Types of Glass Used to Manufacture and Create Glass Water Pipes, Hand Pipes and Bongs
Have you ever wondered why glass water pipes, hand pipes and pretty much all smoking products are made with glass? Glass is something that I typically think of as being delicate, fragile and easy to break... especially when in the hands of someone as clumsy as myself. lol As I dived into this question I learned that not all glass is the same, that glass thickness is an important factor to consider and that hand blown glass is always unique and offers an artistic flare without affecting the glass' durability. Then there's the imported glass versus the made in USA glass to take into consideration too. The use of glass for glass water pipes started way before the 60s and 70s, and the bong users from those decades can all attest to the fact that glass has always been the material of choice.......... but why?
Being the rad hippie I am as I dove into this question, I first learned that the glass used for smoking products is not the same glass as your wine glass at home for example. Glass used for bongs and pipes go through a slow cooling process called annealing, which greatly increases the glass' durability and strength. In this process after the glass has been in extremely high temperatures in order to be formed into the desired structure, it's then followed with a slow cooling process. In short, the slower the glass cools, the greater it's durability. While the glass is being cooled the internal stress the glass experienced during manufacturing is resolved.
Glass is used in smoking products in part because it's a great substance to mold and sculpt with, it offers a very smooth, non-porous surface and because it's also easy to hold onto. For me, one of the best reasons I think for using glass for smoking products is because it is non-porous which means that as it gets passed around at the parties, you don't have to worry about germs hiding in crevices! So toke away without fear of your bong being full of bacteria and germs! lol A fun fact is that borosilicate glass is so resistant to chemicals that it's even used to store nuclear waste! Also, since it's non porous, your glass water pipe will be odor free... which can't be said of other materials. It's definitely the healthier material for smoking products... hands down.
Glass also does not have a distinct taste like that of wood or plastics, so all you taste are the flavors of your favorite herb or wax. Today as we become more and more appreciative and knowledgable of terpines, it's more important than ever, to not take away from that part of the experience.
Even today as popular as vaporizers and other smoking products are, your favorite dry herbs smoked in a glass water pipe with the sound of the lighter being flicked, then the bubbling of the water with the crackling sounds of the herb..... is still the preferred method of smoking. Plus, if you like going old school, this is sure to be your method of choice too. The whole process really does add to the smoking experience. Plus have you ever noticed that you've never burned yourself with a bong? You have to really subject the glass to very high temperatures for it to get hot to the touch. Of course, that is dependent on the type of glass used.
Now that we know why glass is used, let's look at the types of glass. The best glass to look for in your smoking products is borosilicate glass. Without getting into too much specifics, borosilicate glass is great because it will not crack under extreme temperature changes, it is thermal shock resistant. This means that with borosilicate glass you can go from oven to freezer without being concerned with it breaking or cracking. Guess that explains why we can use ice catchers in our bongs! ;)
Your first experience with this thick, durable type glass, unless you're a scientist, was probably in the kitchen with pyrex glass. Pyrex was originally made with borosilicate glass, which is why Pyrex and Borosilicate are names often used interchangeably. Some years ago though, Pyrex switched from using borosilicate glass to a soda lime glass, which is a less durable and less costly type of glass.
So now we know that smoking products today have different thicknesses and some are more durable than others. Not all bongs and pipes are made from borosilicate glass. For this reason, it's an important consideration to keep in mind when purchasing your smoking products. As expected, borosilicate glass water pipes will be more costly than imported non borosilicate glass water pipes. That being said, if you are on a budget, the imported glass isn't terrible and will work just fine... but.... if you can swing it, the borosilicate water glass pipes will outlast, outperform, is cleaner and is definitely the most durable glass.
Now let's talk a little bit about hand blown glass. Glassblowing involves three furnaces. The first, which contains a crucible of molten glass, is simply referred to as the furnace. The second is called the glory hole, and is used to reheat a piece in between steps of working with it. The final furnace is called the annealer which slowly cools the glass over a period of a few hours to a few days, depending on the size of the pieces. As I mentioned earlier, this makes for a very durable piece.
With handblown glass water pipes in the US, whether by hand or machine, are made while the glass is still hot and pliable. Next the bong or pipe is annealed resulting in a very solid piece of glass. The majority of the imported glass smoking products have been subjected to saws, drills and other tools to make slits and holes on an already cooled down piece. In addition, these tools are not specific to glass cutting and as such, create micro-fractures around the area being cut out, which in turn, increases the residual stress in the glass and damages the structural integrity of the entire glass piece. Don't get me wrong, it's possible to cold work on a glass piece, but it's tricky and it requires a very expensive diamond edge saw or drill bit and it still must be followed up with an annealing session or a flame polishing in order to rid the piece from it's residual stress.
So in closing, there are several things to keep in mind as you decide which water glass pipe is best for you. I do hope that this Rad Hippie blog gave you information that'll be useful in your future smoking purchases and why some glass water pipes costs more and offer a higher quality smoking session than others. Below are some lines that use borosilicate glass in their products. Check them out at our Rad Hippie Shop!