Getting Down With The Downstem

Last time, we introduced how the dimensions of a bong can impact your smoking experience, and we provided you with some advice on what to look for, scale-wise, when buying your next bong. We discovered that tall bong tubes with a narrow opening (tubes less than 18 inches tall, with openings less than 2 inches tall) were much better at giving you a quick, trouble-free hit, but intricate and complex custom designed bongs, with their plethora of percs and recyclers, make for lighter, bubblier, and much cooler hits (both in the sense that your lungs will be much happier, and you’ll look incredibly awesome using them). However, dimensions are just the tip of the iceberg, as there are many other parts of the anatomy of a bong which can make all the difference in your quest for getting the perfect high.

Today, we’re going to get down with the downstem.

What is a downstem and what does it do?


The downstem is used to draw the smoke from the flower bowl into the water, and it fits neatly into the bong through the stem hole, and extends into a chamber or the base of your water pipe. Some bongs have fixed downstems that cannot be removed, and some bongs have removable downstems that give you more options, while other bongs have none at all.

Illustration Diagram of A Basic Bong Anatomy

There are two universal sizes for downstems, 14.5 or 18.8 millimeters. Because water pipes are interchangeable, in that you can replace most pieces if they get cracked, stuck, or broken, or add additional accessories (we’ll go into that further along out bong buying guide), it’s really easy for you to create the perfect bong for your smoking needs. If you don’t fancy a bong that has a static downstem, and you’d prefer to assemble your own water pipe with various parts from different head shops, but you’re not entirely sure what size downstem you need to create that perfect bong rip, you can get one custom made for you, for less than $10! Or, alternatively, here’s a stoner pro tip: if you’ve purchased your piece, but don’t have a ruler to measure the width of the stem to find out what size downstem you need, use an AA battery to figure it out. All AA batteries are 14.5 millimeters in width, so gently put the battery into the downstem, or hold it up to the joint of the bowl. If it fits, or matches,  you need a a 14.5 millimeter downstem, if it’s too small, then you’ve got a water pipe which needs an 18.8 millimeter one.

Does a downstem really make that much of a difference?


If you have a downstem that isn’t airtight, you’re going to find it incredibly difficult to pull the smoke down from the flower bowl into the chamber.

Our advice: if you’ve purchased a glass water pipe (which are undoubtedly the best types of bong out there), you should use a downstem that is also made from glass, and which has a glass joint. That way you know you’re going to get a high-quality, smooth toke, because glass on glass always make for better seals. You can get glass water pipes with rubber grommets and o-rings, but these can degrade over time, they lose thier elasticity and get brittle, plus you don’t want the chemicals of the rubber interfering with the taste of your wonderful herb. Really, a glass on glass bong provides a seal unmatched by any other setup, they’ll never leak, they’ll give your bong great air flow, and they’re also a hell of a lot easier to keep clean.

Remember, when you assemble the downstem into your new water pipe, it should always fit snugly into the bong, so you know that you’re going to get an easy bong rip. It’s worth mentioning at this point that occassionally, if you’ve purchased a downstem from an artisan glass-blower who has made the piece by hand, you might not get a 100 per cent perfect seal because the glass can be ever so slightly misshapen. But hey, that’s not too much of an issue, unless you can see noticabley non-symettrical parts, in that case, find another downstem, even if the one you’ve picked up is super pretty.

Another reason as to why a downstem can make all the difference to your smoking experience, is that many modern downstems are now diffused. This means there are multiple holes or slits at the base of the downstem (the part submerged in water), for the smoke to pass through. This means more circulation, which in turn means cooler smoke, and bigger hits that won’t frazzle your lungs. The more holes or slits, the cooler the toke. Simple.

Downstem Diffusers Collage

An example of a 4-arm diffuser, and a 3-slit diffuser

In our next lesson, we’ll be “Flexing our knowledge about joints”. Class dismissed!