Even the most avid stoners may not know the anatomy of their favorite bong or bubbler, so let’s talk about what percolators do.
They come in many different designs but ultimately produce the same result - a smoother hit. Smoke passes through the percolator and into water, causing it to be cooled, filtered and moisturized. There are many different types of percolators that use different methods to achieve this goal, and the innovation in design is an ongoing venture.
The Perks of Percs
Smoke is extremely hot as it comes from the bowl in your smoking piece, reaching temperatures up to 3600 F. The water gives the smoke time to cool down as it makes its way to your lungs. Plus, as the smoke passes through the water, its heat is transferred through thermal conduction, leaving you a cooler, smoother hit.
Even if you have a high quality product, there is always a chance of trace contaminants in what you're smoking. The percolator also helps to filter out polar contaminants. Because water is a very polar molecule, when the smoke interacts with it, it magnetically attracts any polar contaminants. The more surface area of bubbles you have, the high level of filtration.
Taking a direct hit from a joint or pipe with no water filtration is so incredibly harsh. That’s because they're completely dry. By forcing the smoke to interact with water, it causes some of the heated water to turn into steam. This helps moisturize the hit to make it smoother, and ultimately makes it easier on your throat and lungs.
Myths About Percolators
People sometimes say they prefer joints or pipes over smoking pieces with percolators because they think it filters out the good stuff. That’s simply just not true.
As mentioned above, the filtration the water produces only filters out polar contaminants. Luckily, cannabinoids are non-polar, so passing through water has no effect on their composition or potency.
There’s a reason no one makes products out of infusing hemp in water like they do in butter or oils. Fats and oils are also non-polar substances, making it easy to dissolve hemp compounds in them.
There is also no such thing as too much percolation - at least when it comes to filtration. In order to get 100% water filtration, you need the surface area of the bubbles to be equal or greater than the surface area of the smoke.
Types of Percolators
There are pretty much never ending variants when it comes to percolator designs. Each has its own unique pros and cons. Glassblowers are always learning and experimenting with percolator design as well, so this list will continue to grow over time. Here are some examples of the most common types of percolators and how they work:
Downstems: Before other percolators were developed and started hitting the market, downstems were the only thing that differentiated dry pipes from water pipes. It’s a very simple design - a straight pipe that sits in water so the smoke must resurface as bubbles after passing through the downstem and water.
Tree Percs: The earliest of percolators, aside from downstems, are designed with a central tube that connects to multiple arms at the top. Those arms descend from the top attachment point into the water. This design is perfect for optimal percolation, but tends to be pretty fragile and can break easily through mishandling your piece or normal wear and tear.
Showerhead Percs: These percolators are often referred to in many ways, such as UFO, disc, tire and more. A showerhead percolator is a vertical tube with a flared base that has holes or slits on the bottom. Smoke or vapor is drawn through the openings in the flared bottom of the tube into the main chamber before continuing to the mouthpiece and into the lungs.
Honeycomb Percs: A disc-style percolator, they are small, flat and don't take up much vertical space. They also are one solid piece so they aren't as fragile as some other types of percolators. You also consistently get a perfect hit because they are made with numerous holes that don't create much drag.
Spiral/Coil Percs: This type of percolator isn't talked about much, and definitely misunderstood. They are simply a coiled tube with a hole in the end - basically a spiraled downstem. So what makes them different? Because the tube is coiled it creates a longer pathway for the smoke to travel, cooling it more than a straight downstem would. Plus, they look cool. If you're into the artistry of glassblowing, this one might be for you.
These are just a few examples of the types of percolators that are out there, and how they operate. You’ll have to go through a little trial and error to find your favorite one, but you may find the benefits greatly outweigh settling for a joint or a pipe.
This article was originally written by Tiffany Beyer. More of her work can be found here: Atomic Blaze