Check the inventory of any head shop and it’ll be hard not to notice the wide range of prices on functionally similar glass pieces. It goes without saying that bigger, heavier pieces consisting of more glass should cost more but why would a disk-perc dab rig from one manufacturer cost $100 more than someone else’s? How can you tell “good quality” glass from “bad quality” glass? In this article, we’ll cover why not all glass is created equal and help you figure out if you’re paying a fair price for a piece.
With rare exception, glass pipes are made out of pyrex aka borosilicate glass (also called just boro). This glass is much harder and more heat-resistant than typical soft glass (lime glass) and requires a much hotter working temperature. The key to borosilicate’s resilience is the presence of boron which gives the material a low coefficient of expansion— a measure of how much the glass expands when heated. This reduced expansion provides for much higher thermal resistance which makes it perfect for tough, heat resistant glass vessels; everything from vacuum manifolds to dab rigs (which is why dab rigs don’t explode into a million tiny pieces when you hit them with a torch! A propane torch is barely hot enough to dull a sharp point of borosilicate glass but can easily melt soft glass).
In addition to boron, colored borosilicate contains extra elements which affect the glass’ coefficient of expansion. Cobalt in dark blue glass requires extra heat to melt with while colors like white and yellow require more delicate heat to avoid boiling color out of the glass (turning grey). Some colors contain small amounts of silver which crystalize and form iridescent colors— all these colors require extra more expensive materials and extra effort by the glass blower which drive prices of the final product up. The more time a glass artist has to spend on a piece, the more justified he/she is in charging extra!
Determining Quality of Craftsmanship
While artists are justified in charging more for pieces which are more difficult / take longer to create, there are certain physical flaws which can drive the price a particular piece down. Bubbles in the glass are almost always undesirable and can be signs of weakness in the glass, it’s the same with any pitting or seams that aren’t smooth to the touch. On bongs and bubblers, you should always inspect the joint between the can (where the water goes) and the mouthpiece / bowl carefully making sure there’s a smooth, melted connection. Check the walls of the glass and see if you notice any places where it seems particularly thick or thin— this is an indication the piece wasn’t finished properly and should be avoided at all costs. Sometimes there are artistic design flaws— I once was once able to purchase a 7-armed octopus bubbler for 60% off
In recent years, the market has been flooded by cheap
Chinese glass with low quality control; these are hastily made assembly line rigs which often have sloppy welds and uneven features. Still, unlike smaller Chinese dry pipes (which should be absolutely avoided), many of these rigs are totally functional and can make a good bargain purchase for under $100. More renowned manufacturers like Roor are guaranteed to function well but you often end up paying extra for the brand name with no practical benefits (especially these days with so many incredible glass artists working in the US).
If The Price is Right
Let’s summarize what we know! A piece should cost more if:
- It’s bigger / heavier
- it uses colored glass (especially cobalt, light matte colors and silver-infused colors)
- It has more design and work put in to it
It should cost less if:
- It has bubbles / pits / seams
- it’s misshapen or uneven
- there are design flaws
- it’s made in China
So next time you’re out shopping for a simple clear rig, don’t get tricked into paying more than $100! You can find some very fine options for around $50 or less. If you’re on the market for more of an art p, remember to look out for defects and make sure everything has been melted in properly! It never hurts to contact artists directly, many will make commission pieces at surprisingly good prices (especially lesser known artists). Good luck and happy hunting!