Hookahs (also called shisha, or nargile) were invented over 1000 years ago near the modern day Pakistan/India border in Indochina. Originally, they were not used for smoking tobacco; instead, they were typically a vehicle for the consumption of opium or hashish. People did not start smoking tobacco out of hookah pipes until they were introduced in Turkey several hundred years ago. It wasn't long before hookah lounges became a popular place for people to relax and socialize with a few friends. Recently, hookah pipes have become very popular in the United States (more on hookah history).
Modern day hookahs are used almost exclusively for the smoking of hookah tobacco, or shisha. This is a mix of long leaf tobacco and flavored molasses that makes very thick, sweet, and satisfying smoke clouds. A hookah pipe is made up of seven major parts, these are the same parts you will need if you want to build a custom hookah pipe.
1. Hookah Bowl
The hookah bowl is also known as the head of the hookah. Hookah bowls are usually made of clay ceramics so that they conduct heat more efficiently. The bowl of a hookah sits on the very top of the hookah stem, and it is what shisha (hookah tobacco) is loaded into. Hookah coals are then placed on top of the bowl to heat the shisha, which creates smoke. 2. Hookah Hose
The hookah hose is a flexible tube, usually made from leather or synthetic leather, depending on the quality. Hookah hoses typically have handles made of wood or plastic, although particularly high quality hookahs may have hoses made from marble or bone. Hookah hoses allow smoke to be drawn up from the hookah vase into the hookah smoker's lungs. 3. Hookah Stem
A hookah stem is the part of the hookah that carries smoke from the hookah bowl down to the hookah vase. This is also where hookah hoses are attached to the hookah, but hoses draw smoke directly from the reservoir of smoke collected in the vase. 4. Hookah Grommet
Hookah grommets are sometimes referred to as hookah gaskets. A hookah grommet seals the connection between the hookah stem and the hookah vase so that no smoke escapes from the vase during a smoke session. 5. Hookah Valve
Hookah valves are found both in the stem opening and in the ball on the opposite side. Typically, the valve is made from a ball bearing that will fall to close off the smoke chamber when the hookah is not being smoked. Suction will pull the bearing up when the hose is being used to open up the vase and allow the smoke to be drawn out. 6. Hookah Vase
The hookah vase, or base of the hookah, is usually made of glass, but it can be made of a variety of other materials, such as ceramics, metal, or plastic. The vase is typically filled with water, and collects smoke that is drawn down from the bowl and through the stem. The water in a hookah vase is reputed to filter out many harmful chemicals; according to the WHO, it actually does filter out nicotine
(p. 3). Smoke is then drawn out of the vase through a separate tube in the stem through a hose. Some people fill the vase with fruit juice, milk, or alcohol, but I do not recommend it. Filling the vase with anything other than water can cause corrosion and mold in the stem, vase, or bowl, and will be a nightmare to clean (more on how to clean a hookah). 7. Charcoal Tray
The charcoal tray catches ash from the bowl, and is a great place to hang your hookah tongs. It is not crucial for the use of a hookah, but it is also a good place to put coals that are nearly burnt out, or coals that are already spent.