bong anatomy

How Does a Bong Work? A Guide to the Water Pipe

This article is sponsored by Smoke Cartel, an online retailer and head shop made up of a close-knit team of glass lovers dedicated to making sure you get the best possible smoking gear.

Bongs are one of the most common forms of consuming cannabis, especially dried flower. Also known as a water pipe and sometimes referred to by slang terms like billy, bing, binger, and more, the bong is so engrained in cannabis culture that many connoisseurs go so far as to name their pieces, turning the otherwise inanimate object into a personality within their smoke circle.

The History of Bongs

The word “bong” is said to have been derived from the Thai word “baung,” which traditionally refers to a round wooden tube of bamboo and has also taken on the modern definition of a cylindrical smoking pipe.

Some have traced the use of a water pipe to filter and cool smoke back to China’s Ming Dynasty. Other reports show a history of use in Africa, where tribes would build earthen bongs into the ground using the same principles behind modern bongs. There are even accounts of ancient bongs made of pure gold being used by a nomadic warrior race in what’s now Russia.

Bongs are also closely related to the hookah, a type of water pipe generally used to smoke flavored tobacco. Hookahs use a hose as a mouthpiece and can be designed to allow multiple people to enjoy the smoke from a single bowl.

Today bongs can take on many shapes and sizes, but the most common versions are hand-blown from glass by artists who blend science and art, creating masterpieces that are both beautiful and functional. This wasn’t always the case, though. Throughout its evolution the bong has also been made from materials including hand-carved wood, bamboo, ceramics, and even plastic. Many appreciate the MacGyver-like ability to fashion just about anything into a bong, from Coke bottles to watermelons and everything in between.

Anatomy of the Different Bong Parts

The anatomy of a standard bong can be broken down into five basic parts:

1. Bowl

The bowl is the bulbous attachment where dried cannabis flower is loaded and combusted. It’s often removable, allowing it to function as pull- or slide-carburetor.

2. Carb

The carb, short for carburetor, is a small hole that allows the user to clear smoke from the entire chamber of the bong, completing the bong toke. The most common type of carb found on glass bongs is a pull- or slide-carb, which is exposed when the bowl is removed.

3. Downstem

The downstem is the small tube that allows the smoke to travel from the bowl down to the base, where it then percolates through water.

4. Base

The base is the bottom of a bong and can take many shapes, depending on style. A bubble- or beaker-shaped base is often used to create the water chamber in which the smoke cools as it passes through the water.

5. Tube

The tube, which ends in the mouthpiece, is the chamber that fills with smoke after it has filtered through the water. Other features, such as an ice pinch, are often included in the tube design.

All these parts can take various shapes, colors, and designs depending on the bong’s intended function. The downstem is often replaced with or attached to a variety of percolator designs that offer more diffusion or separation of the smoke as it passes through the water chamber.

The Different Types of Bongs

Here are a few of examples that show how some of the different kinds of bongs function:

The Salvager

The Salvager is designed for efficiency. Smoke percolates first through the showerhead percolator at the end of the downstem. It then travels through the internal recycler that recycles the smoke back through for a second diffusion before reaching the mouthpiece.

The Einstein

This bong includes two different styles of percolators. The first is a honeycomb perc that recycles the smoke into the second perc, which is called a Swiss perc because of the holes that resemble Swiss cheese that function to diffuse the smoke.

Sesh Supply “Poseidon”

This piece has two separate percolation chambers that both feature inverted showerhead percs. The smoke travels through the showerheads and is continuously diffused as it passes through the honeycomb perc between each chamber.

Advantages of Smoking from a Bong

The main advantage that draws people to using a bong is its ability to cool and filter the smoke through water, offering a smooth draw even when a large amount of smoke is inhaled. When comparing the use of a bong to other consumption methods, the advantages can vary.

For those who typically roll their cannabis into joints, bongs offer their cooling percolation while maintaining the pungent spectrum of aroma and flavor that cannabis produces. When comparing the bong experience to that of a standard dry pipe, the result is a much smoother toke that is less harsh and easier on the throat and lungs than the hot, dry heat of a hand pipe. Bubblers, on the other hand, offer the portability of a hand pipe with the added functionality of water percolation. However, a bong tends to be a more fluid experience than a bubbler, offering less trouble than a bubbler’s smaller components that can often get clogged or dirty.

After browsing Smoke Cartel’s wide selection of bongs in all shapes, sizes, styles, and colors, are there any new ones you want to try? What’s your personal choice for favorite bong style? Tell us in the comments section below.

If you own a dispensary, headshop, or smoke shop, and are interested in purchasing wholesale glass pipes, bongs, accessories, and more, check out Glassheads Distribution.

Bongs are one of the most common forms of consuming cannabis. Learn how their parts work together to create a smooth, cool smoke.

Anatomy of a Bong 101: What are the Different Parts of a Bong?

The anatomy of a bong is varied and more complex than one might think. Bongs come in many shapes and sizes, but there are some features that you can expect to find on most pieces. Bongs set themselves apart as a cannabis smoking apparatus because they have one or more chambers with water to filter and cool smoke. Bongs can be made of wood, acrylic, soft glass, borosilicate, silicone, metal, and other materials.

Most bongs, however, are made of glass and consist of several components, as opposed to bowls, which are typically all-in-one. As a result, there are several more pieces of glass to worry about. We’ll go over the anatomy of a bong to give you a better understanding of all the components and their individual functions.

Bowl Piece

From weed to inhaled smoke, smoking a bong starts at the bowl piece.

The bowl is where you pack your weed after it has been through a grinder or broken down. Bowls come in several shapes and sizes, but often it is just a “push” or glass indent with a hole at the bottom.

Some are just for aesthetics, while others have functional purposes.

Many newer bowls have built-in glass screens, eliminating the need for smoking through thin-wired metal screens that need to be replaced often.

There are several different styles of built-in screens with various-sized holes to suit your preference. If you don’t want anything making it past the bowl, go with a smaller hole screen, like the honey-comb style.

Ash Catcher

With a name like ash catcher, the function is a dead giveaway. You guessed it—an ash catcher is a glass attachment that catches ash.

They catch the ash from your bowl when it sinks through the hole. This prevents ash from getting into your bong, and then potentially your mouth.

Despite the name’s focus on that one function, ash catchers are useful for other reasons. Some ash catchers come with built-in percolators to further filter and cool the smoke.

Additionally, ash catchers will accumulate most of the tar and gunk from regular use before your bong does.

They’re much easier to clean than the whole bong, and when you do, you won’t have to clean a bong as often as you normally would to keep the flavor and function on point.


The part of the bong that holds your down stem is called a joint. There is also a joint at the end of all down stems.

Some bongs have a fixed stem with no removable down stem. In those cases, the bowl goes straight into the joint of the bong.

Joints generally come in three sizes: 10mm, 14mm and 18mm size holes. For smoking weed, you’re going to want to make sure the joints are female and not male.

Female joints allow the male jointed bowl piece, stem or ash catcher to be inserted instead of wrapping around the joint.

Male joints became popular for designated dab rigs that use domes and nails.

Down Stem

One of the most important parts of the anatomy of a bong is the down stem. The down stem is the bridge between the bowl and the water in the main chamber of your bong.

At the end closer to the joint, there should be a 10, 14 or 18mm sized hole. Down stems come in many different styles with various functions.

The most basic down stem is just a glass straw with a hole at the end to cause bubbling. However, there are far more intricate down stems with their own built-in percolators to further cool smoke.

For glass bongs, we recommend using a plastic clip to keep the down stem fixed to your bong. It’ll make it easier to clear a bowl.

We’ve seen many stems come out along with the bowl once things get gunked up. Then, the stem can fall and break—if it didn’t snap on the way out of the bong.

Some lower-end bongs have the down stem and bowl all in one piece, and refer to them as slides.


The percolator is used to filter the smoke additional times after it passes the water at the end of your stem.

There are so many different types of percolators out there, it’s hard to tell which is the best without an idea of your individual needs.

Avoid tons of tiny small holes if you’re not a regular bong cleaner. Eventually, the holes will get clogged up, negatively impacting the performance of your bong.

Splash Guard / Ice Pinch

A splash guard is a feature found usually in some bongs with heavy percolation. As the name suggests, its purpose is to prevent the water bubbling upwards from getting through the mouthpiece. Splash guards come in different shapes.

Before there were splash guards, the only thing you’d find close to the mouthpiece of a bong was the ice pinch.

Three spikes of glass come to hold ice. This cools the air before it reaches the mouthpiece. Now there are better splash guards that look like dome percolators right below the mouthpiece.

For some bongs, a bent neck acts as an additional splashguard, making it harder for water to travel up and out of the mouthpiece.


The final stop the smoke has to make before arriving at your lungs is the mouthpiece.

Traditionally, mouthpieces were horizontal, at the highest point of the bong.

Now, you can find bent-neck bongs with angled mouthpieces allowing you to get a hit without having to hunch over the bong.

Now that you know all of the individual parts of the anatomy of a bong, you’ll know what you’re looking at when browsing the shelves of a smoke shop. Understanding the functions of each part should help when choosing between two similarly priced pieces. If you feel like your current bong is too harsh, you can get an ash catcher with a built-in percolator to help make hits smoother. If your weed sinks into the bowl before it’s all smoked, it’s time for an ash catcher, and perhaps a bowl with a smaller hole or built-in screen.

Regular bong smokers, whether smoking flower or moonrocks, should use a glass bong because they’re better-tasting and easier to clean. However, if you are clumsy, you should follow our tips to avoid destroying your bong.

Welcome to the Anatomy of A Bong 101. Class is now in session. ]]>