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To Dab or Not to Dab: What It Is and How It’s Done

dab rig bong
Written by Sarah Friedman

Not too long ago, if you wanted to get high, you smoked a joint or ate a brownie. These were the options. Now you can vape it, eat a gummy, drink down an infused beverage, puff it in an inhaler, put it under the tongue as an oil, or dab it. So, what is this new dab thing, and how is it done?

Dabs are a newer way to vape that have grown in popularity over the last few years. Some people prefer to vape in the more standard vape cart fashion, and that’s fine too. Some products, like delta-8 THC, are easier to find as vape carts, though the compound is available as a dab as well. This alternate form of THC provides a slightly less intense high, and less head-cloudiness than delta-9, while not creating the same kind of anxiety. If you like to use vape carts, check out our array of delta-8 THC, delta 10, thcv and thco deals, along with many other compounds, and pick your perfect product.

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Pre-dab info

Let’s get right into it! First and foremost, dabbing is not done with a fresh or dried plant, it’s done with extracted oil or concentrate. So, in order to dab anything, the first thing that must happen is you must make or obtain a concentrated oil. This can mean BHO (butane hash oil), butter, shatter, or wax, which are technically all almost the same thing with differences in consistency more than anything else. Since these extracts can be made for cannabinoids like delta-8 THC, THCV, THCA, and CBG among others, a person can use their concentrate of choice when dabbing.

These concentrates are almost uniformly made by using a solvent like butane or carbon dioxide to extract cannabinoids like THC. In order for this to happen, the solvent melts the trichomes which house the cannabinoids, and the cannabinoids and terpenes are released into the solvent where they bind directly with it. The solvent is eventually burned off with heat at the end, to leave just the oily extracted cannabinoids and whatever other material can survive the process. Cold extractions, like for live resin, are better at preserving terpenes which can get ruined in heating processes. Though the consistency of butter is smoother like butter, and the consistency of shatter is harder and stiffer like glass, extracted concentrates do tend to generally be thick and sticky, regardless which kind they are.

Making such extractions can certainly be done in home, and are all the time. However, using solvents does come with a need for precaution, and those doing DIY jobs should be careful to follow all necessary safety precautions. In reality, when it comes to home-ops, its sometimes best to stick with safer methods, and leave these extractions to professional labs. For those who would prefer not to play chemist, the advent of legalizations and dispensaries has meant a massive selection of concentrated oils that can be bought in any legalized location, including for medical use where this is legal. Prospective dabbers can try different types of concentrates to find the experience that works best for them.

Dabbing is essentially another form of vaporizing, but done with a very different type of equipment. The concentrate is not burned, but heated to vaporization temperatures, with the vapor is breathed in as if it were bong smoke. This method produces what some see as a cleaner, more intense vapor. While compounds like CBD oil can most certainly be dabbed, the main allure of a dab rig is the ability to use high-THC concentrates in order to get a really strong high. Terpenes can also be extracted and used, but often fair less well when it comes to preserving volatile compounds during extraction.

Because of how quickly dabbing works, and the intensity of it, dabbing is beneficial for many recreational and medical users. Those with chronic pain and nausea issues often report dabbing as the quickest, most effective way of dealing with symptoms.

What is a dab rig?

We already know that this has nothing to do with lighting up a joint, popping down a gummy, or switching on a vape. In fact, even the name of what’s being done, ‘dabbing’, (with verb form, ‘to dab’), implies an entirely different technique, that uses some kind of specific instrument. And it does. In order to dab anything, you’ll need a dab rig. What’s this? A dab rig is simply a specific type of bong-like structure – or water pipe – made explicitly for smoking thick oils/concentrates by using water to filter the vapor, much like with a bong. These bongs are generally made of glass, and involve the use of a nail which is made of titanium, ceramic, glass, or quartz. In this sense, a dab rig truly is just a bong with special attachments.

dab rig

While dab rigs can vary a bit in design, they all function in about the same way, and it goes something like this. There is a main bowl (downstem) up top, with what is called a ‘nail’ sitting on top. A ‘nail’ is not the nail of construction which gets hammered to hold two pieces of material together. But rather, this ‘nail’ is a small, shallow dish-like piece that slides in the main bowl of the rig, and is the part that heat is applied to in order to vaporize the concentrates.

Some nails require an extra piece called a ‘dome’, which goes over the nail when heated in order to distribute the heat evenly, as well as hold onto the vapor. In these cases, the nail is heated first, and then the dome is placed over it, and the concentrates then put on the nail for vaporization. Nails without domes have larger dishes, and a hole in the center which allows the vapor to travel through. Either kind can be used, although if a dome is not available, a carb cap can be used along with a domeless nail.

A carb cap simply covers the concentrate as its vaporizing, and is then taken off when the user is ready to inhale the vapor. This can even allow dabbing at a lower temperature which can mean a cleaner taste, and therefore might be preferable to some. Something called a ‘percolator’, or ‘perc’ is also used as part of the dab rig, and this is similar to a standard bong.

This piece is what allows the bubbling action which helps filter the smoke/vapor being produced, through the water chamber. There are several different kinds of designs for this, ranging from disk percolators – shaped like discs with holes in them – and stackable within a rig for customization, to honeycomb percs with a honeycomb style collection of smaller holes for more bubble production, to helix percs which have multiple arms that twist around each other under the water. When searching for a dab, you’ll find even more options than this.

If you’re going to dab, how is it done?

So, you have your dab rig and now you need to know how it’s done. A dab can be heated in two ways. The first is with fire, like a torch lighter. The second is with an electric dab nail. Most people using torches prefer butane over propane because propane is less refined and might create a dirtier vapor. There are different opinions on this. You can make your own decisions. Propane can also heat the nail more intensely, which can cause it damage, also making butane a more preferable option. Electronic nails – or e-nails – will generally have a digital display that shows exact temperatures. As per the name, an e-nail uses an electric current instead of a flame, making for a semi-electric bong.

Regardless of which kind, the nail is heated and the concentrate is put on top – with or without the dome depending on the type of dab rig. The nail is heated to the correct temperature depending on the concentrate used, and the vapor is pulled through the bong, through the water, and to the user. Generally speaking ideal temperatures will be between 315 to 450 Fahrenheit. In order to get the concentrate onto the nail (we are talking about getting a sticky oil onto a heated dish), a dab tool called a ‘dabber’ is used to scoop up the concentrate and stick it onto the heated nail. These come in metal and glass.

dab how it's done

Small hits should be used for a dab since the vapor produced is very strong. A user should also start slow, so as not to take in too much THC. Though THC won’t ever kill you, taking in too much can cause a THC overdose which is a uniformly not fun experience that can make a user feel like they are much sicker than they actually are.

What else is necessary?

Dabbing has gotten pretty big, and that means a range of other accessories and equipment that goes with the setup. For one, there are cleaning tools not unlike for a regular bong, which include pipe cleaners, wipes, cotton swabs, and cleaning solutions. Many people also prefer to store their dabs in specific dab cases. There are cases that offer padding and space for each piece, and which can make transporting it that much easier. Then there are also storage containers for concentrates that generally come in silicone or glass, and which are made so that the concentrate won’t stick to them.

Some people use another add-on piece called an oil reclaimer. This goes between the nail and the water chamber, and collects oil that has runoff, as well as that which condenses from the vapor. This can be scraped out, or heated off, when enough builds up. There are also tools like dab mats – to put the rig on so it won’t slide, and multi-tools that involve the ability for scraping, cleaning, tamping down, cutting, and some even have a flashlight attached.


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Issues related to dabbing

Everyone has their own preferred method of ingesting cannabis, and each method can come with potential downfalls, or things to be wary of. Let’s remember smoking by way of lighting plant material on fire is still the #1 method for using cannabis, and this remains the most dangerous of all, helping to contribute to the 480,000 deaths a year that exist from smoking.

While many like to believe that smoking cannabis is less dangerous than smoking cigarettes, apart from a possible lesser number of chemicals – which does make a difference, no doubt – the idea that something is being lit on fire and breathed in, makes smoking anything dangerous, and therefore there is no reason to believe smoking cannabis is safer than smoking cigarettes for the most part.

Dabbing takes out the issue of breathing in burning material, but it comes with the issue of requiring a concentrate. The main way of creating concentrates is with highly flammable solvents like butane. This poses danger in two ways. One, by making it possible for explosions during the extraction process. And the second, by making it possible that the user is exposing themselves to ‘dirty oil’, in which the solvent is not all removed during the burning out phase, leaving the user exposed to harsh chemicals. This is why lab tested products are important, to ensure the cleanliness of the extract. It’s also important to use high grade solvents, a close-loop system, and to be fully trained in how to do the process.

cannabis concentrate


No matter how you like to do it, there are options available, and its not shocking that there are so many newer ways of consumption coming out all the time. When it comes to using a dab, and how it’s done, many people prefer this to other more standard methods of vaping and smoking. And perhaps for those with extreme medical issues, this form of ingestion really can provide a quicker, more intense relief to symptoms. Interested parties should check out dab rigs, and pick out a product that meets their dabbing needs.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.