Choosing Your First Dab Rig for Cannabis Concentrates

Purchasing your first cannabis pipe can be a bit confusing. Between finding reputable vendors, learning the lingo, and selecting a piece that suits your individual needs, there’s a lot to learn and consider before diving in. Fear not: this series will give you an overview of the purchasing process, including how to choose your first flower pipe or dab rig, where to shop for glass online, and an introduction to functional and non-functional glass art.


Not long ago, flower pipes were the only form of borosilicate glass carried by retailers, but these days, you’ll find shelves lined with rigs designed exclusively for concentrates. Although there are many similarities between traditional pipes and dab rigs, there are a few features that set dab rigs apart. In this guide, you’ll learn just what those differences are, as well as how to select the right dab rig based on your personal preferences.

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Dabbing Nails

The basic function of a flower pipe involves the use of a bowl, which baskets the flower for combustion. When dabbing, however, concentrates are flash vaporized on a hot surface—the most common of which is a nail.

Nails are like bowls in that they’re the entry point, where vapor is initially created before being channeled through the rig. But unlike bowls, a nail must first be heated before you apply your dab. Most dabbers do so with a small torch, such as a culinary torch for crème brûlée. Once the nail is hot, the concentrated is applied and bursts into a plume of vapor to be inhaled through the pipe.

Shop for Dabbing Nails on Leafly

The dab rig you purchase may come complete with a nail, but if it doesn’t or you’re interested in exploring other types, check out Leafly’s guide to choosing the right nail.

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Why Are Dab Rigs So Small?

How to buy your first glass dab rig: why are dab rigs so small?
(Julia Sumpter/Leafly)

One feature you may notice when shopping for your first dab rig is that they tend to run a lot smaller than water pipes meant for flower. This is because concentrate vapor has a tendency to condensate when cooled. The more room vapor has in a glass rig, the more likely cannabinoids (i.e., THC, CBD) will be lost due to cooling.

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Dab rigs typically have smaller chambers to mitigate this issue, and you’ll almost never see a table top dab rig with the behemoth chambers of a bong. Keep size in mind if you plan to convert your old water pipe into a dab rig by adding a nail attachment.

Browse Dab Rigs on Leafly

Does Percolation Matter With Dab Rigs?

Percolation, or the process by which vapor or smoke is filtered and cooled by water, is of utmost importance when dabbing. A well-crafted concentrate will offer incredible flavor, and percolation helps to preserve that.

Like smoke from a pipe, concentrate vapor can be harsh on the throat and lungs, especially when a dabber doesn’t allow the nail to properly cool. (Tip: never apply your dab to a red-hot nail.) Percolation helps to cool and smooth out the experience.

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On the contrary, too much percolation can and will result in a loss of flavor and potency due to the rapid cooling of the vapor (as mentioned above). Some concentrate aficionados prefer very little to no percolation to avoid the flavor loss.

Almost all dab rigs will incorporate percolation to some degree, as water will greatly reduce the harshness of concentrate vapor. 

Dabbing Accessories Not Included

How to buy your first glass dab rig: dab rig accessories
(Julia Sumpter/Leafly)

Whether you’re buying online or directly through a retailer, shopping for a dab rig can be a bit complex; there are several components involved to maintain a fully functioning dab rig setup.

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With water pipes meant for flower, there are add-ons and accessories such as bowl pieces, ash catchers, drop downs, and de-bowling tools. However, these components are supplementary to the experience and not mandatory.

With dab rigs, this is not the case. For a complete and functional setup, you will need the following:

  1. Dab rig
  2. Nail and dome (or a domeless nail)
  3. Dabber tool (to apply your dab)
  4. Torch (or another heating method, like e-nails)

Be sure to factor all of these tools into your budget. Many retailers recognize this predicament with first-time buyers and may bundle these items together in a kit or offer discounts on dabber tools and torches when you buy a pipe. Some rigs may even come with a nail and dome (or domeless nail) setup.

Explore Dabbing Accessories on Leafly

Personalizing Your Dab Rig

When building out your very first dab rig kit, there’s a lot of room for personalization. For instance, if you’re looking for a travel rig, there are plenty of small, micro-pipe options available.

Nail slide sizes typically go down to 10mm, small enough to fit a pocket-sized rig. And nail manufacturers have managed to make them even smaller than that.

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If flavor is your forte, try outfitting your rig to include minimal chamber space, low percolation, and a quartz nail meant for low temperatures.

For those looking to build a setup for social gatherings, consider a slightly larger table top rig with a titanium or quartz nail designed to hold heat longer, thus providing more pulls per heating session. Electronic nails (or e-nails), although more expensive than a classic nail, are another great way to outfit your rig for continual dabbing at precise temperatures.

For first-time buyers, it’s not a bad idea to pick up your first rig at a head shop where you can ask additional questions. Not only is this a great way to build a relationship with your local glass purveyor, but you may also come across bundle discounts and special deals. If planning to make a purchase online, stay tuned for part three of this series, which will walk you through best practices before placing that order.

Lead image by Julia Sumpter/Leafly