shatter become more popular, different ways of consuming these “new” forms of cannabis have emerged. Possibly the most popular is “dabbing” — incinerating a dollop of concentrates on a superheated nail, and inhaling the results.

Dab rigs vaguely resemble bongs of yore, but with a key difference: that nail.

Rigs can look intimidating, but if you’re serious about experiencing concentrates’ full flavor and effects, they’re the only way to go.

When picking a dab rig, ask yourself some questions:

What’s my budget? Is form more important than function? Can I have both? And what are the right accessories?

Rig Talk

Ideally, your piece will be aesthetically pleasing and smooth to hit. Beauty can be subjective, but I believe there are two opposite ends to the glass aesthetic: scientific and heady.

A “heady” piece is made with a lot of work. It may be made of colored glass and decorated with marbles or horns. It might have “worked” sections of color with psychedelic or wigwag patterns all made of glass. My Carsten Carlile mini-tube made of colored glass called “serendipity” and “purple rain” is a bit heady.

“Scientific” glass is generally all clear aside from the artist’s brand, chemistry-set like, and focuses on function over form.

Scientific pieces include innovations that improve the hit. For example, diffusion can be created via a percolator with many small slits. These slits create a large amount of bubbles, which give you a smoother hit than the classic bong-like chug of a heady rig.

There’s no need to sacrifice form for function, as a harmony between heady and scientific is trending. Recyclers and “Fab Eggs” are rigs focused on function but that also feature heady details like colored glass, worked sections, and often incorporating marbles or other decorations.

There are also standard tubes with above-standard diffusion and added decorations, like my personal favorite: my Kaliber Glassworks mini-tube with six-hole diffusion, three attached marbles, worked base, and attached rainbow horn.

Nail Call

Looks aside, a key factor in how your piece will function is the nail. Nails are made of titanium, quartz, or ceramics.

Titanium nails are the most durable and are standard for solvent-based concentrates, whereas quartz and ceramic are better for preserving the flavor of solventless concentrates like cold-water hash or ice wax.

Nails will be “domeless” — just bare metal or ceramics — or have a small dome on top. Picking between them is a choice of aesthetics or convenience. Often, the rig you buy will already have a nail included. If your rig comes with a dome, you can use a standard nail that goes down into the joint of the rig, so it’s inside the dome when it’s placed back on the rig.

A domeless nail is designed to work without a dome by providing a large, cup like surface with a hole in the center that allows for suction. Domeless nails may come with an accessory called a carb cap. Carb caps imitate a carb on a dry pipe and catch the smoke from a hit. You can use almost anything as a carb cap, as long as it won’t melt or break with the heat. Devices with a cap on one end and a thin piece of metal that can be used to place the dab on the nail are popular.

Of course, you can’t dab without heat. A key accessory is a torch. A quality, more than $50, refillable butane torch, like a kitchen torch used to make crème brulee, is your best bet.

High heats are inevitable while dabbing. You will probably burn yourself at least once. But if you’re worried about a fluke accident, consider investing in an e-nail. These are just what they sound: a nail connected to a power source that allows you to choose the temperature at which the nail will be heated, and can be had for about $150 and up.

Quartz and ceramic nails are also “self-cleaning.” Most residue from the previous dab will burn off while you heat it up with your torch. These nails do need more attention: They should be heated thoroughly and evenly for proper cleaning and ensure stability, and then left to cool down for about 15-20 seconds before you take your dab.

Each medium will heat and cool at a different rate, but you should be able to hold your hand about a centimeter away and feel a tolerable heat.

Low temperature dabs are the best way to enjoy your concentrates; finding the right temperature for your nail and rig will take time but it’s worth the work. Like the others, get your nail HOT to burn off any residue, let it cool properly, dab, and enjoy the flavors!

Makers’ Fair

Glassblowers are constantly adapting their work to meet market demands. This means it’s easy to spend thousands on a show-worthy rig made by an artist whose name is a top-of-the-line brand.

But if you’re not an aspiring glass collector, you’re probably looking for what I call my “daily driver”: an affordable, visually appealing, well-functioning, and smooth-hitting piece. These can be had for between $150 and $300.

It’s easy to find cheaply made disposable glass, but with research, you can find an affordable rig that supports a local and up-and-coming artist. Instagram and Twitter make it easier than ever to connect with artists directly. Buying through them can be more affordable than buying through a head shop.

And with glass trading and selling communities on social media and sites like BoroBook, it’s always possible to get a popular artist’s work for an affordable price.

Photo by StoneyXochi