anatomy of a bong

Anatomy of a bong

Gather ‘round folks, because class is in session. When it comes to cannabis consumption, the tools of the trade are half the fun. And in the case of smoking, bongs are pretty much weed amusement parks. But, with so many different types of water pipes crowding the shelves of head shops and online marketplaces, it can be hard to know what’s what and what type of bong might be best for you.

Thankfully, we’ve got a degree in glass anatomy, so let’s break down the ins, outs, and intricacies of the weed world’s most notorious accessory.

What Is a Bong?

In the most simple terms, a bong — or “water pipe,” as smoke shops were once forced to call the device — is any smoking pipe that uses water filtration and contains a removable bowl piece. But with so many materials, parts, accessories, and adaptors, that definition can feel a little broad.

These days, most bongs are made out of glass, ceramic, silicone, or plastic. Sure, that makeshift piece your uncle made out of a watermelon, PVC pipe, and socket wrench still counts, but when it comes to buying a bong and not making one, most have a similar structure.

The Bowl

What better way to start our anatomy lesson than with the place where the weed goes. No matter the material, shape, or style, every bong will have a bowl. Bowls are shaped like, well, their namesake, and cradle the ground up bud waiting to be lit. Like every other part of the bong, bowls come in a variety of styles, with some deep and narrow, some shallow and wide, and others so big that they can accommodate an eighth of flower or more for all your party pack needs.

Bowls are open on both ends to allow smoke to travel freely into the body of the piece, and they are removed mid-hit to allow airflow to more easily clear the chamber. To save already-smoked ash from mucking up the bong water, some bowls are equipped with glass screens to catch the material, while many smokers use cheap mesh brass or metal screens to achieve the same effect.

If the bowl on your bong is fixed in place and uses a carb (or finger hole) for air, you’re not holding a bong at all, and are instead smoking out of a bubbler.

Slide or Stem

Once your bowl is packed, you need somewhere to put it. On most bongs, that’s where the slide comes into play. Slides are traditionally crafted in three standard sizes — 10mm, 14mm, and 18mm — and connect the bowl to the body or water chamber of the pipe.

The main function of the stem is to elongate the bowl so that the smoke travels directly from the bowl into the water held in the main chamber — instead of just billowing freely into the mouthpiece. Depending on the bong, stems can either be fixed in place or easily removable. In the latter case — called a slide — the stem is easier to clean, but can often get stuck to the bowl when it’s gunked up and time to clear the chamber. So be careful!


The most self-explanatory part of a bong, the mouthpiece is where you inhale the smoke. Most mouthpieces are affixed to the body of the bong, but some newer pieces allow for interchangeable mouthpieces that are housed by a joint similar to the bowl and can be removed like a slide.

For first time bong users, the most important thing to remember about the mouthpiece is to put your lips on the inside, not the outside, and to make sure it’s clean before you pass it.

Dab Rigs

As cannabis concentrates have exploded in popularity over the past few years, a new type of bong has taken over significant shelf space at head shops across the world. Dab rigs are constructed exactly like traditional bongs, except for the bowl, which is instead replaced by what dabbers call a nail. Made out of quartz, ceramic, or titanium, dab nails are heated to high temperatures with a blowtorch, allowed to cool, and then used to vaporize a variety of cannabis extracts. Since the nail is so hot from the blowtorch — or electric coils in the case of e-rigs — the nail instantly vaporizes the dab, turning it into a billow of smoke that is then filtered and inhaled just like a regular bong.

Because dab nails are so hot and do not need to be removed to clear the chamber, rigs typically do not have a removable slide, and come with a joint that directly attaches the nail to the body or chamber of the piece.

Of course, with so many talented glass blowers, foldable silicone bongs, and even ceramic pieces that look lovely, there are nearly endless possibilities for cannabis lovers to explore when it comes to bongs. But now that you know the difference between a slide and a stem, where to pack your pot, and where to inhale, you’re ready to hit the head shop and pick out your next consumption companion.

Looking for your next glass piece? Well, it helps to first know the anatomy of the gear you're buying. Let’s break down the intricacies of the weed world’s most notorious smoking accessory: bongs.

How Does a Bong Work? A Guide to the Water Pipe

This article is sponsored by Smoke Cartel, an online retailer and head shop made up of a close-knit team of glass lovers dedicated to making sure you get the best possible smoking gear.

Bongs are one of the most common forms of consuming cannabis, especially dried flower. Also known as a water pipe and sometimes referred to by slang terms like billy, bing, binger, and more, the bong is so engrained in cannabis culture that many connoisseurs go so far as to name their pieces, turning the otherwise inanimate object into a personality within their smoke circle.

The History of Bongs

The word “bong” is said to have been derived from the Thai word “baung,” which traditionally refers to a round wooden tube of bamboo and has also taken on the modern definition of a cylindrical smoking pipe.

Some have traced the use of a water pipe to filter and cool smoke back to China’s Ming Dynasty. Other reports show a history of use in Africa, where tribes would build earthen bongs into the ground using the same principles behind modern bongs. There are even accounts of ancient bongs made of pure gold being used by a nomadic warrior race in what’s now Russia.

Bongs are also closely related to the hookah, a type of water pipe generally used to smoke flavored tobacco. Hookahs use a hose as a mouthpiece and can be designed to allow multiple people to enjoy the smoke from a single bowl.

Today bongs can take on many shapes and sizes, but the most common versions are hand-blown from glass by artists who blend science and art, creating masterpieces that are both beautiful and functional. This wasn’t always the case, though. Throughout its evolution the bong has also been made from materials including hand-carved wood, bamboo, ceramics, and even plastic. Many appreciate the MacGyver-like ability to fashion just about anything into a bong, from Coke bottles to watermelons and everything in between.

Anatomy of the Different Bong Parts

The anatomy of a standard bong can be broken down into five basic parts:

1. Bowl

The bowl is the bulbous attachment where dried cannabis flower is loaded and combusted. It’s often removable, allowing it to function as pull- or slide-carburetor.

2. Carb

The carb, short for carburetor, is a small hole that allows the user to clear smoke from the entire chamber of the bong, completing the bong toke. The most common type of carb found on glass bongs is a pull- or slide-carb, which is exposed when the bowl is removed.

3. Downstem

The downstem is the small tube that allows the smoke to travel from the bowl down to the base, where it then percolates through water.

4. Base

The base is the bottom of a bong and can take many shapes, depending on style. A bubble- or beaker-shaped base is often used to create the water chamber in which the smoke cools as it passes through the water.

5. Tube

The tube, which ends in the mouthpiece, is the chamber that fills with smoke after it has filtered through the water. Other features, such as an ice pinch, are often included in the tube design.

All these parts can take various shapes, colors, and designs depending on the bong’s intended function. The downstem is often replaced with or attached to a variety of percolator designs that offer more diffusion or separation of the smoke as it passes through the water chamber.

The Different Types of Bongs

Here are a few of examples that show how some of the different kinds of bongs function:

The Salvager

The Salvager is designed for efficiency. Smoke percolates first through the showerhead percolator at the end of the downstem. It then travels through the internal recycler that recycles the smoke back through for a second diffusion before reaching the mouthpiece.

The Einstein

This bong includes two different styles of percolators. The first is a honeycomb perc that recycles the smoke into the second perc, which is called a Swiss perc because of the holes that resemble Swiss cheese that function to diffuse the smoke.

Sesh Supply “Poseidon”

This piece has two separate percolation chambers that both feature inverted showerhead percs. The smoke travels through the showerheads and is continuously diffused as it passes through the honeycomb perc between each chamber.

Advantages of Smoking from a Bong

The main advantage that draws people to using a bong is its ability to cool and filter the smoke through water, offering a smooth draw even when a large amount of smoke is inhaled. When comparing the use of a bong to other consumption methods, the advantages can vary.

For those who typically roll their cannabis into joints, bongs offer their cooling percolation while maintaining the pungent spectrum of aroma and flavor that cannabis produces. When comparing the bong experience to that of a standard dry pipe, the result is a much smoother toke that is less harsh and easier on the throat and lungs than the hot, dry heat of a hand pipe. Bubblers, on the other hand, offer the portability of a hand pipe with the added functionality of water percolation. However, a bong tends to be a more fluid experience than a bubbler, offering less trouble than a bubbler’s smaller components that can often get clogged or dirty.

After browsing Smoke Cartel’s wide selection of bongs in all shapes, sizes, styles, and colors, are there any new ones you want to try? What’s your personal choice for favorite bong style? Tell us in the comments section below.

If you own a dispensary, headshop, or smoke shop, and are interested in purchasing wholesale glass pipes, bongs, accessories, and more, check out Glassheads Distribution.

Bongs are one of the most common forms of consuming cannabis. Learn how their parts work together to create a smooth, cool smoke.