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What is a Dab Rig, and How Do They Work?

What is a Dab Rig, and How Do They Work?

Have you ever wanted to try dabbing but don’t know where to start? You’ve seen those little jars labeled “budder” or “shatter” but have no idea what to do with them?

Don’t worry. You’re in good company. A lot of folks are unfamiliar with the world of dabs and dab rigs.

So, what is a dab rig exactly? How do you use the thing? What about that stuff in those little jars?

Read on to answer these questions and learn what to look for when choosing your first rig.

What Is A Dab Rig?

A dab rig is a specially designed water pipe for vaporizing concentrated extracts, commonly known as “dabs.”

Dab rigs have become mandatory gear for the consumption of budder, shatter, wax, and other concentrates.

Before dab rigs became readily available, extracts were often smoked using the “hot knife” method – heating two knives on the stove until red hot.

The user then vaporized the dab between the hot knives and used a small tube to inhale the fumes. Today’s dab rigs are much more convenient, but first-time users may find them confusing.

Now that we know what a dab rig is let’s look at the basic parts.

Anatomy Of A Dab Rig

There’s no need to be intimidated by all the extra parts and pieces on a dab rig. It’s a lot like a bong, but with added functionality specific to smoking concentrates. 


Like all water pipes, dab rigs have a mouthpiece. An adequately designed mouthpiece allows the user to create a good seal with their lips against the glass to draw the vapor through the water in the chamber.

Nail / Banger

The nail or banger is an essential element of every dab rig. They are superheated to vaporize the concentrate and can be designed from several different materials, each with its own distinct properties.

For example, the most commonly used material for bangers is quartz, known for its high heat conductivity and retention properties. Other materials include glass, ceramic, and metal.


The dome is essentially a cap that fits over the hot nail to prevent dab vapors from escaping and protect the user from the dangerously high heat.


The downstem in a dab rig connects the banger with the chamber. As with a bong, the downstem attaches to the bowl or banger on one end.

Inside the chamber, the other end of the downstem is immersed in water. Inhaling through the mouthpiece draws the smoke or vapor through the water, creating the tell-tale bubbles associated with all waterpipes.  

Base / Chamber

The primary part of any dab rig is the base or chamber. The chamber holds the water that the vapor bubbles through.

Dab rig bases are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. They’re typically smaller than chambers on traditional bongs, holding less water but resulting in more concentrated hits.


Not mandatory but recommended, percolators provide additional filtering for smoother tokes. Percs are available in a variety of styles, with some dab rigs featuring multiple integrated percolators.

Be advised, however, that the more complex the inner workings of your dab rig become, the harder it is to clean.  

How Do Dab Rigs Work?

A dab rig works by heating the nail or banger to the proper level – the exact temperature depends on the specific product being consumed.

The extract, or dab, is placed in the super hot nail, where it vaporizes. A dome or carb cap keeps the vapor from escaping.

When the user inhales, the smoke travels from the nail, through the downstem, and into the water chamber. As in a traditional bong, the water cools the vapor, resulting in a smooth, tasty hit.   

How To Use A Dab Rig

First-time users are sometimes intimidated, wondering precisely what is a dab rig and how it works. Using a dab rig is pretty straightforward, however.

Once you’ve got the hang of the following steps, you’ll find dabbing quite easy and avoid making common dabbing mistakes.

  1. Add water to the chamber. Check your water level by giving a quick inhale. If you get splash back, pour some out.

  2. Heat the nail with a butane torch to the desired temperature. Take care not to get things too hot to avoid scorching your dab.

  3. Place your concentrate on the heated nail's surface and slowly inhale through the mouthpiece. Go slower than you would with a traditional water pipe since dabs don't usually vaporize instantly.

  4. Place a carb cap or dome on the banger to hold the heat, regulate airflow, and prevent any vapor from escaping. Lift the cap when you’re ready to clear the rig.
  5. Exhale the vapor and repeat. Remember that dabs are significantly more potent than smoking dry herb, though. Be careful not to overdo it. As the old saying goes, “a little dab will do ya!”

What Are Dabs?

In simplest terms, dabs are a concentrated form of everyone’s favorite herb. The name “dab” refers to the small amount of extract consumed in a single hit.

Several distinct dab types are created through varying methods and come in various colors and textures.  

Types of Dabs

Concentrates are produced through different processes, resulting in several distinct types of dabs.

Some of the most common varieties are shatter, budder, wax, oil, and live resin. 

Shatter is made using a butane solvent extraction method that results in a honey-colored oil that is heated until it reaches a glass-like consistency.

As the name suggests, it is extremely brittle and can shatter easily. Budder, on the other hand, begins with a similar extraction technique, but the oil is whipped during the heating process. The result is a smooth, gold-colored concentrate with a soft, buttery texture. 

The creation of dab wax again starts with butane solvent extraction. Rather than purging the butane with high heat as in shatter and budder production, however, wax is processed at lower temperatures. The resulting concentrate is typically not as thick as shatter or budder.

Dab oil, also known as Butane Hash Oil or BHO, is an amber-colored liquid extract frequently distributed in vials. Live resin is similar to dab oil, with the extraction method being the primary distinction between the two.

Oil, like most concentrates, is extracted from dried and cured plant matter using butane as a solvent. Live resin is extracted from fresh flower, using either butane or CO2. Some users find live resin to be more flavorful and aromatic than other types of dabs.    

Some less-frequently found dab varieties include the taffy-like pull ‘n’ snap, sugar wax, crumble or honeycomb, diamonds, and sauce. 

Dab Rig Tools & Accessories

In addition to the rig itself, a few other pieces of gear are integral to the dabbing experience.

Dab tools, also known as dabbers, are necessary to scoop a small amount of concentrate out of the container and drop it onto the heated nail or banger.

The particular dabs you’re smoking will dictate the best type of tool to use. For example, a “ballpoint dabber” or “needlepoint” work best for shatter, easily breaking it into smaller, easy-to-spear pieces.

Scoop or spoon-shaped tools are best for budder, waxes, and live resin. Dabbers are made from different materials – ceramic, quartz, glass, or metal – each with its pros and cons.

Today, combination dab tools featuring a scoop or pick on one end and a carb cap on the other have become popular among frequent users. 

An almost unlimited number of accessories are available for dab rigs. Some, like certain bangers, can be used to convert traditional water pipes into dab rigs simply by replacing the bong bowl with a quartz banger.

Interchangeable bangers are also available with integrated recyclers and “terp slurpers” for more efficient consumption of your dabs.

Other accessories to consider include thermometers and timers to assist in accurate temperature control.

Choosing A Dab Rig

So, are you ready to start dabbing? There are a few things to consider before choosing your first rig.

First, don’t automatically assume that bigger is better. There are advantages and disadvantages when choosing between a large or small dab rig. Larger rigs are ideal for frequent use and are relatively easy to clean.

However, the reduced size of smaller dab rigs can hold heat longer, giving the vapor less time to condense. Small gear is also easier to stash out of sight when the in-laws come for dinner.

On the downside, smaller rigs are often harder to clean.   

The nail or banger is perhaps the most integral part of any dab rig. Essentially the “bowl” of the rig, the nail or banger is where the concentrates get vaporized and, as such, must withstand being superheated repeatedly.

Though the terms “nails” and “bangers” are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different. Nails are made from titanium and, as expected, resemble a nail in shape.

On the other hand, bangers are typically constructed of glass, ceramic, or quartz, with quartz being the preferred material due to its high heat resistance. And, new to the market are electronic nails, aka e-nails. Ideal for dabbing aficionados, e-nails take the guesswork out of temperature control. 

Though not technically part of your rig, you’ll also need a good torch. It’s required to heat your nail or banger to the proper temperature for your dabs.

Expert users insist that butane torches are superior to propane when dabbing. Propane contains impurities that may alter the taste of your smoke.

And propane risks getting too hot, making it more dangerous than butane and diminishing the lifespan of your banger or nail.

Finally, make sure your new dab rig fits your budget. Don’t dump your wallet for one of those ginormous elaborate rigs if you’re just planning to be an occasional “weekend” dabber.

Rigs can start below $100 but quickly soar to heights of $500 or more. Don’t overspend, though. After all, you’ll need a few bucks left over for the budder!


What do you need for a dab rig?

Getting started with a dab rig requires a few essential items. At a minimum, you’ll need a dab tool, a carb cap, a banger or nail, and a butane torch. 

Is a dab rig a vape?

While a dab rig does indeed vaporize the product being smoked, that’s about where any similarities end.

A vape typically uses hot air to vaporize plant material or oils. Conversely, dabs are vaporized by coming into contact with the superheated nail.  

Are dab rigs and bongs the same?

The primary distinction between a dab rig and a bong is the material being consumed with each. While both might be considered water pipes, bongs are typically used for smoking dry herb, while dab rigs are used for vaporizing concentrated extracts.

What is a dab rig used for?

A dab rig is a specially designed water pipe used to vaporize concentrates. The vapor bubbles through water in the rig’s chamber, cooling and smoothing the hit before inhaling.

What is a dab rig bowl called?

Dab rigs use a banger or nail that functions much like the bowl on a bong. The difference is that dry herb is smoked in a bong’s bowl, while concentrated extracts are vaporized in a dab rig’s nail. 

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