We have been in the business of buying glass for five years and enthusiasts of functional glassware for much longer. In that time we’ve seen it all – pipes that make no sense, glass broken in ways that seem impossible, and most importantly, widely varying quality control standards. After years of inspecting thousands of different pipes it is clear that while many glassblowers take the consistency and quality of their products very seriously, many others do not.

It’s not American vs. Import

There are some glass artists who will destroy any piece that does not fit their exact artistic vision or style. There are plenty of others who don’t care at all about bubbles in welds or tool marks scratched into the glass. Their attitude towards what makes a piece acceptable and finished does not depend at all on the geographic location of their workbench. Only their mindset. However there is a clear divide between American and imported glass. The biggest difference between the two is that many (but not all)American glassblowers have a very low rejection threshold on finished pieces. Meaning if anything is even slightly off, it goes in the trash and they start over. This simply doesn’t happen in the large overseas pipe manufacturing operations which is precisely why imported glass is generally spurned by knowledgeable consumers.

It’s true that you can find hand pipes, bongs, and even Dab rigs that are imported from overseas that cost less than you’ll find from any American made brand. Those imported pipes are generally made in hot, sweaty shops where the workers are paid poorly while working in terrible conditions. When you’re paid by how many spoons you can crank out per hour, you don’t care about anything but working as quickly as possible. This sort of environment simply cannot produce high quality products. Couple that with a lax or nonexistent quality control program and you’ve got cheap glass that won’t hold up to any abuse.

But, just because it’s made in another country does not mean it can’t be of quality. The manufacturers in other countries simply haven’t put quality measures into place because their niche is extremely cheap products that need to be replaced regularly. Speed and quantity are the name of their game and they are very good at it.

So why does any of this matter?

Many people cannot afford an expensive tube of glass much less the materials necessary to enjoy it with. There will always be a place for cheaply made goods that are at highly replaceable. However, that’s not what we are about at Brothers With Glass. In our early days we imported glass on several occasions because it was inexpensive yet still functional. It didn’t take long for us to get fed up with the quality issues and lack of recourse for problems we encountered – and there were a lot. Since then we have made our focus to find the highest quality functional glassware on the market and offer it at a price that actually makes sense.

The bottom line is that when shopping for anything – especially something you’re going to use to smoke – you should do your research to find the best quality piece in your budget.

Is it true that glass from China is bad or dangerous?

For me personally, where the glass was melted into the shape of a pipe does not really matter. I use products that were made in Pakistan, China, India, Indonesia, and others on a regular basis. So do you. However none of those items are glassware that I use to smoke. That’s also why I only buy high quality cookware and utensils; I don’t want to endanger my health by using inferior products for things I am going to put into my body.

If you start with quality materials, have a skilled craftsman, and a strict set of quality standards, the output is high quality products. That is hard to find with imported glassware. Instead you find impure, lower quality borosilicate being used to create pipes very quickly and with little to no oversight or regard for consistency or the safety of the user.

Quality starts long before the torches are fired up

All of the glass companies that we work with have a tight quality control process and some of the larger brands such as Chameleon Glass, Zob, Grav Labs, and plenty of others even have entire teams dedicated to quality control. These guys take quality seriously from start to finish. By using clean gas to power their torches, scientific grade borosilicate glass, pure metals for fuming, high quality color rods, and a tidy work space they are able to maintain a consistent line of high quality products.

The quality team’s job is to inspect each and every piece for cracks, chips, bad welds, adherence to design, and just shitty work. Anything that doesn’t meet standards is discarded. That’s before it even gets to us. We also inspect every item we ship for quality issues. If we encounter too many problems with an artist or brand then we will stop carrying them. We only want to work with people that are serious about creating the best possible products that are free from defects and sloppy work. It’s that simple.

Economics 101

Imported glass pipes are a divisive topic. For many, buying inexpensive glass makes sense because glass can break. However, like just about everything else in life, you get what you pay for. You could buy a $30 set of boots from the local big box store or you could buy a $300 pair of boots from an American manufacturer with high quality standards. There’s a reason those boots are $300 and it is not because the boot factory workers union stipulates a minimum wage of $20/hr (I just made that up). It’s because that company has spent tons of time, effort, and money on making products that will last a lifetime. Sure, those expensive boots will still wear out eventually. Even the most expensive glassware can still break. The difference is that with proper care the lifetime of those products that were more expensive will be significantly longer.

It’s important to note that a high price does not imply high quality. There’s a lot of people out there just looking to make money and will charge as much as they can get away with and cut corners wherever possible. Luckily people like that are pushed out of the glass scene pretty quickly.

How can I tell if a piece is quality?

Buying your glass from a reputable headshop is the best way to ensure that you’re not getting ripped off. Talk to the folks there about who made the glass. Ask them what type of glass the artist used to make the piece. Ask them about the thickness of the glass. If they can’t provide any of this information or avoid your questions, it’s likely that this is a piece you shouldn’t pick up. It’s also not a shop worth visiting anymore.
It’s not always easy to immediately tell if a pipe is quality or not. It has taken me years of learning and being immersed in the glass culture to hone my glass inspection skills. While I can’t teach you everything I know in a simple blog article, I can provide some insights.
Here’s a few quick tips for identifying quality in a glass pipe:
  • For Bongs and Dab Rigs, look at the joint. If it’s thin, really rough, or just feels like it would break easily then it should be avoided. The lip of the joint should be much thicker and heftier than the body. The joint is one of the most abused and likely to break parts of a pipe so make sure it’s thick and strong.
  • In a hand pipe, the carb hole should be larger than the hole at the bottom of the bowl. If it isn’t then the pipe will be extremely difficult to clear properly.
  • The thickness of any pipe should be uniform throughout. Tap around on the glass lightly with your fingernail and listen to it. You will be able to feel and hear thin spots and where the glass has been blown out and not condensed. Exceptions to this would be marbles or special artwork that makes one section of the pipe thicker.
  • Inspect welds closely. If not done properly, many tiny bubbles can form when two different pieces of glass have been melted together. It’s not abnormal for a few small bubbles to exist in a weld but ideally there are none. Pieces with lots of bubbles should be avoided as they are potentially weakened and more likely to break at the weld.
  • Look closely for thin scratches on the glass. These are commonly caused by tools used to grab and hold onto the glass during the final stages of production. Lots of scratches are a sign of rushed work and lack of attention to detail.
Now go forth and use this new knowledge to find yourself a high quality glass smoking utensil!


– Jason at Brothers With Glass

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