How to Dab with Easy Steps for Beginners

Learning how to dab puts the world of cannabis concentrates at your fingertips—from solventless rosins to butane hash oil in all of its glory. While the set-up may look intimidating at first, it’s actually quite simple once you give it a try. And if you’re not too keen on a traditional setup, there are e-nails and dab pens that you can use instead. Ready? Let’s get into how to dab for beginners.

Beginner’s Guide to Dabbing

What You’ll Need

For a traditional set-up, you will need:

  • A dab rig

  • A nail or banger

  • A dabbing tool

  • A carb cap

  • A blow torch (such as a crème brûlée torch)

  • A can of butane or propane

  • Water

  • Cannabis concentrate

  • Isopropyl alcohol

  • A dab mat

  • A dab timer (optional)

How to Dab Step-by-Step

  1. Fill the chamber with water until the percolators are covered and the chamber is almost half full.

  2. Place the dab rig on the dab mat (dabs can get messy!).

  3. Join the nail to the stem.

  4. Aim the torch at the underside of the nail and heat it evenly for around 30 seconds or until it is just beginning to glow red hot.

  5. Allow the nail to cool for at least as long as you heated it. Sixty seconds is usually about right for quartz nails, and 10 seconds for titanium nails. You can use a dab timer for added precision when heating and cooling the nail. In most cases, you’ll want the nail to reach a temperature of around 545-570°F for dabbing.

  6. Use the dabbing tool to take a tiny sliver of concentrate that’s no bigger than a couple of grains of rice—depending on the THC percentage of your concentrate—and apply it to the hot nail, wiping the concentrate onto the nail until it has all come off the dabbing tool. The concentrated cannabis will start to vaporize.

  7. Cover the nail with the carb cap, turning the carb cap or putting it on and off to regulate airflow.

  8. Inhale deeply through the mouthpiece.

  9. Hold the vapor for a few seconds, then exhale.

Cold-Start Dabs

Cold-start dabbing is becoming popular as a way to enjoy smoother, more flavorful hits. Instead of heating the nail and allowing it to cool before adding the marijuana concentrate, the concentrate is placed in the cold nail or banger and then heated just enough to cause the dab vapor to be released.

Instead of the 30 seconds needed to heat a quartz nail for regular dabbing, it typically takes fewer than 10 seconds of heat to produce vapor in a cold-start dab. The main drawback is that this method leaves more residue than regular dabbing.

How to Clean the Nail

It’s important to clean the nail after each dabbing session to prevent a buildup of residue. As soon as you’re done, use a Q-tip dipped in isopropyl alcohol to wipe off the oil and char. Then, heat the nail with the torch to burn off any remaining residue. If there is a buildup of concentrate, you can also use your dab tool to scrape it out, being very careful not to break the glass. Finally, soak the nail in isopropyl alcohol for 10 minutes and wipe it clean.

Portable Dab Rigs

For dabbing on the go, a dab pen or e-rig does the same job as a traditional dab rig but with battery power instead of a torch or e-nail. These devices are a similar size and shape to vape pens—the main difference is that dab pens use conduction to achieve flash vaporization (the concentrate is placed directly on the heating element) whereas vape pens use convection (the concentrate is placed in a separate chamber, which is heated indirectly from below).

To dab using a dab pen, put a tiny dab in the “oven,” screw on the mouthpiece, wait for the pen to heat up, then inhale deeply once or twice. Some models require that you click a button when you want to inhale. Like an e-nail, dab pens (also called e-rigs) should heat to an exact, pre-set temperature. You don’t need to wait for the element to cool down.

Dab Rig Materials Explained

Whether you use a traditional or portable dab rig, there are several options when it comes to materials—each with its pros and cons.

The Rig 

The two most common dab rig materials are silicone and glass. Silicone is a popular choice for beginners because it’s virtually unbreakable, with borosilicate glass being the preferred option for many experienced dabbers. Some of the main considerations include:

Glass Dab Rigs

  • Better flavor

  • Easier to add a percolator

  • You can see how much dab vapor you’re taking in

  • Higher price point

  • Can break!

Silicone Dab Rigs

  • Virtually indestructible

  • Lower price point

  • Machine-washable

  • Fewer options to add a percolator

  • Some experience an impact on flavor

The Nail

The nail itself can be made from quartz, titanium, ceramic, or borosilicate glass:

Quartz

Quartz is the most popular nail material because it’s both food-grade and medical-grade and doesn’t release any toxic gasses when heated. Quartz nails often heat up in 10 seconds or less. If you are interested in cold-start/low-temperature dabs, you’ll want to go with quartz.

Titanium

Titanium nails heat up in 15 to 25 seconds and can withstand being dropped on the floor without breaking or chipping. Cheaper, low-quality Ti nails can release harmful by-products, so look for a medical-quality, grade 2 nail. Titanium nails need to be seasoned before use to avoid a metallic taste and are often used with water diffusers.

Ceramic

Ceramic nails are non-toxic and preserve the flavor of your dabs. However, they can be prone to breaking and can fracture with frequent use. Ceramic nails take at least 30 seconds to heat and don’t glow red like quartz nails, so an infra-red thermometer can be helpful in determining when it’s cool enough to use.

Borosilicate Glass

The same borosilicate glass used to manufacture dab rigs can also be used for the nail. The advantages are that this material is cost-effective and it glows red when it’s hot. The disadvantages are that glass can shatter and it doesn’t hold heat for as long as titanium or ceramic.

E-Nail

For safety and precision, e-nails are the clear winner. Heated electronically, these nails removed the need for a torch and cans of butane or propane. They also heat up to the exact temperature that you choose, giving the dabbing enthusiast the possibility of experimenting with temps to bring out specific cannabinoids and terpenes.

Styles and Fittings

Whichever nail material you choose, make sure that the size (10mm, 14mm, 19mm), the fitting (male/female), the angle (45° or 90°), and the style (flat top or core) are compatible with your dab rig. A customer service representative can help you find nails that are compatible with your dab rig.

Dab Tools

As far as dabbing tools, also known as dabbers, there are several styles from which to choose. Some popular designs include the scoop, pick, spatula, and shovel, and many even come with a carb cap tool on the other end.

Dab tools come in the same materials as nails—quartz, borosilicate glass, ceramic, and titanium—with the same pros and cons listed above. However, as the dab tool doesn’t spend much time in contact with heat, grade 2, medical-quality titanium is usually used because it’s the most resistant to drops.

Choosing Your Dabs

The actual cannabis concentrate you use could be anything from solvent dabs made from butane hash oil (shatter, wax, sugar, badder, budder, etc.) to solventless dabs like rosin or even DIY dabs made from the kief collected during the process of grinding cannabis flowers. While homemade dabs are cheap and sometimes free, they will contain more plant material and have a lower potency than store-bought concentrates, so you’ll need to use a larger amount.

Happy Dabbing!

Learning how to dab for beginners can seem a little complicated at first, but once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll see that it’s not really that hard. 

You might just want to use an infra-red thermometer to help you dab safely until you’re confident that you can estimate the heating and cooling times on your own. 

Once you’ve found the times and temps that work best for your dab rig and concentrates, you can simply heat ‘er up and enjoy the ride!