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What is a Dab Pen?

What is a Dab Pen?

puffco plus cannabis portable pen
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With the rising tide of legalized cannabis sweeping not only the United States but the entire world, new technology for partaking in marijuana is coming out every day. And though the concept of “dabbing” isn’t necessarily a new one, with the invention of smoking devices like dab pens taking your weed on the go has never been easier.

But what exactly is a dab pen? Is there any big difference between a dab pen and a regular vape pen? What about a full-sized dab rig? If you’re looking for a primer on exactly what is a dab pen and how to use it, we’ve got the basics for you in today’s article. Let’s jump in. By the way, the cover photo is the ultra-slim Puffco Plus portable dab pen. 

What is a Dab Pen High Like?

Somewhere between “smoking” weed and “vaporizing,” “dabbing” is a sure-fire way to get the lungs of even a seasoned pro smoker feeling fired up. Dabbing’s unique heating method and high-powered concentrate products make it stand out in the increasingly crowded list of ways to get high. And for true cannabis connoisseurs dabbing is considered among the best ways to truly enjoy any given strain’s unique flavor and aroma profiles, as the lack of fire prevents any actual smoke (and carcinogens) from forming.

Dabbing is also a recommended consumption method for medical marijuana patients as a fast-acting alternative to smoking. Though the reputation dabs have for potency is both well-known and well-founded, this quick hit of strong cannabinoids means medical marijuana patients can feel an intense, lasting relief to their symptoms without having to routinely re-dose (or worry about the negative health benefits of body-stressing carbon dioxide entering the lungs from smoking dried cannabis flower).

But then, doesn’t this mean that dabbing is essentially the same thing as hitting a vaporizer? Well… sort of. But while these two vaping devices share many common features, that doesn’t make them entirely interchangeable.

Dab Pen vs Wax Pen

Quick note – YES – Dab Pens and Wax Pens are the same things! When you dab, you’re smoking waxes and shatters, and therefore an electronic pen that allows you to dab waxes and shatters is often called a wax pen.

puffco plus cannabis portable pen
The Puffco Plus portable dab pen (puffco.com)

Dab Pen vs Vape Pen

Though there may be overlap between the two, on occasion, dab pens and vape pens are often trying to target two very different types of smokers. A vape pen (or “e-cigarette”) typically uses what is known as “e-liquid” or “juice” to fill its liquid-retaining tanks or vape cartridges. Though some models can handle liquids (IE: hash oil/cannabis oil) alongside wax concentrates, your typical oil vape pen isn’t designed to hold a thicker THC concentrate such as wax or shatter, which has its own effect on how dab pens work vs vapes.

Vaporizers, particularly those using e-liquid concentrates, are often easy to use and immediately available – Pick up your e-cigarette, take a few drags of vapor, and you’re done. Dab pens will usually require at least a moment or two of heating before they’re ready, but once it is ready, the odds are against needing more than one or two puffs. In addition, due to the high level of concentration in the extracts used for dabbing and the lack of propylene glycol compared to vape liquids, hitting a dab pen reduces the need for taking multiple hits; handy for a wide variety of reasons.

Vapor pens will also usually run a bit smaller in size than dab pens do, and though both can be found in various shapes and sizes, expect dab pens to be bulkier in size. Dab pens also typically eschew the type of pre-made oil cartridge that fits in a wide variety of vape pens. However, these do exist; expect to mainly load your own cannabis concentrate if using a portable dab device.

Dab Pen vs Dab Rig

Multiple styles of dab pen exist, and higher-end models will often remove the need to manually apply heat to the concentrate chamber instead of providing its own. However, traditional dab rigs require a manual source of heat, typically found in the form of an electronic nail (or a more analog nail accompanied by a blowtorch).

And while there is something to be said for taking a monster rip off of a larger “desktop-sized” rig, portability is not usually the first thing someone thinks of when they look at a dab rig’s mountain of entangled glass tubes & chambers. Pens make dabs portable, typically sparing the need to set up the rig, banger, and nail – Instead, use your dab tool to load the dab pen’s chamber with concentrate, press the appropriate button, and wait for your THC to be ready.

What to Use In a Dab Pen

As mentioned before, most dab pens are designed to hold cannabis concentrates of some fashion, typically something that holds at least a semi-solid form – Resin, shatter, wax, etc., etc. Though there are pens that are 100% compatible with the same types of e-liquid used in vape pens, it’s important to check your specific vapor pen’s instructions & labels to make sure any liquids won’t mess up the interior (and potentially ruin your pen).

And though there may be exceptions, most dab pens are not designed by default to handle cannabis flower. If your vape of choice has a heating chamber (IE: the products inside do not come in direct contact with the heating element), it may support vaporizing dried flower, but if in doubt, it’s best to check your instruction manual first.

Also note: You may hear of dab pens referred to by other names, typically related to the aforementioned cannabis concentrates. So, for example, if someone mentions having a “wax pen” or a “resin pen,” these are ultimately just dab pens by other monikers.

Dab Pen Cleaning & Maintenance

It’s a good idea to give vaporizers that use cannabis concentrates a thorough cleaning once every week or two; concentrates, in particular, are very sticky and leave a lot of cannabis resin & other gunk behind, which can interfere with the working order of your vaporizer.

Cleaning wax pens usually only requires a cotton swab (IE: q-tip) and isopropyl alcohol. Dip the fluffy end of the swab into the alcohol, rub along the mouthpiece and chamber to remove grime, and repeat as needed; try to avoid making direct contact with the coil while swabbing to avoid transferring cotton fibers. If you find that the threading of your chamber has gotten sticky from THC, a quick swab with alcohol followed by a quick scrub from a (no longer in active duty) toothbrush should make them clean as new.

Wickless coils can be cleaned by soaking in isopropyl alcohol, though replacement may be needed. Without cleaning, coils often have a lifespan of less than a month, and while cleaning may help extend their lifespan, replacing worn-out coils is often a necessity, particularly models that include a wick. As many dab pens have vastly different designs, you’ll need to refer to your manufacturer’s instructions for more details on accomplishing this with your specific model.

Differences in Dab Pens

At their most basic level, all vape pens are a power source (IE: battery) connected to a device that creates vapor through the application of heat (typically referred to as an “atomizer”). However, different styles of vapor pens will use different components to customize the functionality of their device, and among the most crucial is how its atomizer conveys heat.

The first is whether or not the atomizer carries a wick. In vaping terms, a wick is exactly what it sounds like – A small piece of absorbent, fibrous material that soaks up and holds any concentrates placed inside the chamber. Wick coils are usually used for vape pens designed to hold liquids and thinner, runnier concentrates, while bare coils are more often used for solid cannabis concentrates like wax, shatter, or budder. Wick coils are also generally used for vaporization at lower temperatures, while wickless coils are preferred by those who like running their vaporizers at high temps.

Also important for wax pens is your number of coils, single or double. Needless to say, more means more – Double coils are more efficient at heating and usually have longer lifespans than single-coil models. But double coils also use more battery and do little for those who want to vape their concentrates at low temperatures. There are models with even more coils, but most standard models will offer a choice between one or two.

Equally important is coil composition, namely whether your coils are made purely from metal or include quartz or ceramic inside. Ceramic was the defacto material of choice for the first several generations of e-cigarettes and vaporizers. Still, more manufacturers have moved on to quartz and titanium as heating elements due to their improved capacity for vaporization without conveying flavor. Which material you prefer will ultimately be up to your personal preference, but it’s worth experimenting around with all three to see which one you enjoy the most.

Lastly, some pens place a heating chamber above the coils, typically made of ceramic. Though models with a ceramic chamber take longer to heat up, they offer more reliable temperature control and prevent the concentrates from making direct contact with the heating element underneath. This method also tends to be more efficient, with less product lost in the heating process. In addition, it can house a wider variety of materials, often including weed in its natural form of cannabis flower/dry herb.

Yocan Magneto pocket vape for cannabis use
The Yocan Magento wax pen (yocanusa.com)

What To Look For When Buying Wax Pens:

Though there may be significant differences between models, at a certain point, these differences really come down to a matter of preference – What style of atomizer you prefer is something you’ll only find out after using and testing a variety of dabbing devices. But there are still a few key points to consider when looking to buy a vape pen:

Battery Life:

We recommend choosing a model that has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery; older (and frankly cheaper) brands of vape pens will use weaker, non-rechargeable batteries, significantly decreasing their overall up-time and usefulness. Charging options are up to you, but we typically recommend a model that can be charged via USB for sheer convenience.

510 Thread:

A particular term for vaping, a “510 thread battery,” is a vape battery that fits the standardized 5mm screw type used regularly throughout the industry. Having a 510 thread in your wax pen will let you switch out for different atomizers and chambers, as well as pre-made cannabis vape cartridges, and generally just increases the overall functionality of your investment.

Temperature/Voltage Controls:

A bit more of a luxury setting but one we highly recommend. Having variable temperature & voltage controls on your pen lets you modify and customize your vaping experience for different types of concentrates. Different applications of heat can make major changes in how cannabis and cannabinoids affect the human body, and certain concentrates will do better with higher heat rather than lower. Having the ability to change your pen’s temperature range makes for a much more versatile weed vaping device.

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