Not all glassware is created equal. For every bong, pipe, or dab rig lovingly hand-blown by local artisans, there are hundreds of poor-quality, cookie-cutter pipes made using questionable child labour practices.
Even if the bargain-basement price is right, it's annoying and wasteful when glass cracks before it can even change colour, especially when there are so many beautiful, durable designs available.
Here's the argument for considering a pipe as an investment piece.
Photo: Isabelle Smith
Most production, or prodo glass, as it's sometimes called, is made in India, Pakistan, and China, and "pumped out fast with no quality control," according to Canadian glassblower Jesse Briggs, who can spend as long as a full day working on a single bong or dab rig. "They just make a lot of cheap and easy pieces, while with my glass I make that one piece, and that's it: it's the only one that's like it on planet earth. It's sort of like a painting versus a print."
Even if you don't particularly care about getting high with a one-of-a-kind objet d'art, there are also demonstrated breakage and even health issues associated with production glass. Since, as High Times asserts, U.S. customs "considers any tobacco accessory with more than two holes to be paraphernalia," some importers are said to circumvent the rules by shipping pipes without a hole blown in the bottom of the bowl: distributors then drill out the hole later, once the pipe arrives at its destination. This weakens the bowl exactly where it's heated and cooled most often, stressing the glass.
Even more terrifyingly, some glassblowers claim drilling "leaves glass shards and powder for the user to inhale. The shards and powder, similar to asbestos, cause silicosis - a permanent and debilitating disease similar to mesothelioma." While there's not a lot of evidence out there of this actually happening, it's probably still best to choose a bowl with a smooth, tapered hole - a sign that it's been worked with a flame - as opposed to one that looks rough and uneven.
Breaking = bad
Cheap glass manufacturers also frequently fail to anneal their products, a process the Corning Museum of Glass describes as an "integral part of glassmaking," reducing the amount of stress on a piece and preventing it from breaking easily.
As Briggs explains, annealing involves "cooling the glass down really slowly after you're done working it, just so the temperature all evens out through the glass. It keeps it from cracking from stress and temperature changes."
An unannealed piece, he explains, could easily crack simply from being left in a cold room overnight, or being overzealously exposed to too intense a flame. (The silver lining: a drilled-out piece is, at least, probably annealed: otherwise, it would shatter.) Dimples, warping, and bending are also bad signs.
Even if a piece is devoid of the more obvious signs of shoddy workmanship, keep in mind that a production piece is less likely to survive the inevitable oh-my-god-whoops moments that happen to everyone who smokes marijuana.
Look for thicker glass that's still light enough not to be unwieldy: typically, hand-blown pieces will be thicker than mass-produced ones. Check the bottom of the bowl to see if it's got a little flattened spot that allows it to sit flush on a surface, minimizing the chances it'll go all James Frey as it accidentally rolls off the table.
As with any time you're purchasing something you're planning to use/look at regularly, ask a couple of questions. If retailer visibly has no idea how the pipe was made, where it came from, or other basic info, it may be best to look for glass elsewhere.
Quality over quantity
Photo: Isabelle Smith
According to Briggs, cheap-o glassware is losing its appeal as consumers increasingly view smoking accessories the way they'd view an iPod, or a piece of jewelry: as normal accessories to a normal life, as opposed to shady evidence of which they'd like to dispose.
"I definitely think we're going to see the high-end market open right up, and production glass will start to disappear," he says. "Nobody wants to smoke out of an old soda can or something anymore: they don't want throw-away glass."
"They want to have something that's a piece of art, like their clothing, that they can get excited about - they want to accessorize every part of their life," says Briggs. "Glassware is like a watch, or anything else."
Briggs says a lot of effort goes into producing these pieces, something people should appreciate when making the decision to buy them over mass-produced pipes and bongs.
"People that use glass don't have any clue how much work goes into it," he says. "The long hours, heat and burns. People are paying for the years of trial and error that it took to learn to make it."
But he says it's worth it, because it makes sense to buy these products close to home.
"It's important to buy local and handmade because there's no point in shipping things across the world when we have it right here."