When the global economic crisis was nipping at my wallet extra hard, I was known to carry a metal one-hitter in my pocket at all times. Needless to say, I wasn’t afraid of a harsh smoking experience. But I’ve yet to meet a smoker masochistic enough to prefer a harsh drag to the smooth hits offered by glass pipes augmented with percolators. Granted not all water pipes are outfitted with percs. But if you invest in a pipe that has any sort of percolator built into it, you can expect silkier hits thanks to the process of diffusion. I’m partial to the honeycomb perc so we’ll use it as the example here: Say you’re taking a hit off your water pipe and it’s lucky enough to pack a honeycomb perc. The smoke hits the percolator and the myriad of honeycomb-like holes diffuse the smoke, meaning it spreads it out to mix with the water and air, cooling it. The result? Instead of being greeted with a harsh battering ram of unfiltered smoke, you get a pure, pristine hit. Without further ado, here are a few of the most popular percs and what sets them apart from one another.
The Cyclone Perc Reminds You We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
You’ll find this perc under a lot of different names; cyclone perc, turbine perc, even hurricane perc. I’ve never heard anyone call it a tornado perc which is a bit strange since the visual resembles a tornado so much more than a hurricane. You’ll find a lot of percs come in a convenient disc shape because it’s by far the easiest shape to fit into a glass pipe? The cyclone perc is one of these, appearing as a glass disc with angular cuts punctuating it, guiding the smoke and water into the whirlpool shape that maximizes diffusion. Seeing this percolator in action is one of the few times that rough seas still result in sailors’ delight. There’s a certain poetic aspect in smooth, controlled hits being delivered by tumultuous chaotic spinning and bubbling but I’ll leave you to ponder that in the smoke circle.
Smoking’s Never a Drag with the Gridded Inline
The gridded inline perc may not be the most straightforward percolator type (that honor probably goes to the aptly named straight perc which we’ll get into in a moment) but it is
fairly simple in concept and construction. The gridded inline is a variation on the dome perc that takes an upright glass tube and carves it up with a generous amount of grid lines. The resulting appearance earned it the nickname “barrel perc”. Unwanted drag is prevented by shaping a smaller chamber to compensate for the multitude of slits.
The Straight and Narrow Diffused Downstem
The diffused downstem, sometimes referred to as the straight perc, shows us a percolator at its most basic; a simple tube with slits carved into its base. If your water pipe is outfitted with a diffused downstem, then you’re taking advantage of diffusion right off the bat. For this reason, diffused downstem pipes often include another perc type to make those hits extra silky.
It Doesn’t Get Much Sweeter than the Honeycomb Perc
This seems like as good a place as any to bring up my favorite percolator type: the honeycomb perc. Several water pipes I’ve had over the years have had the pleasure of hosting at least one honeycomb perc, though I’ve had a few pieces that utilized multiple honeycombs. These percolators offer premium diffusion by puncturing the glass disc with a plethora of filtration holes, leaving a pattern reminiscent of…drumroll, please…honeycomb. When shopping for pipes with honeycomb percs, it’s best to check out the perc holes to make sure they’re gratuitous enough to bypass drag which can be a problem in lesser honeycomb pipes. I owe some of the smoothest hits of my illustrious smoking years to the honeycomb perc.
Keeping Hits Clean with the Showerhead Perc
Percolators don’t leave a lot of mystery in their names so you can imagine that the showerhead perc looks more than a little like a showerhead. Not quite as enthralling to watch as a cyclone perc but a bit flashier than a diffused downstem, the showerhead actually rains the smoke in a downward motion with the flared perc itself creating the diffusion that takes the edge off those raw hits.
Since a compelling glass piece often fuses function with a creative visual aesthetic, you can guess that these percs are really just the jumping off point for some pretty wild designs. Just as I so love the honeycomb perc, you can easily find smokers who covet crystal ball percs or tree percs with a multitude of arms to diffuse smoke. Just remember that aesthetic is secondary when it comes to percs. Their main function remains ironing out the coarseness of a hit. Whatever takes the turbulence out of your flight!