What Is The Difference Between a Dab Rig and a Bong?

Often, the first thing you see when you walk into a dispensary or smoke shop is the wall of beautiful glassware. From spoon pipes and bubblers that could fit in your pocket to majestic bongs and dab rigs crafted by local glass artists, it's hard to know where to start. If you are not familiar with the ins and outs of cannabis glasware, you're not alone! One of the most important differences when choosing a piece to take home is the difference between a bong and a dab rig.

That's why VESSEL is about to lay it all out. Why there are two types of rigs, how to spot the differences, and how to use each one to have a blast at home and with friends. The difference between a dab rig and a bong is all about how it's meant to be used. Let's start with a quick chart that you can refer to at a glance later on when you're shopping for your first piece of tokable glass artwork.


  • Cannabis Flower / Dry Herb
  • Stem and Bowl Design
  • Lit as You Hit

Dab Rigs

  • Dabs, Oils, and Concentrates
  • Joint and Nail Design
  • Heated Before the Toke


  • Water Chamber
  • Percolation and Ice
  • Vertical Mouthpiece

Flower, Dabs, and Oils; Oh My!

Cannabis glassware is designed to help you heat and toke your cannabis products. From the smallest pipe to the largest bong, the true purpose is to activate the THC-A and CBD-A into the enjoyable THC and CBD that we know and love. This is done either by using fire to turn dry leaf / cannabis flower into smoke or by using intensely heated glass to vaporize oils and concentrates. 

Whether you prefer the full-spectrum benefits of flower or the intense strength of dabs, it helps to know your glassware.

Both dab rigs and bongs include a water chamber and mouthpiece, using water at the bottom to filter your smoke / toke and cool the vapor before it hits your throat. A percolator in the bottom helps with filtration and an ice catch cools each hit. However, there are also some very big differences between how the two types of glassware are designed.

Bongs Mellow the Smoke of Dry Herb / Flower

Back in the days when most available weed was brick-schwag (weak flower smoked in large quantities), bongs were an essential part of the equation. A bong starts with a safe bowl to flame your dry herb or flower, then channels the smoke down the stem into the water chamber where the smoke is filtered and cooled before you inhale the result. You get all of the delicious cannabinoids and terpenes, but avoid the salad and ash in the mouth of an un-filtered pipe and enjoy a smoother hit due to the water filtration.

Parts of a Bong

At its most basic, a bong is quite simple. They stand upright because you inhale through the vertical mouthpiece, often a broad circular chamber. Below is a wider chamber at the base designed to hold water. There is often a percolator in the water chamber which further filters the smoke.

The stem inserts into the side, and the base of your stem should be submerged in the water. At the end of the stem is another, smaller stem that fits inside with a bowl at the tip.

The bowl is typically rounded or funnel-shaped, designed to hold a packed bowl of ground up weed, pulling the smoke from each burn down through the water before it exits via the vertical mouthpiece. Because a colder bong is better for smooth hits, there is often an ice catch or pinch in the mouthpiece to pull smoke past ice.

How to Smoke a Bong

Smoking a bong is easier than it sounds. Here's the quick and universal process. 

  1. Start by filling the chamber with water just high enough to cover the bottom of the stem and/or percolator.
  2. Next, drop a piece or two of ice into the mouthpiece from the top, it should catch in the ice pinch.
  3. Drop the bowl-stem into the main stem - there is usually a frosted glass seal in between.
  4. Then pack the bowl with ground dry herb, as you would any pipe.
  5. Position the bong so that the mouthpiece is tilted toward you and the stem is pointing away, toward your dominant hand.
  6. Gently light the top of the bowl to char your flower and inhale through the top of your bong. 

You should get a mighty lungful of smoke with minimal burn, but be prepared for an intense lung-expansion experience. Hold your hit as long as you can and exhale carefully. Coughing will send you cross-eyed and can also enhance your high into another dimension. 


Dab Rigs Vaporize Concentrates

Dab rigs are built off the same premise as a bong, but designed to vaporize cannabis concentrates like dabs and oils instead. Dab rigs have a water chamber and a vertical mouthpiece (sometimes angled) like any bong. But the major difference, which you may notice immediately, is the right-angle stem and cup-shaped bowl instead of a diagonal stem and funnel-bowl. This will allow dabs to melt as they vaporize without running down the stem, so that only vapor hits the water and then your lungs.

Parts of a Dab Rig

A dab rig has a water chamber, a mouthpiece, and often an ice catch as well. However, the difference begins at the stem, which is now called a "joint". It is called a joint due to the right-angle shape which channels vapor safely from the "nail" to the chamber.

The joint is a right-angle stem which extends first horizontally from the chamber and then vertically toward the nail.

The nail is actually a cup that is solid glass on bottom but has a side-stem that leads down into the joint. You place the concentrates in the bottom of the nail to vaporize them into the dab rig to toke through the mouthpiece.

How to Toke a Dab Rig

Toking a dab rig has one extra step that will require a barbecue lighter or small blow torch to achieve. The special difference between dabbing and smoking is that you need to get your nail extremely hot - vaporizingly hot - before dropping your dab ball and inhaling.

  1. Fill your dab rig so that the bottom of the joint and/or percolator is covered by the water level.
  2. Torch the nail of your dab until it is between 500 and 600 degrees F
  3. Position the dab rig so that the mouthpiece faces toward you and the dab nail is easy to reach.
  4. Carefully scoop or drop your concentrates into the dab nail.
  5. Inhale through the mouthpiece as the dab sizzles and vaporizes. This pulls the vapor down through the joint, water, and into your lungs.

With The Right Parts, Bongs and Dab Rigs are Interchangeable

The last and most interesting difference between a dab rig and bong is that they can, in many cases, be used interchangeably. With a standard bong, you can often remove the stem-and-bowl and replace it with a compatible joint-and-nail configuration. Some dab rigs can also be reverse-converted into bongs if your cannabis type doesn't match your glassware's original purpose.

Here at VESSEL, we specialize in dry herb and dabbing power on the go. Glassware like bongs and dab rigs are great to enjoy at home, but if you're after a cannabis experience that fits in your pocket, we've got you covered. Contact us or explore the online shop to learn more.

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