How to choose a smoking piece 


click to enlarge This glassblower doesn't blow smoke. - CYNDY KULP
  • Cyndy Kulp
  • This glassblower doesn't blow smoke.

So you've made it to Colorado, where the grass truly is greener. Now you want to know how to enjoy that green without damaging your lungs.

With a little planning, you can consume cannabis in a way that filters out impurities while still preserving the fresh taste of the herb. Vaporizers aside, water pipes may be the surest way to treat your lungs kindly and enhance the smoking experience while you're at it.

The true cannabis connoisseur knows that larger water pipes are the only way to get all the fancy features, so you'll likely want to keep your most prized piece at home. But given cost, maintenance and practicality considerations, how do you go about finding the right pipe to suit your needs?

You could lose hours to YouTube, where countless videos demonstrate grandiose bong rips, but all those stoners with outsize personalities can get tiresome really quickly. Specialized online retailers, like aqualabtechnologies.com and ustubes.glass, are handy resources — but only if you know what you're looking for.

As usual, the best bet is talking to a real live human being, which you can do by visiting a local glass store. We tried Higher Elevations Masterpiece Productions (1323 Paonia St.) on the Eastside and its downtown sister store, Elev8 Glass Gallery (517 S. Tejon St.).

According to Abi Newman, an Elev8 employee and self-taught glassblower, plan to spend around $150 for a decent water pipe. They can cost much more too, so it really comes down to what's affordable in your budget. "Heady glass" — hand-blown works of functional art — tend to cost more than "scientific glass" — sleek, utilitarian pieces that look as suited for a laboratory as a living room.

No matter your personal preferences and constraints, here are some tips on a few important features:

1) Material: This should be fairly obvious, but if not, suffice to say that plastic is toxic so it's best to avoid smoking out of acrylic pipes, even though their lower price may be appealing. Ceramic and bamboo come closer to healthy, but the cleanest and tastiest option is really glass. Of course, it's also the most breakable.

2) Bowl: Where you pack your green, called a bowl or slide, should be removable, so you can slot it right into the main joint, a longer downstem or added ash-catcher (more on that later). Whatever you do, make sure to measure, so you don't end up with mismatched pieces. The bowl-to-bong connection is vital, since it's the first pathway the smoke will travel en route to your awaiting lungs.

3) Filtration, percolation and diffusion: The more ways your piece can run the smoke through water and introduce bubbles along the way, the more impurities it'll filter out. And the more impurities removed, the purer and cooler the herb will taste and the gentler it'll be on the lungs.

Percolators do that job. A good water pipe will have at least one percolator but a great one will have several. Naturally, that'll bump up the cost.

4) Ice catchers: Indents inside the top of the pipe are more than just a happenstance design. They hold a few ice cubes, which cool the smoke even more as it rises through the tube.

5) Diffusion accessories: All sorts of additions can increase filtration. Simple glass "diffuser beads" can be dropped into the bottom of a pipe to create bubbles, acting like a percolator. An ash-catcher is a placed between the bowl and the pipe that has a percolator in it. (Can't emphasize it enough: It's important to match the stem size of the pipe and angle of the ash catcher. If you're at a loss, the staff at the store should know the size.)

Also in this category is the slotted glass downstem and the "bubbler bowl," which has water on the bottom and a space for herb on the top level and can be used as an optional bowl. Often, creative configurations of these add-ons can form a fully functional, stand-alone piece. Learning about all these accessories is another good reason to visit your local glass shop, as it's possible to modify an existing pipe for less money than buying new.

6) Durability: No one wants to invest in a good pipe just to have it fall and shatter. Therefore, the thicker the better — 7 to 10 mm is a good range. American companies generally make sturdier glass than foreign companies do, but that's more a reputation than a rule.

Contributing to durability is the size and stability of the pipe's base. A beaker-style pipe is very stable whereas a tall pipe on a small, round base may rock or tip. Obviously that's not desirable, so look for a sturdy base.

7) Artistry: Remember, a water pipe is not just functional, it's an artistic creation. There's beauty in owning a unique, one-of-a-kind, hand-blown pipe.


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