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How Glass Bongs are Made
As the legal cannabis market swells, so does the market for the paraphernalia used to consume it. Pipes, vaporizers, and rolling papers have all seen a surge in sales over the last decade, but none of them are as iconic and emblematic of stoner culture, as the glass bong. Regardless of if you call it a bong or a water pipe, the image your mind conjures is ubiquitous. You’ve seen them in movies, in headshops, and in your high school best friend’s basement. These beautiful devices come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. But how exactly are they made, and how are artisans able to produce such intricate detail using a material as fragile as glass?
The art of glassblowing dates back centuries, sometime around the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire in the First Century BC. After all that time, the method blowers use to manipulate glass hasn’t evolved all that much. You know what they say; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Tradesmen have used this technique to create everything from antique vases to the immaculate sculptures of Dale Chihuly. Nowadays, many professional glassblowers have focused their craft on the production of bongs to service the rapidly growing cannabis community. Here’s how they do it:
The Age-Old Art Of Blowing Glass
All bongs begin as molten glass after being superheated to an insanely high temperature of around 2,124 degrees Fahrenheit. After the glass is superheated, it’s collected on the end of a hollow steel pipe. From there, as you might have been able to guess from the blow in glassblowing, artisans literally blow into the rod to inflate the malleable glass. The rod itself has a small hole that blowers can use to control the airflow going into the glass to create the optimal shape. Once blowers have inflated the glass into a bulbous orb, it can be manipulated into any shape imaginable.
As the bubble cools, the glass becomes sturdier but remains workably pliable. At this point, it’s crucial to maintain symmetry and create a base that will sit flat on a surface like a coffee table. This requires continuous rotation. After forming the base, blowers then begin to shape the more cylindrical aspects of the bong. Bongs really start to take on their unique style during this step. Most of the aesthetic style elements we find on bongs, and the more practical ones like percolators, are formed separate from the bong itself and reattached later. Usually, blowers create them from the excess material not used in making the base, but sometimes they are formed from an entirely new piece of glass.
When forming the neck of a bong, oftentimes, blowers will employ the use of a lathe. Lathes are machines that spin the glass rod in such a way that it remains perfectly cylindrical and uniform. After forming the neck, it’s time to shape the mouthpiece. Blowers will apply heat at the point where the tube broke from the rod, and then smooth that area into a mouthpiece that won’t cut anyone’s lips. Any accessories like downstems or percolators are attached to the bong, and if necessary, the base and neck are reattached.
Determining The Quality Of A Bong
Like with anything else, a bong is only as good as the material it’s made from. Right now, lots of headshops are inundated with cheap glass that’s been imported from China. Cheap isn’t always a bad thing. For some people, the quality of their bong isn’t all that important, and having an affordable pricepoint is paramount.
For others, a superior piece is worth the extra change. If you fall into the latter category, look for a bong made of borosilicate glass. Borosilicate is an incredibly durable form of glass that is also very heat resistant. You may have familiariety with it if you’ve ever used a pyrex dish in the kitchen. High-tech lab equipment is also made of borosilicate glass, so you know this stuff is sturdy.
When determining the quality of a bong before purchasing it, consumers often make the common mistake of judging the bong solely its thickness. Generally, bongs have a range of thicknesses from 3mm to 9mm. A 9mm may feel sturdy in your hands, but if it’s comprised of bad welds, and made from inferior glass, then it’s more likely to break than thinner bong of higher quality. Ideally, what you want to find is a 9mm thick bong that is made of high-quality glass, and has been expertly crafted.