How to Choose The Right Dab Surface
Life is Full of Important Choices
Whether you are just curious or are on a quest for the latest and greatest, here is a list of all the ways in which a dabber may modify their dab surface to maximize the desired flavor and effect. We’ll look at the main factors that go into choosing accessories that modify your dab surface for optimal effect. The main factors to consider are material type, mass distribution, surface area, and surface texture.
We’re also going to break open a few rocks and learn some geology.
Thermal Expansion Of Boro Vs. Quartz
Metallic materials like titanium tend to heat up and cool down faster than crystalline materials such as borosilicate or quartz.
Quartz is known to hold onto the heat for longer, making it the material of choice for those using a torch. Practically no one uses straight borosilicate glass anymore for a dab nail. Borosilicate breaks easily, making it very dangerous and somewhat uneconomical. Most people quickly upgrade to quartz after learning this, and pure borosilicate nails are very rare to see these days. Quartz is much stronger and is known to be able to take a large amount of thermal shock.
Some are even brave enough to throw their hot quartz directly into the water just to prove the quality of the material in their nail. Try this with borosilicate, and you will be shocked to see it literally explode into a million shattered pieces. Borosilicate can even explode without touching any water at all, just from the thermal expansion of regular heating.
Titanium vs. Quartz
All about Silicon Carbide, Moissanite, and Obsidian…
Far Out, Man!
Silicon carbide (SiC) was quickly found to be a useful material in the industry. A few applications that require the high-endurance properties of SiC include industrial refractory furnaces, car brakes, bullet-proof vests, high-quality drill bits, sharpening stones, grinding wheels, and sandpaper.
Silicon carbide is especially suited for applications that require surface hardness to be extremely high. It’s fairly tough as well, compared to other dab surfaces (see toughness vs. hardness), but its strength comes from its ability to resist abrasion, chemical reactions, and thermal shock. The physical properties are maximized for surface durability, making it the choice of many for a rugged and flavorful dab surface. Another property of SiC is that it heats up quickly and also transfers the heat more quickly than most other surfaces.
Is SiC The Same as Obsidian?
What about corundums like ruby or sapphire?
Dabbing with Corundum (Ruby/Sapphire) vs. Carborundum (SiC)
Ruby, sapphire, and SiC share some similarities besides their similar names. They can all be synthetically produced for commercial availability. Both corundum and carborundum have amazing surface properties that allow for easier cleaning compared to quartz or titanium. They are also both right in that price range that gets you all of the glory of the best dabbing while being surprisingly affordable.
One main advantage of ruby over SiC is that you can see what needs to be cleaned a bit easier, since it is transparent. If you tend to get “OCD” about keeping your banger clean, this may be the one you are looking for to stay on top of it. It also just looks amazing. Who doesn’t like dabbing off precious gemstones? One huge disadvantage is that it can break much quicker than SiC. Careful procedures need to be adhered to in order to keep it intact.
Ruby Vs. Sapphire
Hardness does not equal Durability
What does this tell us about materials for dabbing?
Surface Area Factors and Modifiers
Dab Surface Width
Advantage of going smaller (20mm)
Shape and distribution of mass
Besides the shape of the surface area, the distribution of mass in your nail also plays a role in how the heat is transferred. The different forms and shapes of each nail can play a surprisingly big difference in the overall experience. With bangers, the wall thickness is one variable to consider: typically from 1mm to 4mm thick. A thicker wall will take longer to heat, but also cool down slower.
Thicker bangers are mostly ideal for torch setups where good timing is important and you want to avoid heating it up quicker so as to avoid cracking. When glass heats unevenly, it also expands unevenly at a microscopic level. This causes some of the particles to push on each other, and if enough pressure builds up it can result in glass breakage.
Besides the wall thickness, there are also bangers which include a thick inner “core” which consists of a quartz cylinder that has been fused to the bottom dab surface. This inner core serves as extra storage of heat and serves a similar function as a thicker wall while taking less energy and time to heat up the entire banger.
Terp buckets or inserts are one of the best ways to increase the surface area inside a quartz banger. There are a variety of sizes and materials on the market in 2019, such as quartz, SiC, ruby, and sapphire. The great thing about using an insert is that you can keep the bottom of your banger clean by using a terp bucket insert to shield it out. Just switch out the insert, and you have a fresh dab surface ready to go with a mostly clean banger.
If you make sure to get an insert with the right volume it will also help to reduce cleaning time since the only surface that touches concentrate is the very bottom and the bottom of the side walls. The surface area matters, and although slightly reduced with the bucket, there are definitely options that suit even the most hardcore dabbers. Along with thermal core bangers mentioned above, there are surface area modifiers that can increase the surface area within the insert itself (see below).
Dimpled bottom (opaque) vs flat (clear) banger
The question keeps coming up: What’s the difference between an opaque and a clear banger? Besides the way it looks, the opaque version almost always includes a different textured surface. While the clear banger is normally smooth, the opaque version normally has very tiny dimples on the surface that act as nucleation sites and effectively reduce the temperature needed to vaporize the concentrate.
The texture on an opaque bottom banger is ever so slightly dimpled, so it’s not as hard to clean as you may think. That being said, the significance of this texture difference is debatable. Some notice it, others hardly at all.
Nectar tip vs. bucket style
You can go as wide as a 30mm banger bucket, or down to as small as a 10mm nectar tip. The difference between a nectar tip and banger style nail is that the banger is going to have a much wider surface for the dab to sit. The heat is also applied more directly through a nectar tip to the dab since the heat can travel around the outside of the tip directly to a portion of the dab (without touching the coil).
However, nectar style nails and tips usually have their heat coils placed much closer to the actual dab surface, which is almost always titanium. For those gritty dabbers who prefer their dabs hot, a nectar style setup is perfect. The focused surface area, closer coil placement, and faster heat exchange of the metal surface all adds up to a quick blast into the ether. It’s also much easier to bring a nectar style nail up to a raging glow with the smaller mass and surface area.
SiC is the usually preferred material for the most optimal mix of function and value. Once you start going into the ruby and sapphire level, the advantages are smaller in proportion to the higher price tag. That being said, some just can’t live without experiencing the best, and that’s understandable. Right now it’s hard to imagine a material coming out that offers the same or better surface and thermal properties than silicon carbide at the same price point. But we could always find something new later.
For the majority of dabbers, generic quartz works just fine. It just takes a bit more cleaning in order to preserve flavor and promote heat transfer. For more heady dabbers, SiC offers most of the properties of ruby and sapphire, but without breaking the bank, or itself.
For now, a silicon carbide insert inside a quartz banger is my go-to nail setup, although I am constantly experimenting. If you need a little more power, or are using a capper already, but don’t necessarily want to crank the temps, just throw in an insert and/or a few pearls to strike your ideal balance between flavor and volume!
Note that flavor and effect are also heavily influenced by other non-related factors such as using a capper tool, temperature control, and/or timing.