Now, you’re ready to learn exactly how to do it yourself.
Before you dive into dabs, remember that cannabis concentrates are much more potent than other forms of marijuana, like flower, topicals, or edibles. A little bit goes a loooong way, and it can easily be overwhelming to a novice user.
If you’ve never experimented with cannabinoids before, either start with a single super tiny dab (we’re talking quinoa-sized) or get a taste of THC using a different method to see how it affects you.
Obviously the first thing you’ll need is your favorite concentrate! But once you’ve got that taken care of, there are two main choices for dabbing: pens and rigs.
Although it has its limitations, a pen is by far the easiest method. A dab pen looks almost identical to a vape pen, but the instructions for using it vary by which model you have.
Some dab pens unscrew to reveal an internal oven where you’ll place your concentrates, while others have a replaceable coil tip that heats up with the press of a button or an inhale on the mouthpiece.
But besides the dab pen itself, all you’ll need is a dabber for handling the sticky concentrates and a charging cord in case the battery dies.
A dab rig, on the other hand, is an intimidating-looking contraption with many more accessories to keep track of, but it allows for fine-tuned temperatures and massive clouds that a pen just can’t match.
The dab rig itself looks like a bong, but the “joint” that connects the downstem is usually slightly different, to accommodate a nail.
A nail is the removable surface that will hold your concentrate. It’s a lot like a bong bowl, except it’s usually made out of ceramic, quartz, or titanium to withstand the high heats needed to vaporize your dab. A popular type of nail called a banger has a flat-bottomed container and a swan-style neck that angles away from the rig. Whatever kind you use, make sure your nail fits your rig’s joint — both in terms of size (e.g., 10 mm) and sex (male vs. female).
A convenient alternative is the e-nail, which is hooked up to its own power source and digitally maintains a specific set temperature. This is a pricier but safer and more convenient option than…
A torch — a handheld mini flame that lets you heat up your analog nail to the right temperature for vaping. You can use a crème brûlée blowtorch or one specifically made for dabbing, but butane tends to be better than propane.
A carb cap is a small lid that you’ll put over the nail once you start inhaling to keep the vapor from escaping and help maintain a consistent temperature, especially for low-temp dabbing.
And finally, you’ll need a dabber, a heat-resistant tool used to scoop up and apply your concentrate.
Start by choosing your concentrate and figuring out what size dab you’ll be taking. Read the label closely to determine the percentage of cannabinoids in your concentrate, and portion it out into a manageable dose. For example, if the label on a 1-gram container of wax says 70% THC, that means there are 700 mg of total THC. You probably don’t want to exceed 10–20 mg of THC on your first dab. Remember to start small and work your way up once you know how it hits you. Once you’ve scooped up your dab with the dabber, set it aside someplace safe.
If you’re using a dab pen, simply follow the instruction manual. You’ll either place your dab into the internal oven or you’ll heat up the tip and apply the dab directly to it.
If you’re using a dab rig, fill it with enough water to cover ~3/4” of the downstem and get ready to heat your nail. For an e-nail, choose the best temperature for your concentrate and wait for it to indicate that it’s fully heated. For a regular nail, heat the bottom surface with your torch until it glows red (about 30 seconds), and then let it cool for about a minute. The exact heating time will vary based on which type of nail and concentrate you’re using, but all it takes is a little trial and error to find the sweet spot. If the hit is too harsh, your nail was too hot. If the concentrate leaves behind a puddle of residue, then the nail was too cool.
Alright, here’s the fun part! Once your nail reaches the right temperature, pick up your dabber and apply the dab directly to the nail so that it begins to vaporize. Immediately put your lips on the rig’s mouthpiece and begin inhaling slowly (“sip, don’t rip”), rotating the dabber to make sure none of the concentrate gets left behind.
Finally, place your carb cap over the nail and finish inhaling. When you blow it out, pay attention to the rich terpene profile, which you’d never get to experience from just smoking flower.
Wait at least a few minutes to see how it hits you. If you’re still hankering for more, repeat and enjoy!
Since there’s no combustion taking place, dab rigs don’t get grimy as easily bongs — but it’s just as important to keep them clean.
Excess residue and build-up will affect the taste of your dabs and eventually make it difficult to get a clean hit. That’s why you should at least change the water in your rig and clean your nail after every session.
For a quick clean, heat up the nail with your torch to burn away any remaining residue; once it cools, use your dabber to scrape off anything that’s left.
For a more intensive clean, add 91+% isopropyl alcohol and coarse salt to a Ziploc bag and let your nail soak in it overnight. The next morning, rinse the nail under warm water and use a dabber to scrape off as much gunk as you can. Then heat up your nail with a torch, let it cool, and use a Q-Tip soaked in alcohol to wipe out whatever’s remaining. Wipe it down with a dry Q-Tip and let the alcohol fully evaporate before using the nail again.
To clean the dab rig itself, pour out the dirty water, replace it with isopropyl and coarse salt, and let it soak for about 5 minutes. Plug the rig’s holes with your fingers and shake it around to loosen the crud. Pour everything out and repeat as necessary. Once it’s clean, thoroughly rinse the rig in warm water and let it completely dry before using.
To clean a dab pen, follow the instruction manual. Usually all you’ll need are Q-Tips and isopropyl.
Not too bad, right? Dabbing definitely looks more complicated than it is, and with a little bit of patience and commitment, you’ll be blowing clouds in no time.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, try out different types of concentrates at different temperatures to experiment with the wide world of dabbing. And as this method of cannabis consumption goes mainstream, keep an eye out for new gadgets and methods to keep your dabbing game elevated.