The Bong Concept
The anatomy of a conventional bong is *very* simple. It consists of a bowl (and screen), a stem (sometimes optional), a chamber. some liquid. and an opening for the mouth(s) .
The crude diagram above shows a generic bong. Water fills the container and stem just up to the carb. The water level should really be at least an inch below the “carb” (“carburetor”, I guess) so that when the bong is tilted the water won’t leak. The job of the carb is to regulate where the air will be supplied from. If covered, the air (smoke) will come from the bowl; if uncovered, air will rush through the carb and force out the smoke remaining in the chamber.
I won’t go through a boring description of every part of a bong–if you don’t know, ask someone. The point I want to illustrate is that a bong merely forces the smoke to bubble up through water, thereby filtering it. Every bong works with this principle. I’ve tried many innovations on the generic bong for different effects. [More later.]
Not all bongs work with this method, however. Gravity bongs work on a different concept, but I’ve never seen one besides from the one I made with a friend [details later]
Why use Bongs?
Not everyone uses bongs. New smokers may wonder why anyone bothers with bongs, and I know plenty of stoners who *prefer* joints to pipes or bongs.
Those who favor joints will wax romantic about the joys of rolling, of passing around a fatty, and of super-potent roaches. While I will not turn down a joint making its way around a room, I have never rolled one myself. I disdain joints mainly because of their wastefulness. Consider: While the joint is being passed around or stalled, it is still burning, losing precious smoke. If you grow your own buds you may be able to afford such carelessness, but that is a luxury. Most stoners must pay astronomical street prices for what is, in essence, a WEED.
Bongs have a special advantage. A stoner can control the burning by using the flat side of a lighter to extinguish the bowl after taking a hit. [More on this technique later.] The practice of extinguishing the bowl can save a lot of pot in the long run.
Even those who don’t habitually extinguish the bowl will still save more buds, considering the size of a bowl compared with a joint. A bowl holds a smaller amount of bud, so the most you can waste is the quantity a bowl will hold. Stalling a joint, though, will use up a much larger portion, depending on the size of the joint.
A bong burns a smaller surface area of bud than a joint does. It’s easy to notice that a joint lets loose a steady stream of smoke into the atmosphere when it’s being passed around, while a bowl tends to smother the embers underneath ash and unburnt bud. Stoners may notice that a stalled bong will release a very thin stream of smoke compared to a burning joint. Moreover, bongs pull all the smoke into the chamber while joints still waste smoke even while being toked.
Joints are *much* harsher on your lungs. While some joint-rollers will use pre-made filters, or a makeshift filter made from a rolled-up paper, nothing compares with the filtration effect of water. Ed Rosenthal of _High Times_ has noted that water not only cools the smoke, but actually removes harmful impurities as well. [Boiling water is a good choice in a bong, too. More later.] Bongs have this advantage over pipes, which, like joints, pass the unfiltered smoke right into your lungs.
Pipes are a little better than joints since they use a bowl the same way bongs do. The burning is more controlled, and the bud will last longer. Pipes can be made out of materials which cool the smoke a little, but they will never cool it as well as a bong. Some commercial brands feature a “resinator”, a small chamber in the pipe’s midsection which stores a quantity of bud. As bowls are smoked, the smoke must pass through the resinator, over the bud. A lot of THC-laden resin will be despoited on the cache of bud, and when it is finally taken out and smoked it will make for a mind-blowing hit. I have never seen a resinator on a bong, but it would not be difficult to make a bong with one.
Pipes (including hitters) and joints have the distinct advantage of being very concealable and very portable. Hitters are great in crowds because they are the easiest to pack. Some hitters are even painted to look like cigarettes, so no one knows that YOU are smoking buds, though everyone can smell it!
As far as portability goes, bongs can be made in a variety of sizes. I made myself a portable bong out of a 12-oz. plastic water bottle. It works fine, though the filtration leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, I prefer it over my corn-cob pipes, which I never use anymore.
Considerations in Bong-Making
When planning a bong, one should aim for specific goals. Should the bong be portable? Fancy? Colorful? Here’s a partial list of characteristics which give a bong its individual personality:
How to make a Gravity Bong
The gravity bong was much better. They are very easy to make, are hard to screw up, and give good hits. My friend and I made it entirely out of a one-liter plastic pop bottle, a two-liter plastic pop bottle, electrical tape, and some aluminum foil. After dumping the pop we sliced the neck off the two-liter and sliced the bottom black part off the one- liter (visualize this). The one-liter served as the “top” which fit inside the “bottom” part, the two-liter. We took the plastic bottlecaps and punched several holes in each, put them top-to-top and taped them up (voila–the bowl) (silicone would have made a better seal). We put the foil into one of the bottlecaps and punched a few tiny holes in it (the screen). The concept of a gravity bong is as simple as a conventional bong. The two-liter bottom is filled with water and the one-liter top is inserted inside (both top-up). The cap is filled with bud (of course) and screwed onto the one-liter. The bud is lit and the one-liter is steadily pulled upwards. A vacuum is thus created in the one-liter, drawing in the smoke. The chopped-off bottom of the one-liter must not rise above the water line, or else the vacuum is destroyed and your smoke is lost. Once the one-liter is pulled up as far as possible and is filled with smoke, the bottlecap (bowl) is unscrewed and removed. While still holding the one-liter up (you’ll feel a steady pull due to the high pressure of the smoke wanting to escape), wrap your lips around the neck of the one- liter and LET GO! The one-liter will drop into the water, forcing the smoke out and into your lungs. Cool, huh? Try another bowl!
How to Make a Waterfall Bong
This is essentially a variant on the gravity. You take a bottle (I use a 2-litre) and drill a small hole (about 3/8″) in the bottom, at the lowest point. Cover this hole with your finger and fill the bottle up. Then, attach a filled bowl to the top (I use the same Coke-bottle lid as the gravity) and light the dope. Uncover the hole out the bottom, and as the water drains out, the smoke will be drawn in. Keep the bowl lit and let the water drain out, and by the time you’re done you have a 2-litre bottle full of concentrated smoke. Just suck from the top and uncover the hole at the bottom to hoot. This is also an extremely efficient design, as very little smoke can escape.
Back to Basics
You can always make a simple, effective bong in a couple of minutes with a plastic container, a stem and bowl, and some silicone. Finding a good stem and bowl may not always be easy, depending on where you live. There is a head shop in Chicago near where I live which sells all sorts of paraphernalia under-the-counter. Thus, I have been spoiled and don’t know much about alternatives. Before I found the head shop, though, I did make a crude stem and bowl from Ace Hardware parts–namely, a length of copper tubing and a brass fitting glued together. When in doubt of supplies to use, browse a hardware store. You’ll be inspired.
[See bong diagram from above….] Anyway, cut a hole about midway up the container (allow for the stem’s angle), and shove in the stem. Seal it up with generous amounts of silicone and let dry. Poke a small hole on the side opposite the stem (about 1/4″, below the level of the bowl) for the carb. There. You’re done. The silicone makes an airtight seal–very important–so you don’t waste lung power.
While the quick-n-dirty approach will yield practical results, you may opt for a bong that looks nice as well. I have been celebrating my greatest achievement of bong-making since a few months ago, when I made a hooka (multi-user bong with tubes) out of a brass teapot. I found the teapot at a garage sale for $4. The hinge for the lid was damaged, but I didn’t need the lid anyway, so I threw it out. I stuck a stem and two thin (3/16″) flexible plastic tubes down the top opening and sealed it up with silicone. Voila. The spout serves as the carb, and water can be flowed into or poured out of it.
I have gotten many compliments on it, and for good reason. It’s perfectly airtight and gives the *best* hits with a clean screen. It looks cool–a brass beauty with two tentacles streaming out and a stem and bowl emerging from the top. It is the best one I have ever used, save for The Monster [more on that later].
The point of my bragging is to emphasize the aesthetics of bong-making. If you take the time to find a container you like, you’ll be able to make a bong which is not only functional but also looks great and receives compliments for hits and appearance. Check out garage sales, thrift stores, hardware stores, flea markets, etc.
A couple buddies of mine had a plastic pig’s head which was supposed to be a toy bank. Guess what they did with it…. They stuck a stem into the pig’s mouth and widened the coin slot to make an excellent bong which has a large chamber for smoke.
Basically, you should have fun planning and making your bong. If you have fun making it and are proud of the finished product you’ll certainly enjoy using it. And so will other stoners.
While there’s a wide variety of containers and materials you can use in making a bong, make sure they will be safe. PVC is out (as mentioned above). When deciding whether to use a certain kind of plastic or not, the rule of thumb is to make sure it’s safe for food. If it’s meant to store food, it’s okay. Otherwise, don’t risk it. Plastic tubing is fine. Glass is optimal because it’s inert, but many stoner acquaintances of mine have seen their $50 Graphix bongs accidentally shattered. The best materials to use are chemistry supplies. After all, they are designed to be airtight, to withstand high temperatures, etc. Therefore, they’re safe to use and they give the best hits. The tradeoff is that they don’t look pretty. My friend’s bong, “The Monster”, is made from a 1-liter, heavy-duty Ehrlenmeyer flask with a two-hole stopper (+ stem & bowl) and a length of rubber tubing. It’s simple, it’s airtight, and you can watch the smoke fill the chamber while your friend is taking a hit.
Metals are fine to use, too. I’ve seen stems and bowls made from aluminum, copper, and brass. Stay away from any metal which could leach into the water, and especially stay away from lead (duh).
Clay is great for bongs. The same friend who owns The Monster had a buddy of his make him a small clay bong. It’s only about 6″ high, with a round chamber, a stout neck and a fixed bowl. It wasn’t glazed or fired, but it’s airtight and very portable, not to mention cute as shit.
Volume = Filtration
After making a few junky bongs out of the PVC sections [remember, DON’T use PVC!], I decided that filtration is an important characteristic for my bongs to have. I swiped a one-gallon institutional-size plastic mayonnaise jar with screw-on lid and washed it out. I stuck some PVC pipe through the lid [remember–PVC: *bad*] and poked a hole in the side of the container for a length of plastic tubing. One end of the tubing rested on the bottom of the jar. The tubing came out the side, wrapped around the neck, and ended in a corn-cob pipe. A bent coat hanger encircled the neck and stuck out a few inches to support the tubing and pipe. It looked huge–it looked weird–but it worked great.
I always filled up the entire gallon with ICE WATER before packing bowls. While it took a little bit of lung power to initially pull the smoke through the water, it was worth it. The smoke, after passing through the ONE GALLON of ICE WATER as small bubbles, became so cooled that it felt like oxygen when you brought it into your lungs. Stoners passing through my room took enormous hits without realizing it and got baked beyond compare.
While that bong wasn’t sophisticated by any account, it definitely gave the coolest hits ever. I miss it for that reason, and I am still trying to find a way to make a bong with optimal filtration AND easy draws.
The rule of thumb to keep in mind when considering
how much filtration a bong will have is simple. The three characteristics which matter most are the coldness of the liquid, the size/number of the bubbles, and the time the smoke is in contact with the water. The one-gallon bong I made turned out to have the best filtration because 1] I loaded it with ice, then filled it to the top with water; 2] The smoke broke into hundreds of tiny bubbles inside the chamber (maximum surface area!); 3] The bubbles travelled through about nine inches of water to get to the top.
Scraping Your Bong
I think one of the coolest things about smoking buds is that even after your stash is all gone, you can still get high. Scraping bongs not only salvages resin for a strong-and-fast buzz, but also is a necessary part of bong maintenance. Smoking joints is the easiest thing to do–at most you’ll probably want to save the roach. Bongs, however, do get clogged with resin and need to be cleaned. The parts which get most clogged are those with the smallest openings.
The screen, of course, gets caked very easily and should be blown clean after every bowl. I always tap the ash out, then blow a fast lungful through pursed lips into the bottom of the bowl. When you can see through the holes in the screen, you’re set. If you let the screen get too caked up, it will be *very* hard to get good bong hits because it will feel like you’re trying to draw smoke through canvas.
Then scraping your bowl and stem, you should use a thin, narrow metal object. The awl attachment on a pocket knife works well. I’ve heard of stoners using an unbent coat hanger, although I am partial towards a jeweler’s screwdriver.
The best thing to do is to save some leftover ash, then scrape your bowl. The flakes of resin which come off are very sticky and are hard to roll without smearing them all over your fingers. Resin smells very strongly, too, and won’t come off your fingers for a few days. If you roll the resin with the ash, the ash acts as a binder and keeps the resin from sticking to your fingers excessively. After scraping the resin onto a smooth, flat surface, roll it with the ash into a ball. When done, stick it back into the bowl and smoke it. Bon apetit!
Length of Water = Hard Pull
The easiest bongs to pull smoke through are those with clean screens and a short distance of water. When I was experimenting with the physics of bongs, I made a Graphix-type bong (cylindrical chamber, open-mouthed hits) with one innovation: Instead of just sticking a stem into the chamber, I used a length of flexible plastic tubing which came out of the bottom of the chamber and coiled around the tube a few times before ending in a corncob pipe. The idea was to create some length of water for the bubbles to travel through, thus cleaning the smoke more.
The guy who introduced me to smoking argued this point with me. He said that it was the *volume* of water which made a difference in cleaning the smoke, not the *distance* that the smoke traveled. I think he was right, because the one-gallon bong [see above] had much better filtration than the coiled-tubing bong.
The down-side to the coiled-tubing bong was that it took some initial lung power to pull the water from the coils into the chamber, creating the necessary vacuum for the smoke to bubble. Veteran stoners and cigarette smokers (especially) didn’t like that part of it because of the lung power it required. I didn’t mind so much, because I was used to it, and once the bubbling started it had an easy draw. The one-gallon bong was the same way, but it could have had easier pull if I used a simple stem instead of a long length of plastic tubing.
Different Liquids in Bongs
Tap water is not the only liquid that can be used in a bong. I prefer ice water, since it really cools the smoke, depending on how much water you have in the bong. Lately, though, I’ve tried hot/boiling water in The Monster [see above], and I like that effect a lot. The steam moisturizes the smoke and removes the dryness and harshness. If your bong can withstand hot or boiling water, I’d recommend it.
Trying various kinds of liquids in a bong is a lot of fun. Using beer and/or liquor in a bong gives the smoke a tasty flavor, covering over the smoky taste. I’d suggest Lineinkugel’s beer, or Jim Beam/Jack Daniels whiskey. I tried some cherry-flavored bug juice once (cheap Kool Aid), and it was horrible. A squirt of fresh Lemon will give a nice aroma.
The chamber is the part of the bong which fills up with smoke when the pot is being burned. The larger the chamber, the more smoke is “stored up” before inhaling it. In my portable bong (12 oz.), the chamber is very small and a stoner will feel the smoke entering his/her lungs seconds after lighting up.
I am personally indifferent to large/small chambers. Since I am fairly athletic, I have a healthy lung capacity and can take *very* big hits off a bong–the biggest make me gag and cough, though, so I’m not as gung-ho as I used to be. Big chambers are nice, though, because you can use multiple breaths to burn a lot of bud, filling the large chamber. Once the chamber is filled, you carb it and suck in a mind-numbing amount of smoke. Three-foot bongs are cool because you can watch the “packet” of smoke travel up the bong after it’s carbed.
In deciding where to drill the carb, it’s necessary to understand that the volume of the container must be split between water and chamber space. I usually drill halfway up or higher for maximum water volume. Remember, though, that the water level cannot be higher that the “bud- line”, or else your bowl of bud will get soaked by the water travelling up the stem.
I would also caution against leaving too little a chamber space, because the smoke seems to be harsher when inhaled straight from the water. It’s easier to stomach the smoke when inhaled all at once rather than gradually.
Smoking and Extinguishing a Bowl
Having hung out with many bong-smokers in my meager 1.3 years of smoking, I’ve seen many ways of smoking a bong. The simplest way, or course, is to cover the carb, light up, wait till your lungs are 90% full, then carb it and inhale the chamber.
There are variations on this basic technique. As mentioned above, one good thing about smoking from a bowl is that you can extinguish the bowl in order to prevent wasting bud. The best technique I’ve seen is to partially cover the bowl with the lighter, *a few seconds before you carb it*. This method will taper down the air flow toward the end, then will completely stop the burning when the bowl is completely covered and the bong is carbed.
For longer bongs, you might want to use several breaths on a covered carb to fill the long chamber with smoke. Carbing it will then pull in the full chamber’s worth of smoke.
A stoner friend of mine tends to take a few smaller hits on a single breath. He doesn’t violate stoner etiquette [see below], but I don’t know if his way is more effective than one long draw. My reasoning tells me that carbing it multiple times on a single breath would cause a waste of lung power/space. This figures because breath goes faster with an open carb (less air resistance), so the less lung time used with an uncovered carb, the better. However, I haven’t tried his way so I can’t accurately critique this method.
***Disclaimer: This section on etiquette is meant to be a *personal* observation of stoner manners. I do not mean to imply that this is how stoners, as a whole, do or should conduct their smoking.
Bong etiquette seems to allow each person one lungful (inhalation) per turn. It is rude to start a breath over, even if due to bad lighting technique (wasted lung space). The exception is when delays are caused by a faulty lighter. The turn-taker is also allowed to finish the chamber of smoke (carbed) on a second breath. If a person doesn’t get a good amount of smoke in a hit, they’re allowed to smoke first (if going in order) from the new bowl.
The bong *and* lighter should be smoothly passed onto the next stoner. The veteran of stoners will have already extinguished the bowl so that no bud is wasted for the next person.
Etiquette for the host suggests that s/he provide his/her guests with a spittoon (garbage can), water, and munchies (optional, but very generous!). Needless to say, the ambiance should be comfortable and inviting. Bud is best enjoyed in company and with entertainment. so bud should be shared with friends.
Bowl packers are subject to a much looser constraints. Since the person packing bowls is in essence doing everyone else a favor, few arguments can be made by the recipients. Bowl packers can be dictators and direct the route of the bong. They can also smoke as much of their own bud as they want, even if they’re out of turn or whatever. The kindest bowl packers pack so much bud into a large bowl that the air can barely be sucked through it. They pass the bong around in order and re-pack the bowl liberally. Not everyone has the money to afford this philosophy, but stoners are usually generous people.
Usually the person packing bowls will take the first hit off a new bowl, but not always. When a fresh bowl is passed to someone else, it is a generous gesture towards that stoner.
While stoners can be obnoxious, they are all too often labeled as “bad stoners”. This unfarly derisive term means that a stoner acts goofy while stoned. It’s very uncool to blame some stoner’s goofy behavior on the fact that s/he’s stoned because it’s too easy to make a stoner self- conscious (and that sucks). It is more polite to allow everyone to enjoy the bud in their own way and not be judgmental of others.
The best attitude to have is to relax and enjoy the company and the surroundings. Bud is finicky that way–every experienced stoner knows that you should be in a good mood when stoning.
Pipe, or Bong Lighters
Lighters come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Ordinary cigarette lighters are adequate for smoking bud, but they’re not the best. If ordinary lighters are used, it’s best to make sure the flame is at least 1.5″ tall. When lighting, the lighter is best held vertically, with the flame being sucked over the edge of the bowl onto the bud. This method avoids singed fingers.
If possible, a pipe lighter should be purchased. Pipe lighters emit a tall flame at a ninety-degree angle, making it easier to light a bowl. The same effect can be achieved with conventional lighters by using a lighter “holster”. The only one I’ve seen was made out of leather and had a “belt strap” on the back. The lighter was put into the holster, and the index and middle fingers fit snugly into the belt strap (with the holster resting on *top* of the fingers). The thumb could then flick the lighter with all fingers safely away from the flame even if the lighter were held sideways to light the bowl.
Above all else, though, the most important characteristic to look for in a lighter is reliability. It’s depressing to be holding a packed bong, ready for a hit, and flicking the lighter over and over without getting a flame.
Carb vs. slide
Most bongs use a carb to clear the chamber of smoke, but they’re not the only way. Some stems are removable, and they’re called “slides”. The slide fits into a slightly larger-diameter fixed stem. A little gasket at the base of the stem creates an airtight seal whenever the slide is in the stem. When “carbed”, the slide is pulled out of the stem by a little handle, allowing plain air to be sucked through the water, clearing the chamber.
Both slides and carbs are fine, and the choice of one or the other is totally a matter of personal preference.
Wetting the Weed
Some time ago a stoner wrote in to _High Times_ that he gets more smoke (up to three times as much) from his bud when he wets the herb. I’ve tried smoking dry and wet buds in my bongs and have found no difference one way or the other. I may be doing it wrong, but I really doubt that wetting the herb makes any difference.
I hope this article will be informative and useful to some stoners. I apologize if some of the information is obvious, but I like to err on the verbose side.
In closing I urge all stoners to realize that there is no reason for marijuana/hemp to be illegal. Mainstream drugs like alcohol and nicotine are much more dangerous.
If marijuana is ever to be legal, it will require that stoners come out of the closet and talk openly about the benefits of pot smoking with *everyone*. Tell non-stoning friends, relatives, colleagues, co-workers, teachers, parents, etc. as much as possible. Be informed and answer questions honestly. Although it can be difficult to tell people you’ve known all your life that you smoke pot and think it should be legalized, it is easier than you think. If you follow up your admission with good arguments, your friends (etc.) will be forced to seriously wonder why marijuana is illegal at all.