The Tale of the Terp Slurper
From hot knives to E-nails and terp slurpers, lots has changed with dabbing the past decade. Cannabis photographer and dab enthusiast Kyle LeGrow takes a trip down memory lane to reflect on some of the nails of the past, and interviews JP from Toro Glass and Brian Schroeder from D-Nail to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes of some of the most innovative companies in the industry.
When we talk about smoking hash many people flash back to their friend’s dingy basements in the 1990s, with Cypress Hill or Nirvana blasting from the boom box. Someone would be standing next to the stove, heating up two knives on the burner, as another friend rolled up little balls of hash to be pressed between the scorching hot blades. As the oil sizzled a cloud of thick white smoke would emerge. At the time, these hits packed quite the punch, but the smoke was quite harsh, and sometimes people would even burn their face on the hot knives.
Towards the end of the 90s, Silica Alchemy released glass paddles to eliminate the need to pillage the nearest cutlery drawer, but it would be another 10 years before we would see the next innovation in dabbing: the metal swing. As the quality of extracts continued to improve, so did the price of extracts. This led to a desire to be more efficient when dabbing, so new innovations began to appear on the scene.
The introduction of swingarms eliminated the need to hold hot knives near your mouth to inhale all the smoke. HMK Glass is considered one of the swingarm pioneers. The swing was a borosilicate attachment, shaped like an upside down sherlock or funnel, in place of a bowl on your bong. The metal swing was generally a piece of wire with a relatively flat piece of metal, the size of a quarter, attached on the end. After heating up the metal with a blowtorch, people would swing the hot surface under the boro funnel and place their dab on the surface. At the time, the consensus was “the hotter the better,” so the dab would often bounce across the red metal surface before leaving a charred spot on the metal swing where the oil eventually settled. With the introduction of swings, male joints began becoming the standard for dab specific pieces.
Dome and Nail
A dome and nail was the next leap in dabbing innovation. JP Toro is often credited with coming up with the nail and dome design, where a small boro nail was placed inside the male joint, with a female dome providing insulation when placed on the male joint after the nail was heated.
“I made a few quartz nails for domes back in 2008, however, there were a handful of quartz workers from a scientific background also making quartz nails for domes, and for way cheaper than I could make them, which is why I only made them for friends,” says Toro. Around the same time, Pukinbeagle was working with quartz, which helped push quartz into the next generation of nail styles.
In 2010, companies like Highly Educated took it to the next level by innovating titanium nails for dabbing, which were less breakable and adjustable to optimize the experience with different rig and dome configurations. They also had better heat retention, which is important, because it allows dabs to be consumed at a lower temperature, which is both smoother and tastier. While the dome and nail were a huge improvement, they weren’t flawless. The dome would quickly get covered in oil, and drip all over the male joint, often leading to the downstem getting clogged. The boro domes would also get quite hot while dabbing, leading to many burns and dropped domes.
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Domeless Nail and E-nails
Task Rok from Highly Educated brought in the new wave of nails with the invention of the dome-less nail and carb cap. This meant no more hot and sticky dome, and the carb cap allowed people to dab at lower temperatures. The small hole restricts the airflow to the rig, decreasing the pressure within the nail, which in turn lowers the boiling point of the extract. As the industry began switching to the dome-less nails, Highly Educated released the first electronic nail, dubbed the E-Nail. This featured a metal coil wrapped around the nail that hooked up to small computer that plugged into the wall. This perfect temperature also ensured you were vaporizing the product, instead of accidentally hitting a dab at too hot of a temperature, causing the extract to have a crude combustion.
Brian from D-Nail reminisces on their involvement in the E-nail scene, and their transition into the quartz market. “We started working with quartz a long time ago, near the beginning of quartz nails, really,” says Brian. “It was a new thing; customers asked about it, we started looking. At the time, we were only doing electric nails, and as it turns out, quartz is extremely particular about moving heat. Some of the best designs the industry has seen came from us working with Pukinbeagle. We specialized in design, and he specialized in execution. Not long after, we started doing cold-worked quartz for E-nail dishes.”
Quartz Club Bangers
While the origin of the banger-styled nail is up for debate, the Club Banger by Quave is known as the standard look when it comes to quartz nails. A 900 or 450 quartz arm, with a male ground joint on one end and a dish attached at the top. The top of the banger was cut at an angle slanting away from the rig.
“I didn’t get back into the quartz game till quite a few years later when I kept seeing other quartz designs on people’s rigs at seshes,” says JP.
While the club banger was great, there was a new trend on the horizon many in the industry wouldn’t be ready for.
A slurper is a quartz bucket with a one-inch straw-like barrel attached to the bottom with a small quartz dish attached to the bottom of the straw. The idea is that you place the dab on the bottom of the dish and block the airflow with a marble or plug at the top of the nail, causing the melted dab to striate up the inside barrel. It allows people to take larger dabs more efficiently than ever before.
What’s the benefit? “Flavor, the high, the experience — it’s all enhanced with it, in my humble opinion,” says JP.
The concept behind the terp slurper came from the idea of wine slurping. According to The Cannabis Sommelier, Andrew Freedman, “aeration enables the process of evaporation, vaporization, and oxidization at the same rate to get a better expression of flavor.
Without adding oxygen to the pallet when wine tasting, the true flavours of the wine won’t be found.” The way JP applied the concept of aeration to dabs (first with the slitted grail, and then with the terp slurper), he brought forth one of the tastiest evolutions and innovations in dabbing.
Toro released the first slurpers to the public in mid-2017, most of them in Hawaii, though it would be more than two years before slurpers would become widely popular.
“Hawaiians loved slurpers,” says JP. “Not sure why it took the mainland so long to jump on it. Perhaps the cleaning, or the cost, or the fact that you need a temperature reader to get that perfect tasty terps slap!”
Once slurpers caught on, Toro began selling out everywhere. On top of the superior function, Instagram helped to perpetuate the cultural importance of having a terp slurper. People like @cali_dabs elevated the quality of dab videos, with stunning melt shots, coupled with perfectly timed music and beautiful glass art and accessories.
Evolution of New Nails
The boom of slurpers lead to massive wait lists with Toro at exorbitant resale prices, both of which lead consumers and producers looking for other options. As Brian recalls “We had a lot of requests to develop the slurper, initially a Toro design, and almost didn’t. I’m not sure what the catalyst was, but reducing it to its simplest terms, we have a bottom-fed distillation column with an expansion chamber.”
The Blender (D-Nail’s new nail) came as a result of months of thought about centrifugal nails, according to Brian. They had a well-refined concept and production facility for channel caps, so literally turning it upside down was the easiest next step to take.
“In the simplest possible terms, this work is all distillation,” says Brian. “We have desirable and undesirable compounds to be separated by heat and mechanical energy.”
One important aspect to note in cannabis distillation is that phase change runs congruent to a chemical transformation. The primary active ingredient is transformed by heat and oxygen over time into other chemicals. THCA (barely active) to delta-9 THC (active) is the first step. Past that, additional conversion happens, notably to CBN, which is a sedative.
According to Brian, the way to achieve efficient conditions includes:
- Minimize your cook time. Leaving your oil in a hot pool while you get your carb cap and settle in can obliterate your flavor and degrade your cannabinoids all at once. Going from dabber to vapor in an instant is much easier.
- On that same note, a controlled feed from dabber to nail lets you get an effective flow rate which helps process these nonhomogeneous substances more evenly.
- While it takes skill, running a warm dish and hotter stem lets you run a sort of priming zone in advance of the primary work zone. Also, it is more efficient.
- Leaving material science out of it, the basics of efficient distillation would be to spread your material into a thin film across a large surface area. Pillars or spheres, for example, function as wipers, spreading the oil into a thin film across a large area. The same pneumatic action that optimizes this gives us similar mechanical results on its own. Whether it is double helix streaks from a dual intake, a rotating whirlpool of oil, or a frothy blender dab, the idea remains the same — keep it spinning, pressed against the walls, give vapor an easy path to follow away from the heat source, and your chemicals degrade less.”
Tips for Cleaning Your Nail and Slurper
Back in the dome-and-nail era, you’d hit dabs so hot there was nothing to clean up afterwards. Fast forward to the QCB era, and people began using Q-tips to clean the nail between hits. Due to the slits at the bottom of the nail, it proves to be very difficult to fully clean slurper and blender nails, so some different cleaning techniques have emerged.
JP offered his cleaning advice: “I have quite a few slurpers and I’m always rotating them from the Tupperware full of isopropyl alcohol (ISO) I soak it in, and then I dry it off. Easy peasy. I also Q-tip after each dab but a quick ISO soak keeps them looking pristine.”
I found if I let the 99 percent ISO get too concentrated with excess oil from cleaning the nails, the ISO would end up leaving a sticky residue all over the slurper. I solved this by adding a second bath, so I have a soak and rinse bath. The soak bath gets the majority of the oil off the nail, while the rinse bath stays clean and rinses off the residual ISO from the soak bath, to ensure the nail is as clean as possible when going to heat it up. Whenever the soak bath gets low, or the rinse bath gets dirty, I empty the rinse bin into the soak bin, and fill up the rinse bin with fresh ISO. I also like to polish the nail with a microfiber before heating the nail to remove excess ISO from the nail. I try and place my slurper in the ISO between 200-350°F to ensure there is enough heat to expedite the cleaning process, but not so much heat that it causes thermal shock.”
What’s next for innovation? The science is leaning towards centrical uptake nails (slurpers and blenders) being the future, and as more people enjoy concentrates on a connoisseur level and understand how to use these products, these nails will continue to gain popularity.
“Someone had said they attributed their alertness and focus to the quality of their oil, but when considering that it was their nail, they blinked a moment,” says Brian. “We are going to think about this and suggest you do the same. It is no small thing to consider.”