The smooth alluring aroma of fresh incense encompasses you. The light shining off the smooth glass puts a gleam in your eye. Is that the one over there? Leaning closer to the case, as if being drawn in by gravitational force, hopes are confirmed. Confidently striding out of the head shop with a conspicuous padded case and a little extra spring in your step, a guilty thought gives momentary pause. “Should I have spent my school loan check on a ridiculously overpriced luxury item?” You barely give it a second thought. After all, that money was meant for your higher education, right?

For those of us paying for bongs with money meant for books, price plays a big roll in the process. Hopefully pennies have been saved because these beautiful works of art are not usually cheap. A large nicely worked glass-on-glass bong runs at least $100. That said, it’s important not to let a big price tag scare you away from buying the piece of your dreams. I’m not saying that just to be a good capitalist. Imagine how much more satisfying it feels to have splurged for a bong that is loved than saved on a bong that is just “pretty cool.”

Consider the dimensions of the bong. Match the chamber size to your lung size. Are you a smoke-two-joints-in-the-morning, smoke-two-joints-at-night, eight-year stoner veteran? Your black iron lungs are going to need something that packs a wallop to stone your THC-addled brain out just a little bit further. Obviously bigger bong volume means bigger smoke volume. Also, consider the ergonomics of the piece. The classic, straight, tube-style bongs will be knocked over easily due to a small base and a high center of gravity. Beaker bottoms (cone shaped) are most stable due to large base and low center of gravity. Hold the piece in your hand. Does it feel weighted right? You don’t want a piece that is awkward to pass or too big to fit in your lap. Those qualities are what get bongs dropped. Don’t forget to consider the functionality of any artwork on the piece. I’m sure that seven-inch dragon’s wing sticking off the base looked real cool right up until it hitched a ride on your friend’s sweatshirt, sending it plunging to the floor.

Next, examine the bowl and the downstem (the glass part sticking into the water). Bongs with expenditures that stick out too far are in danger of being knocked over. Thin or pointed pieces of glass that jut out are easily chipped off.

Now for the technical part. Glass-on-glass bongs use a system in which the downstem fits into a glass seating. A bowl with a finely-ground end fits into a grooved socket of the downstem. Glass-on-glass contact ensures thicker, fuller hits and makes the smoking experience more enjoyable all around. On the other hand, bongs that utilize rubber seals are usually safer because they are less likely to break when accidents happen. All it takes is one careless smoking buddy to hit the downstem in the wrong way and your bong could be broken forever. If fate always seems to fuck you over, then play it safe with a flexible seal.

There are all sorts of crazy ways to filter the smoke through more water. Percolators are found on the inside of the tube of the bong. It is a second glass chamber that holds water in the neck of the bong for double filtration. Ash catchers are bowls that have their own water chamber. They catch the ash before it can go into the large chamber. This is useful because any ash sucked through the bowl is trapped in this smaller, more easily cleaned chamber. The last option is a diffuser. The diffuser is a downstem with holes at the bottom that ensure more smoke comes into contact with the water.

Lastly, make sure your new bong has a little personality — as opposed to your standard factory blown, mass produced glass bongs that slap a name brand on the tube (I’m looking at you ROOR). Try opting for a new centerpiece with some grooving artwork.

Finally, give your bong lots of good loving. This means changing the water after every couple smoking sessions. Clean it with rubbing alcohol and salt when grimy goodness starts building up. Name your piece, and, most importantly, don’t let it get lonely. My bong and I hardly go more than a day without spending a little time catching up with each other.