by Albert Jurado 4 min read
Newcomers to smoking herb sometimes ask what pipe screens are used for, or why they are important. The simplest answer is that a pipe screen keeps ash and other particulates from going where they shouldn’t or are not meant to be. But that’s not all they are good for. This guide will uncover many of the additional benefits use of a screen can provide.
Another consideration is the type of pipe screen, of which there are many, each with their own set of pros and cons that we can help you explore.
Pipes have a design challenge; if the hole in the bowl is large enough that it can’t be easily clogged with tar, it’s also large enough to let large chunks of ash or other unwanted particulates through.
Some designs, especially water pieces, have holes large enough to let through some unburnt herb. A screen keeps debris out of the smoker’s mouth. Water pipe users don’t have to worry about a mouthful of ash, but a screen keeps the water clean and prevents waste. In general, screens also keep pipes cleaner.
Once you’ve decided to use a pipe screen (and most cannabis users do), the question is what type of screen to use? Each has its own advantages.
There is a long history of improvisation among creative cannabis users, beginning with teenagers co-opting the screens from inside the faucets of their parents’ sinks. But there are at least three more constructive ways to make a pipe screen in a hurry.
Cut a piece of aluminum foil to fit the pipe bowl and poke it full of tiny holes. The problem is that heating aluminum could cause dangerous fumes. Whether a foil screen is actually dangerous is debatable, but there are better options.
Most paperclips are made of steel, so they are safe for use in pipes. Just un-bend the clip and then twist it into a tight, flat spiral—the twisting will be much easier if you use two pairs of needle-nosed pliers to hold and twist the stiff wire. Twisting the spiral tight enough to trap ash can be a challenge, though.
That’s right, one herb can filter for another. Just put down a layer of tobacco in the bottom of the bowl, then pack the rest with cannabis and light up. The ash will get trapped in the tobacco. When you taste tobacco smoke, stop. The only problem is you end up wasting the tobacco and any cannabis mixed in it.
Most people really have no need to improvise screens, since pre-made pipe screens are readily available and work much better, but it’s good to know options exist.
Circular mesh screens are just little pieces of metal mesh, usually made of stainless steel, brass, or aluminum. They come in packs and are inexpensive, in part because they’re difficult to clean and become heat-damaged easily. They can be re-used several times, but need regular replacement. The screens are one-size-fits all, because they’re designed to be pressed down into the bowl, where they easily bend to fit. Just make sure the screen is positioned to cover the hole.
The potential drawback is the danger of heating aluminum, and it can be difficult to be sure what a screen is made of. The advantages that keep mesh screens popular are convenience and low cost.
Stone pipe screens are just mesh screens with a rim, designed to fit well in stone pipes. They are sturdier than rimless mesh, but basically share the same advantages and disadvantages.
Glass screens are often shaped to look like flowers and fit directly inside the bowl. They are safe to use, attractive, and don’t need regular replacement because heat doesn’t damage them. They do need to be cleaned, but a simple bath in alcohol and salt leaves them sparkling. Regular cleaning is important, since a screen glued in with accumulated tar and stuck-on ash is almost impossible to remove without breaking. Being glass, breakage is a real issue, and even a chipped screen should be replaced (that’s why they come in multipacks), but with care, a glass screen can last forever. Glass does cost more than metal mesh does, but they are still a very affordable option.
Some pipes have screens built in. That is, instead of one hole, large or small, they have several tiny ones that trap debris without clogging badly. Designs range from the simple to the complicated, but they don’t cost much more than pipes without screens. Cleaning is still important, but not difficult with a well-designed pipe.
It’s a curious irony, but the major selling points for all the different types of pipe screen are the same: convenience and low cost. Which one you get depends on how you define convenience and what type of cost you prefer.
For some users, “convenience” means a cheap, disposable mesh screen. These do need to be brushed off regularly and inspected for holes, but there’s no cleaning. The screens fit any pipe, from the simple to the fancy, and while pipes still need some cleaning, the screen means they need less. For others, “convenience” means a well-designed pipe with a built-in screen. There’s nothing to replace, nothing to misplace, and nothing separate to clean. And while the pipe may cost a bit more, there are no separate pieces to buy. And so on.
The important thing is that the screen function. A pipe that’s designed for use with a screen does not give a good smoke without one. Check out some of our glass hand pipes to use with a pipe screen of your liking.
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