Dab Rig: The Ultimate Buyers Guide

What’s the deal about getting a Dab Rig?

To those who haven’t heard about them before, using a dab rig sound confusing. Unlike bongs, pipes or joints, a dab rig shouldn’t be catching anything on fire. Instead, it uses a heated surface called a “nail” and a tool to apply or “dab” concentrates. The nail is heated with a torch or electric heating element until it can vaporize the concentrate. The key is that the platter is cool enough to prevent the THC and other cannabinoids from combusting.

One the platter is heated and the concentrate applied, the vapor is cooled with water before the user inhales the cloud. Because of how potent concentrates are (they can be up to 99.9%), users normally only take one or two hits instead of multiple like is done with flower. Many medical patients need large doses of cannabinoids to treat their diseases and dabbing offers a more efficient way to medicate than smoking flower.

Where did Dab Rigs come from?

Concentrates like oil and wax became big in the 1960s, but hash is a concentrate that has been around for centuries. Even so, dabbing didn’t become popular until around 2010. This is partly due to marijuana law reform. One cannot ignore the impact of the health movement on cannabis though and many choose to switch to reduce wear and tear on their lungs.

As more and more people discover dabbing, demand has continued to grow. When Colorado and other states started permitting recreational sales, things kicked into high gear and dabbing now dominates the industry. As more states reform their draconian marijuana laws, new artists are taking a stab at producing the perfect dab rig.

Careful, that’s hot! BK dab rig

Dabbing has a few safety issues that need to be addressed in order to have a good experience. The main tip to using a dab rig is be careful when heating the nail with a torch. It is easy to accidentally burn pretty much anything on the other side of the torch. Try to keep several feet away from combustibles, an eye on angles (so you don’t heat other parts of the dab rig), and use the smallest flame you can.

A few other safety tips include:

  • Don’t overheat the Nail. Overheating a nail can cause it to fail. Nail failure normally includes a bunch of red hot nail parts burning holes in everything (including you).
  • Clean your rig regularly. The residue (called reburn) accumulates and clogs things up. It can also catch on fire.
  • Don’t dab solvents. You can avoid the worry of residual solvents by only using high quality concentrates from legal and reputable sources.
  • Using a nail with a dome can reduce the risk of burning yourself but electronic coils are best.

RisksSpined Dab Rig

The most notable risk involved in using a dab rig is getting burned. Rigs with a domeless nails leave the heating element exposed. As long as you remain aware of where the hot parts are, the chance of getting burned is relatively low.

Using a torch to heat up the nail holds inherent risk. If that risk is especially worrying, an electronic nail may be the right solution. It eliminates open flames and is normally easy to use but doesn’t run the risk of breaking like crystal or ceramic nails.

A good dab rig can last for years but even the best maintained piece will eventually break. Using metal tools, being rough or not paying attention to how you heat the rig will all wear it more than normal. Using silicone tools and cleaning the piece regularly can extend the expected operating life of a dab rig significantly.

Nail StylesBig Dab Rig

Debate rages about which type of dab rig nail works best. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, the nail is where you heat the concentrate into a vapor. Ideally, the nail should heat up quickly and be able to retain heat for enough time to take a hit. Some materials are more durable than others which is why nails made of glass are going to wear out faster than ceramic or titanium ones.


Borosilicate glass is so strong it is used in the highest quality bongs and pipes around the world. Although as a nail, it misses the mark. While glass nails are pretty ubiquitous, it is due to how cheap they are, not their quality.

Glass is sensitive to heat fracturing and glass nails don’t tend to last very long. In addition to being brittle, glass doesn’t retain heat very well which leads to a lot of wasted concentrate. In the long run, you’ll end up paying more with glass than other options.


Like glass, ceramic is easy to break. It holds heat better than glass but takes a long time to warm up. It can also be difficult to accurately judge the temperature of ceramic pieces which can lead to wasted product or inferior experiences.


Quartz nails are the performance standard. It is significantly more durable than glass or ceramic and almost impossible to overheat. The downside is that quartz doesn’t hold onto heat very long.  This can be an issue if you take long, drawn out hits or consume in an area exposed to the elements.


Experienced dabbers prefer titanium nails for a few reasons. Titanium is almost immune to corrosion, retains heat incredibly well and is one of the strongest materials around. The only real problem with titanium is the risk of overheating it. It doesn’t normally change color when heated like the other materials so it can be hard to judge the actual temperature.


Few can afford them, but e-nails are great for consistency. Normally made of a titanium platter wrapped with an electric coil, E-nails normally come with a display to indicate the coils temperature. While even a basic unit is significantly more expensive than a high-end torch, they have the benefit of never needing to be refueled (if you don’t count plugging it into a wall) and offer better temperature control.

What size should a dab rig joint be?Skull Dab Rig

Anyone that has purchased a bong or dab rig before understands that glass joints come in different sizes. There are three common ones: 10, 14 and 18 millimeters and come in both male and female variants.

The joint size dictates the airflow through the chambers while the sex indicates which kind of nail to buy. For example, ten millimeter joints are better for small rigs because they restrict airflow which allows it to cool before hitting your lungs. If you are looking for a bigger hit, try something with a larger joint.

Are male or female nail joints better?Percolated Dab Rig

Each style of nail has its own benefits and drawbacks. While neither is inherently better, most people gravitate towards one or the other. Female nails drip reclaim on the outside of the joint which will quickly cause the dome to stick. Male nails are cleaner but should have dropdown nails inserted to prevent damage over time.

I prefer to use quartz buckets known as bangers to convert a standard bong into a dab rig. They come in both male and female varieties and are super cheap.  I like them because they don’t interfere with the terpene profile of the concentrates I use and work with my existing glass collection. The bucket can even handle large dabs without making a mess and maintenance is cake.

What else is needed to dab?Personal Dab Rig

In truth, there isn’t much needed to dab. That hasn’t stopped companies from making all kinds of gadgets and attachments. From heady carb caps to silicone containers and mats, merchandisers are coming up with new toys to try out every day. Some are actually useful (like dab mats) while others can be dangerous (big propane torches).

Getting the right torch will go a long way in making the overall dabbing experience better. Cheap propane torches are big, bulky and produce WAY more heat than is needed. It’s like using a missile to light a candle-overkill. Butane torches are cheap, available online, refillable and tend to go through less fuel.

Besides that, don’t be afraid to experiment a little and let us know what you think in the comments down below. Thanks for reading.

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About Adam Rhodes

Adam is a glass collector, entrepreneur, artist, and fine cannabis connoisseur who loves to be engaged in creative projects and scientific research. He specializes in producing cannabis related content on a variety of platforms. Adam loves connecting with the cannabis community and collaborating with creators and businesses.

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