Bong Percolators 101
When it comes to functional water pipes, there are a variety of different percolators (or “Percs” for short) to choose from. The purpose of having a percolator in your bong is to serve as a diffusion and filtration mechanism for the pipe. Furthermore, the type of percolator will ultimately dictate how the piece will function.
There are a handful of very common percolator designs that can be found in almost any headshop or your favorite online glass retailer. Additionally, artistic glassblowers are constantly finding ways to innovate upon existing designs and invent percolator designs of their own (ex: Salt Glass’ “Ripcurl”).
Artistic glassblowers typically find ways to incorporate the functional aspect of percolators into their mainly artistic designs, while scientific glassware companies prioritize the functionality and percolator designs of their pieces as their main selling point. Several scientific glassware companies distinguish themselves by creating their own unique and elaborate percolator designs, such as HiSi, JM Flow, Toro & Pulse.
How Do Percolators Work?
Percolators function by diffusing and filtering smoke as the user pulls on their water pipe. As the user inhales, pressure causes an intake of smoke to be pulled into the percolator and drawn through water before being inhaled. The smoke ends up being diffused as it passes through the water in bubbles, which serves the benefit of cooling the temperature of the smoke. Furthermore, the smoke passing through the water allows for any non-soluble compounds (such as tar, carbon & ash) to be filtered out before reaching the user’s lungs.
The benefit of having the filtration and diffusion of a percolator is that it effectively cools the temperature of the smoke while you’re hitting your piece and it removes any non-soluble compounds within the smoke, providing the user with a smoother and more enjoyable smoking experience.
The drawback of percolators is that they create drag, which makes it require slightly more effort to operate your water pipe. The drag is a product of the additional suction required to diffuse the smoke through the water in the percolator. Although this may be a turnoff for some smokers, others tend to prefer having drag because it creates more of a “chug” while the piece is being used.
Aside from the element of drag, another potential drawback of percolators is the element of clogging. After an extended period of use, ash and resin will begin to build up around the percolator(s), which can eventually cause the pipe to clog. This can be remedied by a thorough cleaning; however, some may view this as a tedious process. Again, much like the drag aspect, this is only considered a drawback based on personal preference; cleaning is still very much a necessary part of owning a pipe, regardless of whether or not it has a percolator.
Common Types of Percolators
Straight (Diffused Downstem)
Straight percolators are undoubtedly the simplest among the common design types present within the market. Straight percolators are essentially just glass tubes in which the smoke is pulled through and diffused in water. There are a variety of variations of the straight perc, or diffused downstem, as it is commonly referred to. Some common variations include slits or assortments of holes, which will affect the percolation and how the pipe will function.
Tree percolators are one of the most common percolator designs on the market. If you walk into any local headshop, you’re most likely going to encounter an assortment of water-pipes with tree percs. Tree peculators function by pulling in smoke through one main glass tube and then diffusing into the water through numerous smaller, slitted glass tubes. The small glass tubes which the smoke percolates through are essentially a bunch of straight percolators which have been conjoined to increase the amount of diffusion and filtration. The reason why it is referred to as a “tree” is that the small, slitted tubes visually resemble branches on a tree. Although the tree perc exhibits improved functionality over the straight perc, it does prove somewhat more difficult to clean due to the potential for ash and other residual materials to get stuck in the perc.
Dome percolators are an innovation upon the tree design, in which the smoke is still pulled through one main glass tube but are diffused through a slitted dome as opposed to an array of smaller, slitted “branches.” They percs typically offer a more evenly distributed diffusion of smoke than tree percs, as well as improved durability. It often will feature some form of artistic decoration of the dome, which offers additional visual appear on top of the function. Dome percolators are also commonly referred to as showerhead percolators or UFO percolators as well, due to the nature of the design.
Honeycomb percolators are welded disks that contain high concentrations of small holes to allow smoke and water to pass through and condense into lots of small bubbles. These types of percolators boast a higher degree of percolation and diffusion with minimal drag. Honeycomb percs are also known for their durability due to their simplistic design. It is also common to see numerous honeycomb percs stacked upon each other, which result in an exponential increase of diffusion.
Fritted Disk percolators function quite similarly to honeycomb percs, mainly because they both function as disks within the pipe which water must pass through. However, instead of being a disk composed of many precise holes for the smoke to pass through, it is a disk that is constructed by fusing together small glass grains (referred to as “frit”). Fritted disks force the smoke and water to pass through many microscopic holes within the disk and provide users with the maximum percolation possible. Unfortunately, the maximized percolation comes at a price. The main drawback of fritted disks is that they can potentially have a large amount of drag, and tend to clog extremely quickly. For that reason, it is important that water-pipes with fritted disks get cleaned regularly to avoid buildup of herbal or concentrate buildup.
Turbine percolators are another variation of a disk percolator, similar to the honeycomb and fritted disk. As opposed to the other disk percs which utilize an array of holes, turbine percs consist of a series of angled slits. These slits provide the user with less percolation compared to the other disk percs, but it features a unique visual function that serves as its major appeal. The visual function is a cyclone effect that results from the slanted nature of the slits, which is where the percolator derives its name from. Although these percs offer less functional appeal than other disk percs, it makes up for that in visual appeal.
Inline percolators are similar to straight percolators in the sense that it is a simplistic design that uses either slits or gridded holes to create percolation. However, the identifying feature with inline percs is their horizontal positioning. This horizontal position allows for smoke to be diffused through the slits in a much more evenly distributed manner, which improves percolation. Hops Glass is the glassblower who is accredited for the invention of the inline percolator.
Swiss percolators are a very unique design that was created back in the late 2000s by a glassblower by the name of Nate Dizzle. The swiss percolator typically works in conjunction with another percolator. The design functions by forcing smoke and water to move around the welded holes, which results in increased diffusion and filtration through a process of natural filtration. Not only does the design feature an impressive visual function, but it provides the user with a unique low-drag smoking experience that distinguishes itself from most other percolators on the market. An important detail to mention when using swiss percs is that the water level is a key factor in regards to how well the percolator will function.
Faberge Egg percolators are similar to Swiss percolators in the sense that they utilize their shaping to increase the surface area of diffusion through natural filtration. Much like the Swiss perc, Faberge Egg percolators must be paired with another percolator to maximize their functionality. Faberge Egg percs mainly differ from Swiss percs due to the “Egg” design that affects both the nature of how the smoke percolates and the amount of percolation that occurs. Although numerous companies have utilized the design throughout the years, the Faberge Egg percolator was recently popularized by a Mothership Glass, a high-end Washington-based scientific glass production company.