The Ultimate Guide to Dab Rigs | Billowby Education Center
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  • The Ultimate Guide to Dab Rigs
  • David Matthews
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The Ultimate Guide to Dab Rigs

As people become more aware of the dangers of inhaling smoke of any kind into their lungs, they’ve set about looking for alternative ways to enjoy the medicinal benefits of various dry herbs. Vaping is a prime example, but a phenomenon called dabbing is quickly picking up steam too. In fact, dabbing and vaping are closely related; dabbing more specifically refers to inhaling the vapor that’s produced by heating up herb concentrates.

If you’ve tried dabbing and enjoyed it, perhaps you’re ready to invest in a dab rig of your own. Like many newbies, though, you’re probably a little intimidated by the sheer variety of dab rigs that are available. With terms like “nails,” “domes” and “reburn” being bandied about, you may feel like a fish out of water. To get your dabbing experience off to the best possible start, it pays to investigate a wide array of dab rigs. First, though, you should familiarize yourself with how dab rigs are designed, how they work and the various options that are available. Like anything else, there are simple, low-end dab rigs, mid-level dab rigs and high-end dab rigs with tons of extra features and the finest materials. By educating yourself with this handy guide, you’ll be able to make the most informed decision while looking for dab rigs. For those interested in dabbing, check out our How to Dab guide for a complete explanation of the process. 

Table of Contents

What Are Dab Rigs?

To the completely uninitiated, a dab rig is going to be a bit confusing. Unlike a bong, pipe or other traditional smoking mechanisms, a dab rig isn’t designed to catch anything on fire. Instead, it has a nail that gets heated up with a torch, and concentrated extracts from various herbs are then “dabbed” onto it. As soon as they are heated, they produce a vapor that you inhale. You can use a dab rig to achieve the same level of medication that you’d get from taking several drags off of a traditional pipe or bong. The effectiveness of dabbing is one of the many reasons that it has skyrocketed in popularity lately and, it explains, why there’s been such an explosion of dab rigs on the market too. 

What Is Dabbing?

Before going into more detail about dab rigs and how they work, it helps to have a clearer understanding of what dabbing is in the first place. As mentioned before, the term “dabbing” is used because you actually dab a small amount of concentrated medication, either in a wax or oil form, onto your rig in order to produce vapor. Typically, oil concentrates are fairly thick and won’t run off the nail. 

Dabbing is easy once you’ve done it a few times. The exact way in which you do it may vary depending on the style of rig you are using. In its most basic form, however, it involves applying a small amount of concentrate — oil or wax — onto a nail, or heating element. Don’t be misled, though. Most nails don’t heat themselves up. With the exception of e-nails, which can do so, nails must be heated using torches. Dab rigs and torches are usually sold separately, but you can sometimes buy them as a set.

When dabbing, you must heat up the nail with the torch first. Once it’s hot enough, you apply the wax or oil. Place your mouth on the mouthpiece as apply the wax because the vapor should materialize immediately. Once the vapor materializes, you can inhale the vapor. If your dab rig doesn’t have a dome, which will be explained in detail later, you must wait for it to cool down before packing it away.

Basic Components Of Dab Rigs

At this point, you probably have a fairly clear idea of how a dab rig works. Most dab rigs are made up of just three components: a glass piece, a nail, and a torch lighter. In reality, though, you’re most likely going to have to buy the torch lighter separately. Also, most people prefer to use actual dabbers to apply their concentrates. A dabber is just a short, small rod. You can sometimes find dab rigs sold as complete sets that include torches and dabbers. Most people like mixing and matching such components, though, to arrive at a one-of-a-kind setup. It’s purely a matter of personal taste. For beginners, though, it’s nice to start with dab rig sets that include everything you need. You can branch out later.

Nail Styles

There’s a lot of fierce debate out there about which type of dab nail works best. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like such a pressing issue. However, you need to keep in mind that the nail is responsible for heating the concentrate to the point where it produces vapor. Ideally, then, the nail should heat up quickly, and it should be able to retain heat for a decent period of time.

 With all of that being said, here are the most popular options for nails for dab rigs:

  • Glass – Borosilicate glass is strong stuff, and it works great in bongs and pipes. When used in nails for dab rigs, though, it misses the mark. Glass nails are pretty ubiquitous because they are very cheap. However, glass breaks easily. Glass nails don’t tend to last very long, and they must be replaced frequently. In the long run, you’ll end up paying more. Also, glass isn’t very good at retaining heat, so glass nails don’t always do the job with certain concentrates.
  • Ceramic – Like glass, ceramic breaks very easily. It holds onto heat a little better, but it’s still pretty inferior and generally not worth the bother.
  • Quartz – Quartz nails are pretty decent. Quartz is must more durable than glass or ceramic, and it’s almost impossible to overheat it. However, quartz doesn’t hold onto heat very long. Because it cools so quickly, it may heat your concentrate but not long enough to create a lot of vapor.
  • Titanium – The vast majority of experienced dabbers prefer titanium nails. Titanium is virtually indestructible, for one thing. Titanium retains heat incredibly well. The only problem is there’s a risk of overheating it to the point where it burns the concentrate instead of producing a vapor. For this reason, many people like to pair titanium nail dab rigs with water diffusers to strike the right balance.
  • E-nails – Few people bother with them, but e-nails are really convenient. E-nails are essentially electric nails with a port for a coil and a PID that gauges your coils temperature. They tend to cost more but they eliminate the need to use a torch entirely. Also, you can set a precise temperature, so you have much better control. The vaporization points of different materials vary, so it’s nice to be able to set a temperature and go from there.

Dome Versus Domeless Dab Rigs

As you shop around for dab rigs, you’ll notice that some nails have domes and some don’t. As with nail materials, there’s a lot of debate about whether domed or domeless nails are best. Domed nails are infinitely safer, and they help to hold in the vapor so you can inhale as much of it as possible. Also, the glass dome looks really neat and covers up the nail nicely. However, some people don’t like them because they must be slid into place, so domeless versions are also available.

Additional Pieces

By seeking out dab rigs that are sold as kits, you won’t have to shop around to find the other pieces you’ll need. However, buying your own choice of dabbers and torches can be fun. Many people invest in a variety of different dabbing accessories so they have variety in their collection.

Dabbers are typically made out of metal or glass and come in varying shapes and sizes. When you are choosing your dabbing wand, it is important to keep the style of your rig in mind. Sometimes, it is easier to buy a dab rig kit that includes the style of dabber that will fit your rig because you can be guaranteed the dabbing wand will work perfectly with your new rig.

When completing your dab rig set-up, most people rush to buy a torch. Truth be told, it is best to hold off buying a blowtorch. They’re way too big and far too powerful, not to mention dangerous. for what you are trying to do. Look for mini torches that run off of butane instead. Propane torches are far more trouble than they’re worth and, as mentioned before, they are pretty hazardous to have around.

The History Of Dab Rigs

Although concentrates like oil and wax have been around since the 1960s, dabbing didn’t really take off until much later. For a long time, dabbing was a fairly “underground” activity, so people made their own dab rigs. Most people would agree that the major turning point in the world of dag rigs occurred around 2010. This is partly due to legalization activities but also because people are increasingly concerned about inhaling smoke of any kind. As more people discovered dabbing, demand for dab rigs grew. Things became more industrialized around 2012, and the market started to be flooded with dab rigs of all kinds. The trend still has major upward momentum too, so you can expect to see more dab rigs and accessories out there as time goes by.

Who Would Want A Dab Rig?

So, are you an ideal candidate for a dab rig? If you’ve dabbed before and want to do it more in the future, you really need a rig. Sure, there are DIY instructions out there for making your own, but the amount of time and effort that will go into it really won’t be worth it in the long run. There are lots of cool designs and features out there, so buying a rig is a lot of fun.

If you’ve never tried dabbing but are looking for alternatives to smoking, a dab rig may be just the thing for you. The bottom line here is if you want to get in on the dabbing craze, you will need to buy a rig.  

Pros And Cons Of Dab Rigs

If you’re into dabbing, a decent rig is an absolute must. A few of the top advantages of using a dab rig include:

  • Convenience – You’ll have everything you need to enjoy your favorite concentrate.
  • Safety – Unlike homemade rigs, a well-designed rig will keep you safe while you are dabbing. After all, you are dealing with heat and fire.
  • Style – Like bongs, pipes, and other smoking devices, rigs often double as works of art. There are lots of styles to choose from, and you can mix and match components to achieve your own distinct design.

There aren’t really any downsides to using a dab rig. The only exception would be if you bought a low-quality rig with a poorly designed nail. In that case, you could end up wasting a lot of concentrates because the nail either gets too hot or doesn’t get hot enough. As any dabber can tell you, nothing is more frustrating than dabbing on some concentrate and getting so little vapor that you can’t even really inhale it.

You can avoid running into those kinds of problems by investing in a decent rig. Choose a nail that will retain the heat long enough to produce plenty of vapor, but make sure it doesn’t hold onto the heat so long that it actually causes the concentrate to combust. If that happens, you will inhale more smoke than vapor, and the beneficial components you crave may largely go up in smoke too.

Best Practices

Unless you are using a dab rig with an e-nail, you are going to need to be very careful while using it. Dabbing is not inherently dangerous, but using a torch can be if you aren’t paying attention. With that in mind, don’t attempt to use a dab rig while moving around. Find a safe, secure place to sit down and concentrate on the task at hand.

Once you’ve found a good place, get all of your components ready. Although you can buy all kinds of accessories for your rig, including showerhead percolators and in-line diffusers, they tend to be more trouble than they’re worth. Like the rig itself, such components will get sticky with reburn or reclaim. The problem is that they are very difficult to clean when such buildup occurs, and they tend to clog up quickly. Multiple chamber rigs can also be a pain to be clean up. They look cool, sure, but cleaning them can be a major hassle.

Before you get dabbing, make sure your torch has enough fuel. Nothing is more frustrating than going to heat up a nail and realizing your torch burner won’t work. Also, have your concentrate ready to go. In fact, apply the concentrate to the end of the dabber ahead of time.

Unless you are using an e-nail, light the torch and apply flame to the nail for the required length of time. Once it has been properly heated, use the dabber to apply the concentrate. It should produce vapor almost immediately, so have your mouth on the mouthpiece ready to inhale. Depending on the type of nail you’re using, it may take a while for your rig to cool down. If it’s a portable rig with a domed nail, though, you can safely close it up and carry it with you almost immediately. Otherwise, give it plenty of time to cool down first.

How To Clean A Dab Rig

Regardless of which types of oils or waxes you use, your rig is going to accumulate reburn, or reclaim, over time. The rate at which it does so mostly depends on how often you use your rig. One thing’s for sure: At a certain point, you will have to clean it. It will eventually get clogged and will be unusable. Instead of letting it get to that point, get into the habit of cleaning it regularly.

The first thing is to decide what to do about the reburn. Some people just clean it out and dispose of it. However, it can also be gathered and used again as a new concentrate, or it can even be included in a joint. If you like to make the most of every last drop of your concentrates, you will probably want to gather your reburn or reclaim. Not surprisingly, you can buy a special attachment that’s designed to do just that. It typically goes between the downstem and the nail. After scraping out your rig, put the reclaim in a small container for future use.

To clean your rig, you will just need rubbing alcohol, pipe cleaners, a bowl and paper towels or dry cloths. If you need more abrasive action, you can add a little salt to the alcohol.

Pour the rubbing alcohol into the rig and let it soak for a decent amount of time. This should help to loosen up the reburn and other residue. The alcohol will take on a darker color. Pour it out and repeat the process if necessary. Next, use the pipe cleaner and a little more rubbing alcohol to detail your rig. All that’s left to do is to allow the rig to dry completely. You can speed things along by using dry Q-tips and paper towels.

Safety Tips

The main safety tip to keep in mind when using a dab rig is to be careful when lighting the nail with the torch. Use the smallest torch possible, and take care not to overheat the nail.

A few other safety tips include:

  • Clean your rig regularly. The reburn that accumulates can clog it up, and it can also overheat and catch on fire.
  • Some people are concerned about residual solvents in concentrates and extracts. Avoid this issue by strictly using high-quality concentrates.
  • Use a nail with a dome to reduce the risk of burning yourself.

Risks

The most notable risk involved in using a dab rig is the potential for getting burned. That’s especially true if you use a rig with a domeless nail, which leaves the heating element exposed. It’s still not easy to burn yourself under such circumstances, but it can happen.

Using a torch to heat up the nail is inherently risky. If you are especially worried about it, consider investing in an e-nail instead. This entirely eliminates the need to use an open flame, so there is absolutely no risk of being burned.

Keep in mind that glass and ceramic nails break often. It’s just a part of owning that kind of rig. Therefore, use caution when dabbing on your concentrate. Use a well-designed dabber to decrease the risk of cracking or otherwise breaking the nail. Remember that the nail could break at any time, and act accordingly.

Conclusion

At this point, any confusion you had about dabbing or using dab rigs should be gone. If you want to make the most of your dabbing experience, use the information you’ve picked up in this guide to help you find the best possible rig. If you’re a complete newbie, consider buying a set that includes the dabber and torch. Down the road, you can upgrade to different nails and components to achieve the perfect configuration.

Everyone’s tastes are different when it comes to dabbing, and finding the perfect rig can take time. Avoid wasting a lot of money by trying other people’s rigs, if possible. This will give you some hands-on experience so you can make a more informed decision. Remember - you can swap out the nail and other components in order to arrive at the ideal configuration at a later time. Most importantly, dabbing is supposed to be fun. First-rate dab rigs make all of the difference in the world!

Sources

  • David Matthews
  • Guides