High History: The Evolution of Dabbing

A brief history of heating hash.

Those new to the process of dabbing can sometimes get a little freaked out by what they see: Blowtorches, glowing hot metal and butane cans surely come across as much more threatening than the simple joints and bowls of yesteryear. However, these people seem to be fairly comfortable with the old-school toking method known as “hot-knifing” (possibly because it brings out every stoner’s inner biker/cowboy). Yet despite the dab novice’s comfort level, hot-knifing uses the same basic technique to get you high: heat a bit of metal, apply your hash and inhale the vapor.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a quick tour of the gradual innovations that have brought us to where we are on the dab scene today.

The Hot Knife

It’s crude, it’s basic, and it’s also probably an ancient technique for getting stoned: All you have to do is stick an iron in the fire until it’s really hot, then touch your hash with it and catch the vapors before they escape. It may seem primitive now, but whoever pioneered this technique basically invented the wheel as far as the dab world is concerned.

The Swing Skillet

This evolutionary step adds the element of control to hot-knifing, making it possible to get all—or almost all—of the hash into your lungs. A flat bit of metal is attached to a downstem that catches the vaporized hash. The metal is heated with a torch, and then a dab of hash is applied. In addition to increased efficiency, the swing skillet is also credited with dissemination of the word “dab.”

The Nail and Dome

This vital link in the evolutionary chain moves the heated bit of metal into an easier position for the hash consumer. The swing skillet is very messy; the nail and dome are responsible for cleaning up dabbing, and they also led to other materials—such as quartz and ceramics—being adopted as the hot bit you put your hash on.

The Domeless Nail

After a few years of taking the dome off and putting it back on, some smart and/or lazy guy invented a way to do away with that step altogether: just get the nail hot and hit the hash. However, at this point we were all still required to carry around blowtorches.


We live in a digital world; even our bongs plug into the wall these days. The enail can maintain the perfect temperature all day long without using a flame. This evolutionary step gives us temperature control and, finally, removes the torches from our hands.

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