how to smoke dabs with a rig

How to Use a Dab Rig

Imagine being able to consume an entire joint in one puff. That’s about what a dab of cannabis concentrate is like.

Concentrates, or “dabs,” are a product that is created by extracting THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids from raw plant material and creating a variety of consistencies that can be vaporized using a dab rig, a water pipe designed specifically for concentrate consumption.

This article will inform you on:

  • What a dab rig is
  • Essential dab vocabulary
  • Required materials
  • Step-by-step guide to using dabs
  • The benefits of cannabis concentrates compared to other forms of consumption
  • Precautions for consuming concentrates

If you still need more information, one of our Hosts can walk you through the steps for using a dab rig.

What is a Dab Rig?

A dab rig is a device, typically glass, designed for cannabis concentrates, as opposed to cannabis flower. There are a variety of styles of dab rigs, ranging from simple “dab straws” (a tube of glass or quartz, heated at one end to smoke concentrates with) to electronic dab rigs. Most dab rigs have a main “rig” and an attachment known as a “nail.”

Essential dab vocabulary

To use a dab, you’ll need the following materials. Here are the required materials for using a dab rig, with definitions:

Dab rig: A pipe or device used for consuming cannabis concentrates. Dab rigs are readily available at local head shops, smoke shops, and dispensaries, including all Happy Valley locations. Prices generally range from $30 on the low end to $740 on the high end, but can be as high as $100k. High end dab rigs are referred to as “heady glass.”

Nail: A heating element attached to a dab rig that consists of glass, quartz, titanium, or ceramic. Nails can be heated to extreme temperatures as high as 800 ℉. Some nails, also referred to as “bangers,” are included or attached when you buy a dab rig. Arguably, quartz nails provide the best dab experience when used properly because they don’t crack under heat (or thermal pressure) the way glass does, and they provide better flavor for most concentrates. Titanium nails are recommended for optimal use for hash or solventless products.

Electronic Nail: A heating element powered by electric current that serves as an alternative to traditional torched nails. Electronic nails consist of a controller box that drives the flow of electricity to a coil, which heats the nail. These nails offer butane-free heating with precise temperature control, but generally cost more than traditional nails.

Dabber: The tool you’ll use to “serve” your dab. These often look like small shovels or are reminiscent of woodcarving or dentistry tools. The idea is that the tool will take your dab from its container to the heated nail without you having to burn your fingers. Dabbers are generally made of stainless steel or glass.

Dab: A dose of cannabis concentrate about the size of half a grain of rice. These are usually marked as live resin, cured sugar, shatter, rosin, or similar names. A dab can be waxy, sticky, or brittle in consistency. Talk with your budtender about what options may be best for your needs and preferences.

Carb Cap: A carb cap is used to cover your dab while it vaporizes. This is like the lid of a skillet on the stove; the lid heats the overall temperature, allowing more of your material to vaporize without losing those vapors to the surrounding air.

Q-Tips: These common medicine chest tools are excellent for removing any leftover concentrates from your nail when you finish dabbing, keeping it clean with isopropyl alcohol for future use.

Torch: If you are using a traditional nail, a blowtorch or heat gun of some kind will be needed to heat your nail to the desired temperature. Lighters are insufficient for this purpose because they don’t get hot enough to properly heat the nail, and you need to keep the flame on the nail continuously for 30 seconds to a minute to bring it to the right temperature.

If you are using an electronic nail, this will need to be properly connected to the rig and turned on for use.

How a Dab Rig Works

Dab rigs are used to vaporize your cannabis concentrates without the need for combustion, or directly applying flame to your product. By heating up your nail for a specified amount of time, you create a hot surface that turns your concentrate into a vapor full of cannabinoids when placed upon it. As you inhale, that vapor is drawn through your dab rig of choice, usually through a water chamber, and inhaled into your lungs as you would a typical hit of cannabis flower from a water pipe.

Step-By-Step Procedure for Dabbing

Though technique varies with equipment, the fundamentals of dabbing remain constant. Here is the step-by-step procedure for dabbing cannabis concentrates:

1. Make sure your nail is secured to your dab rig

An essential part of using a dab rig is preparation, and securing the nail to your rig is absolutely crucial. If your dab rig is not properly secured, you may be subjecting yourself to a world of pain. Before the nail is heated, ensure the nail is fastened to your rig without a hint of wobble.

2. Turn on the torch and heat the nail

Using your torch or heating element, uniformly heat your nail. Apply the flame of the torch directly to the nail Generally, you can heat your nail for 20-30 seconds, depending on the thickness of the nail and the power of your torch. You may notice a reddish glow to the hot nail when it is fully heated.

3. Let the nail cool

Allow the nail to cool, letting the heat disperse throughout the nail. A good rule of thumb is to let your nail cool for at least twice as long as you heated it. The nail will retain much of the heat of the torch even minutes after heating, so keep the nail away from your bare skin to avoid burns.

Low temperature dabs are higher in flavor and less harsh on the lungs.

4. Use the dabber to apply the dab to the nail

Place your dab on the nail using your dabber, inside the dome. If the nail was heated properly, the dab will evaporate very quickly. Pivot the tip of the dabber until all of the oil has evaporated.

5. Cover with the carb cab and inhale

Slowly and calmly inhale the dab. Be careful not to inhale (or exhale) too quickly, or you might irritate your throat and lungs. If you cough in response, this may be a sign that the nail temperature was too high before you applied the dab. When the dab is at the right temperature, there should be no coughing.

You may start to experience the effects of the dab within seconds of exhalation.

6. Clean the nail

Once finished inhaling, Q-tip the nail to remove any excess residual concentrate from the nail.

Dab Rigs vs. Traditional Joints or Pipes

First and foremost, dabs are much more potent than traditional cannabis flower. While cannabis flower may offer 10-30% THC content, concentrates often offer 50%+. This means that you only need a small amount to feel the same effects as you would after multiple puffs off of a joint or pipe. Additionally, the convenience of not having to worry about smoke, ashes, and a stinky pipe or roach after smoking makes dab rigs an appealing option, especially if you are using an electronic dab rig.

Precautions of Dabbing

Dabbing is among the most potent forms of cannabis consumption and should be treated with respect and caution. Start with small, pin-sized dabs and gradually adjust your dab size to your needs. You can always take a second dab.

When you consume too much cannabis concentrate

You cannot overdose on cannabis. In the event of taking too much, stop consuming dabs and allow your body to process the cannabinoids in your system. Lying down, staying hydrated, resting, or taking a shower can help calm you if your dab experience is too intense. Additionally, peppercorns and lemon peels are known to help offset the effects of cannabis use. Depending on your dosage, you can expect to feel the acute effects of the dab for one to two hours.

Be careful with your torch and nail

Torches and nails get extremely hot. A nail’s temperature can climb to 900° Fahrenheit, which is more than enough to give you a third-degree burn. Dab torches are designed to produce intense heat, and should be used far away from flammable substances and surfaces. When dealing with torches and high-temperature nails, always err on the side of caution.

If used correctly, a dab rig can be a unique cannabis experience that allows you to conveniently, discreetly consume cannabis in a vaporized form that avoids inhaling ash. Just remember to go slow, and keep your temperatures low, and be very careful with extreme heat.

Connect with Happy Valley for More Information

For more information on cannabis concentrates in Massachusetts, how to consume various cannabis products, connect with Happy Valley today. For more information on the various types of cannabis products, read our Ultimate Guide to Cannabis Science.

Are you curious about dabs? This article will teach you how to use a dab rig, including required materials and the procedure for the best dab experience.

How to Smoke Dabs

Falling somewhere between smoking a bong and vaporizing, using a dab rig is a relatively easy and smooth way of taking in a cannabis concentrate. Typically, if you know somebody who has a rig for dabs, inviting them to talk about it means you’re probably going to get your ear filled with an avalanche of what sounds like technobabble, leaving you more confused than you were at the start.

The good news is that dabbing doesn’t require a master’s degree in weed wizardry – It does require both the right equipment and a little technique, but that just takes some money to blow and a bit of practice. If you’ve heard about dabbing before but haven’t been able to make your way through the mountain of (often overwhelming and wrong) information available then this is the article you need. Keep reading below for our beginner’s guide on how to get your dab on!

What Do I Smoke Dabs With?

Like mentioned above, “dabs” (don’t call it a “d.a.b.s”, it isn’t an acronym) is a cross between smoking and vaporizing, though much closer to the latter than the former. When “dabbing” you use a special bong-like object known as a “dab rig”; in fact these are so similar to regular water pipes that a newcomer might mistake the two at first glance. There are some key differences worth going over, though, so let’s walk through each piece step by step.

Mouthpiece, Neck & Water Chamber:

Like with any pipe-like device these may look different from piece to piece but ultimately serve the same purpose – Water goes into the chamber, mouth goes on top, lungs inhale, smoke or vapor builds up in the chamber to be cleared. If you’ve smoked a bong before you’re familiar with this part of the setup.


Now things start to get a little different. One way you can tell if you’re looking at a bong or a dab rig is the angle of the downstem. For most bongs and water pipes the downstem goes straight into the water chamber, usually at something around a 45 degree angle. On a dabbing pipe, though, the downstem will likely have a sharp right angle, going straight down and then making a 90 degree turn to enter the water chamber; a good dab rig will have a small bulging area at this joint where leftover melted concentrates can gather to be used again. As for the bowl, that’s where things change completely.

Nails, Domes & Bangers:

Unlike the bowl on a bong, designed to hold dried plant material, the top of the downstem will instead have one of two things: a “nail” or a “banger”.

Nails & Domes

Nails are often shaped much like you’d expect; long and somewhat like a spike, with a flat, wide head on one end; slightly more bowl-shaped objects can also be used in dab rigs and are also often referred to as nails, despite the lack of visual similarity. If the nail is a traditional nail-shaped object it may or may not have a “dome” used to cover it – The dome helps ensure that the vapor made by applying concentrate to the nail doesn’t escape out into the surrounding air.


Bangers will usually look more like the traditional herb bowl one is used to, though it works much the same as a nail – The banger is heated up to a high temperature before placing concentrate inside to be vaporized. Compared to a nail a banger is generally considered easier to use and less wasteful but can be pricier depending on its material.

Whether using a nail or a banger this section of the pipe is heated up to a very high temperature, typically using a butane torch (though electrically heated models exist); after reaching the right temperature a concentrate is then either held up to the nail or placed inside the banger where it turns into vapor on (or near) contact. For this you’ll need the use of a dabbing tool, which we discuss below.

PS: When it comes to bangers & nails every material has its own pros and cons. Quartz is cheap and holds heat but is heavy and takes time to bring up to temp. Ceramics are light and heat quickly but lose that heat rapidly and can be very fragile. Titanium is durable but can discolor with use, and some claim it can give concentrates an “off” flavor. Our advice is just to try out different types and see what you prefer.

Dab Tool:

This isn’t an attached part of the rig but it is a vital component (particularly if you’re going to use oil over wax) so we’re listing it here. Once your nail or banger has been heated to the right temperature you’ll want to apply your concentrate to it – Enter the dab tool, which can also be made out of a variety of materials, though glass, quartz and metal are the most common. These typically look somewhat like a writing stylus, and their main job is to take a small amount of your chosen concentrate and either place it on or hold it very near to the heated nail; the heat coming off the element will be enough to turn the concentrate into vapor, which you can then “smoke”. And speaking of concentrates…

What Do I Use in a Dab Rig?

When it comes to cannabis the word “concentrates” can mean a lot of things – Vaping liquid, tinctures, hash, budder, the list goes on and on, and all have their own levels of potency and harshness. For dabbing purposes you’re usually looking for the highest-purity concentrate you can find, with THC percentages of 70% or higher common. Concentrates in this range are usually translucent to the eye; colored but not opaque, and the more clarity a concentrate has and indication of the purity of THC.

At this level, concentrates are usually either in a glass-like form (called “shatter”) or in a semi-fluid state, referred to as “wax”, “honey”, “BHO”, or even just “oil”. For a first timer using a dab rig we generally recommend going for something more solid and viscous over a runny oil – Solids and semi-solids such as shatter and wax tend to be easier to apply, particularly if you are using a nail & dome setup over a banger (as oil requires a dab tool to apply).

How Do I Use a Dab Rig?

Now we get down to business. Before you can hit a dab rig the nail/banger has to be heated to the optimal temperature – To do this you’ll need a high source of heat, and anything less than a butane torch that can produce blue or white flame won’t cut it. Unfortunately there’s rule on how long heating the element will take; it depends entirely on material, size, construction, and other factors, so trial and error may be needed here. As a general rule, though, expect a minimum of 30 seconds of direct heat to get started.

Once you’ve heated your dab rig up make sure to let it cool down a bit – Your banger/nail is going to be too hot right after being heated to properly vaporize your concentrate, as high heats (anything starting to enter the 480°F range) will destroy THC in wax and oil and render your concentrate completely inert. After you’ve let your dabbing rig hang out for about 45 seconds or so hold your hand near (NOT ON!) the heating element – You should feel the warmth radiating off of it like a lit fireplace. Now that your rig is up to temp you’re ready to take your first puff.

Using your dab tool gather up a very small amount of your concentrate – All you need is a little dab of material (hence the name). Remember, this dab is a concentrate and contains a high percentage of THC, so there’s nothing wrong with starting small and scaling up on your next hit. If you are using a more solid concentrate like wax then tweezers can work great here; otherwise, for oils, the pen-shaped tools are what you’ll need. Either way, using your dab tool bring the concentrate toward the banger or nail and prepare to inhale.

As you bring the concentrate closer to the heating element the dab will start to bubble and give off vapor – This is when you need to begin drawing in. If you are using a solid like wax or shatter you can drop the concentrate directly against the nail or into the banger bowl; if using an oil hold the dab tool as close to the heating element as you can, rotating the tool as you inhale to help ensure the concentrate is vaporized evenly (think of this like moving your lighter over a pipe bowl of marijuana for even heating).

And there you go – Clear the neck and you have just done a dab! Once you get the concept and the movements down it’s just as simple as hitting a traditional pipe, only without any of the harsh smoke. There are some good accessories to look into (carb caps are considered mandatory for most, and quartz balls can be nice for bangers) but in truth dabbing doesn’t have to be rocket science.

Can I Smoke Dabs Without a Dab Rig?

The answer here is a tentative “yes”, with heavy reservations.

We talk about consuming hashish in our “How to Make Hash” and “How to Smoke Hash” articles and the same principals apply there as they do for any concentrates – You want something that’s hot-but-not-too-hot that can vaporize your concentrate without flat-out burning it. A pair of hot knives are a classic solution; take two bare metal knives and place your concentrate between them, heating them up and breathing in the vapor as it’s released. You can achieve the same result with something like a car lighter or any other metallic surface but the real question is whether or not it’s worth it. And in our opinion? It is not.

Heating up a high-percentage concentrate like wax or oil without a chamber to hold the vapor in means you’re losing precious THC to the air around you – A concentrate benefits most from an enclosed environment, and two butter knives and a lighter mean you’re just letting most of your THC float off toward the ceiling and wasting what was probably very expensive concentrate. Concentrates can be loaded into a bowl or a joint if you take care but our advice is if you want to start getting into smoking dabs it’s worth it just to go ahead and invest in a rig, or even pick up a dabs pen or vape pen if you’re looking for something more portable. There’s no sense in letting your dabs go to waste.

Using a Vaporizer or Electronic Dab Rig

Another way to smoke dabs is to use certain specialized vaporizers or a “smart” rig like Puffco products. If you haven’t heard of the Puffco Peak, it’s an electronic dab rig that takes a lot of the hassle out of dabbing, since you don’t need a torch. There’s some other products out there too now that industry is evolving. These products are still dab rigs, but they’re a little less traditional.

The puffco peak: an electronic dab rig Credit:

Dabs Away!

We hope our article on how to smoke dabs has given you some confidence in going out and trying dabs for yourself – It’s a great alternative to actually smoking cannabis flower or hash, and even if it may look complicated at first glance it really isn’t. Just make sure you don’t hit the wax too hard your first time – As the old saying goes…. a little dab will do ya (sorry, couldn’t resist it). Enjoy!

While it might seem intimidating, dabs can be the purest way to enjoy cannabis. If you're ready to try, you'll want to know how to smoke dabs before you do!