The Best Gear for Dabbing: An Excerpt from Beyond Buds

By Ed Rosenthal
Published: October 1, 2016 | Last updated: April 7, 2021 09:27:19
Key Takeaways

Maximum Yield is pleased to present an excerpt from Ed Rosenthal’s book Beyond Buds—the first to cover the shift from smoking buds to vaping and dabbing concentrates such as shatter, wax, budder and oil. A DIY guide to making butane and CO2 extracts, as well as kief, hash, tinctures, topicals and edibles, Beyond Buds features full-color photos of award-winning concentrates and highlights the best products to use. We start with a guide to dabbing gear.


Nails are the workhorse of the dab world. They get their name because they look like a standard construction nail: they’re long, thin metal objects that fit into a bong’s downstem on one side, with a wider top section for vaping hash. They come in a variety of standard widths, like 10, 14 and 18 millimeter, to fit into different downstems. Nails are made from a variety of materials that are used because they do not create fumes at working vaporization temperatures. The most common materials used are quartz, titanium and ceramic.


To use, you heat up the nail with a torch, which is usually a six-inch or larger butane torch, with flame control, a safety lock and a flame lock. Affix the nail in the downstem (wide side up), flick on and lock the torch, and touch the flame to the nail. Inhaling air that has been superheated by a nail is not healthy, so most dabbers are attached to water pipes that cool the vapor. Remove the torch as the nail shows the first faint signs of glowing, then place the dab on the nail. The dab flash-melts and boils, generating vapor. Inhale.

Dabbing Rigs

While nails are designed to fit into a wide variety of downstems, they often fit best with dab rigs, bongs and bubblers specially designed for consuming hash. Dab rigs tend to be smaller than water pipes for flowers. Since hash smoke is so much more potent, you don’t need to fill a huge chamber with smoke to achieve the desired highness. The length of the system is actually a liability here, as solvent hash condenses along the route of delivery. The longer the route, the more condensation, and hence, waste. Consequently, dab rigs tend to closely resemble traditional, handheld bubblers.


Dab rig design is divided into two general classes: scientific and heady, though plenty of artists fuse the two. Scientific designs hew toward a minimalist, lab aesthetic and often feature clear glass and shapes that evoke beakers and test tubes. Form follows function in scientific glass. Heady dab rig designs embrace the imagination, taking on the shape of mythic creatures and pushing the boundaries of color, pattern and materials.

At the larger end of the scientific dab rigs are units like the Sheldon Black medium rig with Ti nail. Fourteen inches tall, sleek and minimal, the Sheldon Black downstem ends in a diffuser, which helps cool and filter the vapor. Scientific dab rigs can get incredibly technical, with multiple levels of diffusers and percolators.

Heady dab rigs vary just as much in size and shape, but the trend is towards smaller rigs. Pendant rigs that fit on a necklace are popular. Heady designers are in a permanent arms race for the newest glass colors and coolest-looking designs and materials. Dragons, robots, cartoon characters and monsters abound. Designers regularly use metallic fuming to bind different elements to the borosilicate glass, creating deep, rich, luminous colors, sparkles and interference patterns. Mothership Glass offers some of the most intricate designs, and artists like Snic are pushing the envelope, incorporating external electroplating for steampunk-like designs. The artists designing these rigs are creating a new genre of art that will be used in daily life, but also saved as collectables.


Skillets (Swings)

Skillets, also known as swings, are tiny titanium pans the size of a postage stamp, held below a vapor intake by a metal wire (the “swing” part). You heat up the skillet with a torch, swing it under the nozzle, then dab the hash on the skillet while inhaling. Skillets come as attachments for bongs and bubblers, or as part of heady dab rigs.

Wands (Dabbers)

Working with concentrates can get very sticky. They range in texture from granular, sand-like bubble hash to some of the stickiest tree sap imaginable. Nonstick surfaces, usually parchment paper or silicone (not wax paper, which transfers wax and will make your hash taste like a candle), are used to store and transport concentrates. Dabbers are used to manipulate the material, titrate dosage and apply hash directly to hot surfaces.


Want more? Ed Rosenthal’s Beyond Buds is available through and


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Written by Ed Rosenthal

Profile Picture of Ed Rosenthal

Ed Rosenthal is recognized worldwide as a leading authority on marijuana. In his more than 40 years as the “Guru of Ganja,” he has written or edited more than a dozen books about marijuana cultivation and social policy that cumulatively have sold more than one million copies. As a result of his studies, he developed Ed Rosenthal’s Zero Tolerance®, a line of pest control products designed to eliminate many garden problems.

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