Of all the different types of smoking devices, bongs are the most varied when it comes to shape, size, design and composition. Let’s start with composition, and by this we mean the different types of materials that water bongs can be made made out of. Today’s most preferred material by smokers for making bongs is glass. The reason for this is twofold. First, glass tends to provide the best performance, considering a bong is subjected to extreme heat and moisture over and over again. Glass doesn’t split, crack, warp or bend under these conditions, even after long-term use. Second, glass doesn’t alter the flavor of the herb being smoked as other materials (like wood) do. When you smoke from a glass bong, all you taste is herb.
The biggest drawback to glass as a bong material is that it’s breakable. Users must be careful how they handle their device to prevent breakage. In order to mitigate this, however, manufacturers typically use lab-quality glass between 3mm and 5mm thick, which makes it more resistant to breakage.
However, there are other materials suited for bong-making that some smokers actually prefer. Wood, as already mentioned, is one such material. In fact, wood is a more traditional material for construction of bongs. Many of the world’s oldest bongs were made from wood. The best contemporary wood bongs are those made from hardwoods. Rosewood, oak, maple and walnut are common. Wooden bongs can’t help but leach their own unique flavors into smoke, and this flavor mix is what the wooden bong fan is looking for.
Bamboo bongs are also still used in modern times, particularly in places like Thailand where bamboo is cheap and plentiful. Bamboo isn’t actually wood, but a grass that, when dried completely, has the feel of wood. As far as flavor goes, bamboo bongs fall somewhere between wooden and glass bongs. They don’t produce as clean and unadulterated smoke as a glass bong, but definitely don’t leach as much as wooden bongs do. Many smokers like the unique taste of herb smoked from a bamboo bong.
Plastic/acrylic is another common bong material. Acrylic bongs have a couple of distinct advantages over glass bongs. For one thing, they don’t break. For another, they are significantly cheaper than glass bongs, much more affordable to the economically-challenged smoker. Plastic bongs can be great starter bongs, giving you experience and practice before moving into a glass one.
Obviously, you can’t apply a flame to plastic. For this reason, acrylic bongs must have metal bowls. However, it’s easy to get carried away with your torch and accidentally overheat the plastic. Too much of this can melt, scorch or warp it. Plus, the metal bowl tends to alter the flavor of your herb and may make it come out tasting harsh or slightly metallic.
Another issue with plastic bongs is that they are more difficult to thoroughly clean. Over time, a plastic bong will start to retain all kinds of funky flavors: residue from past use, the taste of whatever you clean your bong with, stale water and even the taste of the plastic itself. You may have to replace a plastic bong more frequently for this reason. Then again, they’re cheap enough that this may not amount to a big problem.
Metal bongs are another popular choice with contemporary smokers. Metal bongs may be made from aluminum or stainless steel. Metal bongs look really cool and can be very stylized and artistic-looking. In terms of its construction, metal has its own set of advantages over both glass and plastic. Obviously a big one is that metal bongs don’t break when dropped (great news for the clumsy smoker). Metal bongs are also cheaper than glass, approximately on par with or slightly more expensive than plastic bongs, making them an excellent option for the broke smoker.
A big disadvantage with metal bongs is that they tend to alter the flavor of whatever herb you’re smoking, giving it a harsh, metallic taste that some smokers are turned off by. Another drawback is the fact that metal, being a conductor of heat, can cause your bong to get very hot to the touch. You must be extra careful when lighting your bowl that you keep the flame away from the body of the bong and that you don’t overheat it.
Finally, ceramic is one more modern material for bongs, although probably one of the least favored by today’s smokers. In terms of price and performance, they fall somewhere between plastic and glass device. They’re more expensive than plastic but typically cheaper than glass. They produce a smoke flavor that is usually more preferred than plastic bongs, but not as clean and smooth a flavor as with glass bongs.
Like plastic bongs, ceramic ones have metal bowls. Ceramic does heat up fairly easily, but doesn’t retain or conduct heat well, so it’s not a very conducive material for heating up herb. The metal bowl does add a bit of metallic taste to the smoke, which some smokers may find to be a turn-off. (On the other hand, the ceramic contributes a flavor of its own that many smokers are smitten with.) Another drawback is that ceramic, like glass, is breakable. It may not shatter into a hundred pieces, but you’ll still have reason to cry if you drop it on the floor.