Just exactly how do bongs work?
Welcome to your bong anatomy class, where you will learn all of the parts of a bong, how they work, and how it all fits together.
In this guide, you will learn about:
This will help you get a complete idea about the various bong parts, and how they fit together to bring you the smoothest smoking experience. Let’s get started!
What is a Bong?
A bong is a smoking device based on the filtration of smoke through water in order to cool it and filter out most (but not all) particulate and carcinogens. Bongs are typically used to smoke cannabis, tobacco, and other dry herbs. They are traditionally made from glass, but can also be made from a wide variety of materials such as plastic, ceramics, silicone, acrylic, wood, and more.
Bong Diagram – All the Parts of a Bong
Before we dive into each of the individual parts of a bong, we wanted to give you a complete visual water pipe diagram to help you visualize all the parts, how they fit together, and where they are on a bong. Take a look and get familiar with the names and the general design of the bong.
Anatomy of a Bong – The Complete Bong Parts List Explained
Now that you have a basic idea of the anatomy of a bong, and what the pieces look like, let’s go a bit more in depth and learn more about each individual part.
1. Bowl Attachments – Where You Pack the Bong
The bowl attachment is where you pack your dry herbs. More often than not, these are made of either glass, quartz, or borosilicate glass – which is a type of glass often referred to as “scientific glass” that is affected less by temperature change – making it more durable.
Different Types of Bowl Attachments
For the most part, most bowl packs are pretty simple. Usually, they are wide and deep, and fit to various sizes of joints. Depending on the type of bong you have, you may need a different size or gender of bowl attachment. This sound confusing, but basically, it comes down to this:
- Most bongs you purchase will tell you what their joint size is
- Standard sizes are 10.5mm, 14mm, and 18mm
- There are two genders – male and female
- Male joints fit to female accessories and vice verse
- Female joints are wider
If this is still confusing to you, check out this complete guide we wrote on Bong FAQ, which has a section specifically dedicated to measuring joint size and bowl size.
On top of these basic size and gender differences, there are also a few different types of bowl attachments. Most of the time, they are either basic, or they are extremely creative, custom glass bowls made to look awesome. There are literally thousands of designer bowls out there to choose from.
What to Look for in a Bowl Attachment
The most important thing to look for when it comes to a new bowl attachment is making sure the size and gender are correct. Aside from that, you should look for a few things:
- Good deals (don’t pay more than $15-25 for a solid one)
- Deep bowls – for a better smoking experience
- Something made from borosilicate glass – for more durability
- One with a skinny hole on bottom (not too small to clog easily, but not too large to pull through easily)
- Nubs on the side for easy grip
- Something with a polished joint to add friction and reduce fractures and scratches
- Trusted brand and supplies
As long as you make these factors a focus, you should always be satisfied with your purchase.
2. Slides – Attaches the Downstem to the Joint
A slide is the small piece of glass that connects the downstem to the joint of the bong. Most glass bongs nowadays are made with these type of two piece downstems in order to make cleaning, accessorizing, and smoking a lot easier on the user.
Generally speaking, almost any bong you purchase will come with a slide, even if they do not come with a downstem, or a glass bowl. However, we strongly recommend that you purchase a bong that comes with both a slide and a downstem, as it can be hard to find something that fits just right if the sizes are not explicitly listed.
Different Types of Slides
Slides come in many shapes and sizes, but are basically just hollow glass tubes with a polished finish on the top to easily fit in the joint snugly and with a good amount of friction so they do not easily slide out.
The size of a slide mostly varies based on the design and size of your bong. Because there is such a wide variety of bongs, there are hundreds of slide sizes on the market. More often than not though, they are about 3.5-7” long, and fit within the standard joint sizes: 10mm, 14.5mm, or 18mm – as these are the most common sizes used in modern bongs.
What to Look for in a Slide
Again, usually most bongs come with a slide built it. You should always look for this, as it is pretty much a standard in the industry, and it also makes your life a lot easier. It will probably also save you money in the long run as well.
Other than that, it is best to find a slide that has a polished joint, both inside and outside. This can be easily noted by a change in color and texture, as this process is achieved by sandblasting the glass to give it a rough texture that provides more friction – keeping downstems and bowls firmly in place, even when wet.
3. Diffused Downstems – Diffuses the Smoke Through the Water
Diffused downstems attach to your glass bowl and fit snugly inside the slide within the joint of your bong. They protrude into the base of your bong, which you fill with water, then carry the smoke through the water in order to filter and cool it – a process known as diffusion.
It is important to note that not all downstems are diffused downstems. What distinguishes the two from each other is the way they are designed. Diffused downstems have multiple slits in the bottom, where they meet the chamber of the bong. This allows for smoke to be filtered through at multiple points, so that it can separate into multiple bubbles, and cool more efficiently while being filtered more effectively.
Depending on the design of the downstem, they can become very complex and have dozens of slits. For the most part though, the standard ones that come with bongs will have between 3-12 slits, which gets the job done just fine.
Non-diffused downstems on the other and do not have these slits and are simply a cylinder of glass that transfers the smoke from the bowl, through the stem, to the chamber of the bong, all in one mass of smoke, providing less filtration and cooling – but still effectively cooling it and filtering it more than any dry pipe.
What to Look for in a Diffused Downstem
Honestly, if you are going to spend the money to buy a bong, you want to get one that has a diffused downstem. It just makes your smoking experience that much smoother, and barely affects the price point.
When it comes to what to look for, you want something that has at least 3-6 slits, and that fits well to your slide and bowl. Most of the time, a good bong will come with all three of these pieces and you shouldn’t have to worry about it. You may still want some details about your downstem though, such as the length and the diameter, in case you ever need a replacement. These things can break easily if not used carefully, or in the cleaning process, or just over time if you have had them long enough.
Lastly, you want to look for one that has a polished joint. Again, this creates friction to make the bowl fit snugly into the downstem and the downstem into the slide – so you don’t have to worry about it sliding out every time you move it or use it.
4. Joints – Where the Slide and Downstem Fit
For some reason, joints seem to be the parts of bongs that everyone forgets about in these types of posts. Yet, it is arguably one of the most important parts of a bong. The joint is the part of the bong where the slide and downstem sit, that connects them to the chamber.
What to Look for in a Bong Joint
All bongs include joints, so you don’t necessarily have to know what to look for in terms of buying replacements, however there are still a few things you should keep in mind about joints when purchasing a bong:
- The size and gender
At the end of the day, you want to choose a bong that has a thick joint that comes in a standard size, making it easy to find replacement parts and accessories for. Be aware of the size and gender in case you ever need to purchase additional bong parts.
5. Percolators – Adds Extra Filtration and Cooling to the Smoke
Basically, the way they work is by dividing up the smoke through multiple sections, allowing it to rise in order to cool, then sucking it through water in order to cool it, before passing it on to the next chamber.
Plenty of percolator bongs exist, which come with percs built right in. But no worries, even if you purchase a bong that does not have a percolator, you can easily purchase one as an accessory that fits right to the joint of your bong, then, holds the bowl attachment through its own joint.
In some cases, we have seen people add a handful of these accessories together to make ridiculous (and soon to break) bongs that are ridiculously smooth and complex.
There are literally dozens of types of percolators on the market, which each have the same job of cooling smoke. Each design works differently, but achieves the same goal. Some designs, like propellor percolators, look extremely cool in action and actually spin as the smoke is filtered through.
Generally speaking, the more complex a percolator is, the more expensive it is. Bongs that include percs are usually more expensive than those without them, but you can still find some great percolator bongs for under $100.
What to Look for in a Percolator
When it comes to browsing for percolator attachments or bongs with percs, you really want to look for a few main things:
- The size of the perc
- The design of the perc
- Overall thickness of the glass and quality
- Reliable brands
- Good reviews
- Designs based on function, not looks
If you choose a perc that is too small, it will not work very well, get clogged easily, and be hard to clean over time.
You also want to make sure the perc you choose is built well, without too many intricate parts that can break, with thick glass, in a practical design. Sure, some of them look cool, but they may not do well with regular wear and tear. Usually, the more simple it is, the better off you are.
You also want to look for great brands with solid reviews. There are a lot of cheap glass products made and imported from China which are very low quality and get tons of online complaints. To be sure, check out our list of the Best Bong Brands.
6. Ashcatchers – Captures Ashes and Resin to Keep Bongs Clean
A lot of people confuse ashcatchers with percolators and cannot tell the two apart. However, they are in fact two different things. Ashcatchers, as the name implies, catch ashes in order to prevent them from entering your bong.
While these ashes usually wind up in the bong water anyways and rarely affect your smoking experience, they can add up over time and make a mess that can be tough to clean if you don’t know how to clean a bong.
Ashcatchers also provide a bit of cooling and filtration to the smoke prior to it entering the main chamber. For the most part, bongs do not usually include ashcatchers, but some of the higher end ones do.
Overall, these are more of a novelty than a necessity. Sure, they add a bit of filtration and percolation and help you keep your bong clean, but overall they are really no different than a percolator. If we had to choose, we would take a percolator attachment over an ashcatcher anyday, and would gladly take a bong with a built-in perc over one with an ashcatcher as well.
What to Look for in an Ashcatcher
When it comes to finding the best ashcatcher attachment for you, there are a few things you should look for:
- Size and gender
- Thickness and design
- Trusted brand and reviews
Just like any other bong attachment, you want to make sure that it fits to your piece. You also want to make sure that the design is well thought out enough to function well, but not so complex as to make it fragile or clog easily. Lastly, you want to purchase from a trusted brand with solid product reviews.
7. Ice Catches – Holds Ice in the Tube to Cool Smoke
Ice catches are one of those “nice to have” elements in a bong. While most larger bongs tend to include them now, specifically straight tube bongs, they are not always included in all designs. These helpful contraptions are found in the tube of the bong, in between the main chamber and the mouthpiece.
Ice catches are made from indents in the tube of the glass, that are made to hold ice cubes in the tube in order to add more cooling. We always say that once you have smoked with an ice catch, it is really hard to go back.
The beauty of them is that they are built in to just about any bong over 8” tall that has a straight tube. Often times, smaller bongs will not have them because their tubes are not thick enough to fit ice. They are extremely easy to fill, and the best part is that when the ice melts, all you have to do is drain your bong water a bit.
8. Mouth Pieces – Where You Take Your Bong Hits From
As you may have guessed, mouthpieces are the place where you take those huge bong rips from. They are generally at the top of the bong, however some more unique designs such as sidecars have them protruding from the side of the bong to keep pieces small and to allow for more cooling in the tubes.
More often than not, mouthpieces are fairly universal. There is not a lot of distinction between them. Some are made to be colorful and have a rim around the outside to make them easier to grip, and give your piece a bit of flare.
9. Bases – The Bottom of the Bong
There is an old saying that goes like this, “the wise man builds his home on a foundation of stone, while the fool builds his home on a foundation of sand.” The same ideology can be applied to the bases of bongs. You want a base that is sturdy, thick, and wide enough to support the height of your bong.
For the most part, bong manufacturers have a vested interest in making their bases strong. Otherwise, they will cause bongs to break, and get bad online reviews, which will negatively affect their sales.
However, that isn’t to say that some bases aren’t better than others. We have certainly had our fair share of bongs break due to weak bases, and I can tell you it is just the worst feeling to watch a beautiful water pipe break in front of you in slow motion, knowing that’s another $100 you have to spend to replace it.
So, What Should You Look for in a Good Bong Base?
In order to make sure your base is strong enough, you want to look for:
- Thick glass
- Reputable glass brands
- Wide bases
Basically, think about it like a building. If you have a weak foundation, it will not stand for long. A strong, wide foundation will always hold the weight up. Usually, you can tell visually from product photos whether a base is strong or not, just by examining the thickness and width. You should aim for a base that looks about twice as thick as the tube of the bong, and a base that is about twice the width of the bong as well.
10. Tubes – Carries Smoke from the Base to the Mouthpiece
Tubes make up the second largest part of any bong, right behind the chamber. In some cases with taller bongs, they make up the largest portion of the piece. This is the part of the bong that is attached to the base, and carries the smoke up to the mouthpiece.
Tubes come in a number of shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. For the most part, a majority of tubes are considered to be straight tubes, but there are alternatives like zig-zag designs for zongs, angled tubes, and even ones that coil.
Generally speaking, the thicker the tube, the better, as this means more durability. Anything between 2-5mm thickness is plenty durable and should never break unless you seriously mess up. We have even seen glass as thick as 9mm on some super durable pieces, but this is a bit of overkill in our opinion.
The taller the tube, the more room you have for percolators to be built in, and also for the smoke to cool as it rises. However, the taller your bong is, the more top-heavy it becomes, and the more important a strong base becomes. It is also notable that bongs taller than 18” seem to be a lot easier to drop or knock over, as you can easily bump them when walking by without noticing at a party or gathering.
Putting It All Together – How Does A Bong Work? (7 Steps)
Now that you have a basic idea of bong anatomy, let’s learn review how they all come together in a brief review, so you can understand exactly how a bong works, step by step.
- Pack the Bowl – Take your dry herbs and pack them into your bong. If you prefer, use a pipe screen to pack it on, which helps to prevent pull through and gives you a strong base to pack on. Be sure to also not pack too loosely, as it will burn unevenly, or too tight, as it will restrict airflow and make lighting it difficult.
- Fill the Bong – Pour room temperature water into your bong. Hot or cold water can cause rapid changes in temperature, which can cause fractures or weaken your bong over time. You can do this through the mouthpiece or the downstem, whichever is easier. Put enough in to cover the perc or downstem, but not so much that your tube becomes filled. Usually, you can gauge the right amount by the sound it makes when you inhale. If it sounds like blowing bubbles in your drink, you are probably good.
- Attach the Bowl – Gently attach your bowl to the downstem, while the downstem is in the bong joint. Be sure that it is on snugly, and that there is no water in your bowl or on your herbs before smoking. Be sure to wait to do this until your bong is on a flat surface, as water can splash up and get on your herbs otherwise, and ruin your smoking experience.
- Light it Up – Once your bowl is packed, attached, and your base is full of water, it’s time to smoke. We recommend using a small lighter and lighting the corners or outside diameter of the bowl first. This technique is known as “cornering the bowl” amongst Stoners, and it helps to make your herbs last longer than if you just torch the center of the entire pack. Also, it helps to keep the bowl lit throughout the smoking session, as the flame will slowly crawl to the other side of the pack, and stay lit throughout – known as “keeping the bowl cherried”.
- Inhale – At the same time you light the bowl, you want to place your mouth on the mouthpiece and begin inhaling. Make sure there is a tight vacuum between your mouth and the bong, and between the bowl and the joint. This will provide the best suction and smoking experience.
- Fill the Chamber – For beginners, we recommend filling the bong with smoke first, taking a quick breather while covering the mouthpiece, then going to take your hit. Otherwise, you are prone to underestimating just how huge of a hit you are taking, and will most likely cough into the bong, getting snot everywhere, and blowing the herbs out of the pack, along with bong water that smells terrible. Trust me – you don’t want to do this, and nearly all beginners do.
- Pull the Bowl – Once you are ready to take your hit, pull the bowl from the slide, and inhale. Some people pull the entire slide, but we recommend you avoid this because it is entirely unnecessary, can break the downstem and slide, can damage your bong, and can get the surrounding or your herbs wet. Try to focus carefully on gently removing only the bowl pack. Your first time this will seem goofy and probably be a struggle, but withe experience, it will be a breeze.
- Take a Hit – Once you have pulled the bowl, it’s time to take your first hit. Suck in hard, but be careful. You really never realize just how much smoke a bong holds, especially large ones, or bongs that are not see through. If you have to separate it into a few rips, there is no shame in that. It’s a lot better than coughing into the bong, knocking it over because of a coughing fit, or throwing up from too big of a hit – yes we have actually seen this happen (it’s hilarious). Clifford the Big Red Bong was one Bad Larry who claimed the smoke-related puking virginity of many Stoners – R.I.P.
- Pass it and Cough – The most important part of any smoke sesh with friends is not being the guy who sits on the damn piece or blunt for too long. Once you have hit the bong, pass it. Trust me, you will need some time to cough this one out while your eyes water. Again, you WILL cough. There is no way around it. Just make sure you don’t do it in the bong. Take small hits if you have to, just don’t be that guy who ruins a good smoke sesh.
Other Notes On Bong Anatomy – Things You Should Know
Before you go, there are a few other things about bong parts we thought you should know.
There Are Many Different Types of Bongs
There are other types of bongs besides just glass, such as ceramic, silicone, acrylic, along with others. More often than not, these other types of bongs are less expensive, but tend to have less features, as their materials are harder to work into complex parts like percolators and diffused downstems.
Some Bongs Have No Downstem
Yes, believe it or not, some bongs have no downstem. Instead, they are called “stemless”, and simply have a joint where the bowl connects that leads directly to the main chamber. Usually, these are designed to be dab rigs and not bongs, and as a result, they lead directly to a percolator in the center chamber of the bong, where the smoke is then diffused into the water.
There Are Differences Between Dab Rigs & Bongs
A lot of new Stoners do not understand the differences between the anatomy of bongs and the anatomy of dab rigs. While they share a lot of similarities, and can even be interchangeable in most cases, there are still some major differences in design between the two.
For starters, dab rigs are usually more compact, and have a much larger focus on percolation, due to the high temperatures dabs can reach. This is a topic all on its own, so if you want to learn more about this complete guide we wrote for Bongs vs. Dab Rigs.
The Next Steps – How to Use a Bong & Finding the Best One for You
Now that you have gotten a little crash course on bong anatomy, it is time to continue the learning journey!
Thank you for reading, we hope that this guide has helped you to put the pieces together 😉 . If you have any questions, please feel free to ask away in the comments below.
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We hope to see you all soon, and as always, stay up!