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Shishapedia - A hookah setup guide

Updated on November 27, 2011

Shishapedia – A hookah setup guide

So you’ve just bought a brand new hookah pipe and a bunch of accessories; and now it’s time to bring some friends over and impress them with your new beautiful hookah pipe. The only issue is you don’t want them to all turn up and look at you laughing because you don’t know how to set it up! In this guide, you will learn exactly what each part of the hookah pipe does and what to do with it!

What do all the parts do?

There are several key parts to the Hookah pipe that you should familiarise yourself with as soon as you open the box. With any purchase you expect to find all of these parts in the box. If they don’t come be sure to complain! You can’t set-up a hookah pipe without them!

Rubber Grommet: keeps connecting parts air-tight.

Hose Tip: The Mouthpiece to inhale the smoke from.

Hose: connects to a second tube in the pipe which extends into the smoke chamber.

Rubber Hose Grommet: keeps connecting parts air-tight.

Rubber Base Grommet: keeps connecting parts air-tight.

Glass Base: smoke chamber that is partially filled with water.

Air Exchange Valve: outlet for stale smoke to escape the base when blowing into the hose.

Metal Stem (Shaft): connects the bowl to the base by a pipe that descends into the smoke chamber.

Charcoal Tray: Tray to catch fallen coals.

Bowl: contains the tobacco and coals on top to heat the tobacco.

There are two additional parts which are sometimes sold separately. If you are planning on using the hookah outside be sure to get a Metal Charcoal Windscreen. It will stop the wind blowing the coals away, or making them burn away quickly. Tongs are a must to have; if they don’t come in your Hookah package be sure to pick at least one pair up. You need the tongs to move and adjust the charcoals once lit. They are too hot to handle by hand.

Metal Charcoal Windscreen: Stops wind affecting coals.

Tongs: Used to move charcoals.

How Do I put them together?

A hookah pipe is a fairly complex mechanism for smoking. It was designed several hundred years ago at a time where scientists believed that if you smoke tobacco indirectly and filtered through water you would eradicate the majority of harmful particles. Today scientists know this not to be entirely accurate. There is a large agreement though that the way the hookah was designed does remove a lot of the toxins from smoking in comparison to cigarettes; but by no means does it remove all the risks.

A heated charcoal is placed on top of a pierced aluminium foil covering a bowl full of molasses. When one inhales through the hose, a pressure difference forces air past the coal; this then heats the tobacco which giving off smoke. The smoke gets pulled down the pipe and bubbles up through the water in the base. From there, the smoke is drawn through the hose and inhaled.

Passing through the water partially filters the tar from the tobacco and it cools the smoke down.

Below you find a step by step guide which will instruct you exactly how to put your new Hookah pipe together.

Double check you have all the necessary parts to make a shisha. You will need all the parts listed at the beginning of this article including the tongs. The wind cover is useful if you are smoking outside but not required. You will also need some shisha molasses, charcoal and foil.

Start by separating all the parts. Ensure you have everything. Separating the glass base from the stem is often a dangerous business as accidents can happen. The glass base is the part most likely to break. If it does break, hopefully you purchased a pipe with a uniformed size connection. Just measure the head of your old base and look for something online to replace it. You really don’t need to go buy a new hookah pipe just because you cracked the base!

Some hookahs have stems that screw into the base, others attach using a rubber grommet that hold it in place. If it is difficult to unscrew or pull apart (as new hookahs often are) this is only because they are designed to have a tight snug fit. You wouldn’t want to be smoking a shisha and the pipe pops out. An easy way to make pulling them apart and putting them together simpler is to use a bit of kitchen oil. If you pour a couple of drops of kitchen cooking oil on your fingers and rub them over the grommet it will make it more flexible. It will still fit snugly but be more malleable in your fingers. Oil will also help lubricate the ridges it if is a screw in base.

Once the glass base is separate you want to fill the base up with water. Please note that before you actually separate the pipe from the base take a mental note where the bottom of the pipe extends down to inside the base. When you fill the water in the base you want to fill it so the level of the water is around one to one and a half inches higher than the bottom of the pipe. This is so when you use a hookah pipe, the smoke will bubble through the water. If the water level is too high, it will be difficult to “pull” the hookah pipe as there will be a lot of water (friction) to pull against. If the water level is too low it will be too easy to pull but there will not be enough filtration. This will lead to a very harsh taste of coal.

Reattach your pipe stem into the base and ensure it fits tightly over the grommet. Then you should attach the hose into the hose outlet of the pipe. This should fit in with a grommet as well to ensure it is snug.

On the other side of the pipe from the hose outlet (for single hose hookahs) there will be a small circular outlet with a diameter of around 5mm (some are more lavishly and elaborately shaped) and a height of at least 10mm. This should be able to unscrew. Inside this screw cap you will find a small ball bearing (around 3mm spherically). This is basically an outlet valve. You will notice that there will be a little hole heading into the hookah pipe, and on the other side of the ball bearing at least one hole connecting to the “outside air”. If you blow out your shisha hose, the ball bearing will push a couple of millimetres away inside the little screw cap and allow the smoke inside the chamber to exit the hookah base. You do this is you have to much thick smoke inside the chamber. If you inhale in the pipe, the ball bearing will close up the hole, and stop air being sucked in. In essence this is a purge valve for hookahs. You want to double check that the ball bearing is inside and is free moving.

Place the rubber grommet on the top of the pipe and place the hookah tray on top the pipe. The hookah tray is important because if coals fall they will land of the tray instead of falling on the floor. This will stop your carpet or flooring getting burned! Ensure the grommet is sitting tightly on top of the pipe.

Find your hookah head and ensure it is clean. As your hookah is new, there is a chance there will be some loose bubbles of clay on the main head. If there are clean and cut them off with a sharp tool carefully. If they dislodge when you are smoking, it is possible they will fall down the pipe, into the base and if small enough will be pulled into the hose directly into your mouth. The last thing you want is bits of clay inside your mouth.

Carefully wash the clay head (some heads are different materials, but the same method applies except for all head (excluding Funnel Heads)) and then dry off all the water using kitchen towel. Find your chosen molasses (weather tobacco, or tobacco free) and open the box. Ensure the product is in date. If it is out of date and recently purchased complain. If open please leave in a cool dry place, not the fridge, that’s for food, but a cupboard in a cold room should be good. Open the packet of shisha molasses and run your fingers through it. Depending on the brand it might be soft or hard, dry or wet, and available in a variety of colours.

You want to use your fingers and lift a few small clumps of the molasses. Use your fingers to break up the molasses into many loose strings; so that air can flow through it easily. If you find any very hard clumps please remove them. They are not the best thing to be smoking. They will make your shisha very harsh and taste very metallic. You want to fill the head loosely with the soft clumps of molasses you have broken up.

Do not put too much molasses into the head, as it should be a very light and airy filling. The heat has to be able to easily penetrate all layers. Do not overfill it vertically either. Ensure that no molasses are higher than the edge of the bowl. Using too much will make the flavours burn quicker and leave a more harsh burning taste in the smoke. The more molasses you use, the more often you have to spend money replacing them, but on the hand don’t use them over sparingly.

When you have prepared the head, use your little finger and make a hole down the centre. Try to create a central canal of around 5mm down the middle. This will really help with the air flow.

Now you want to cut a piece of foil and place it over the head. Using your hand push the foil down over the head and wrap the edges around so it will stay in place. Turn the head over and blow through it. This should make the foil slightly balloon.

Many people suggest using two layers of foil instead of one, but it all depends on how much smoke you like. If you like thicker smoke you tend to put on more charcoal (two pieces or quick light coals instead of one) which mean the flavours will burn quicker. If you are planning on adding extra coal, an extra layer of foil will slow down that increased burning rate. You will affix the second layer of foil in the same fashion.

Next you want to steady the head in one hand and with the other get a sharp pointer. Something like a needle works perfectly. You want to make several holes through the foil so the heat can travel through. If you are using a pin sized object you want to create around fifteen to twenty holes per square centimetre. Yes that’s a lot of holes, but it will make all the difference when you are enjoying a smooth shisha. Alternatively you can always make bigger holes (e.g. with a ball point pen) but you then need to substantially reduce the number! Only one or two per centimetre squared will do the job.

If you are not happy you can take the foil off and try again with a new piece. When done turn the head over and shake well and blow through. This will insure that air can travel freely through the head and ensure the foil is not loose.

Place the head onto the grommet atop the pipe and turn slowly as you push down to tighten. The head should soon fit very snugly and not shake or tilt to the side.

Double check all attaching parts of your hookah and make sure they all connect tightly. Ensure all grommets are tight and try to identify any problems.

Inhale through the hose and make sure it is fairly easy to suck. Of course no smoke will generate, but you will be able to figure out if it is too hard or too easy to inhale.

If it’s too hard it could be because the head is too tightly packed and there is not enough airflow, or there is too much water in the base.

If it is too easy it will because the head is too lightly packed or there is not enough water in the base.

If you get no bubbles in the base, try placing your hand on top of the head. When inhaling you should feel your hand being pulled down due to the suction. If this doesn’t happen it is likely you have an air leak. If you have an air leak try to identify where by checking part by part. You can usually solve this by tightening the part that is loose, or if there is a hole in the hose you can cover with tape.

You want to safely light some coals now, weather quick lights or proper charcoals be sure to light safely.

If you use quick light coals you should hold the charcoal at arms length, and use a lighter to ignite the piece of coal. After a few seconds the piece of coal will start to spark. This is because these coals are covered with an ignition film that helps the coal burn quickly. As soon as it starts to spark place the coal in the try atop the hookah. Do not place it on the head yet. If you are lighting two pieces light the other now.

If you are using proper charcoal these take time to heat, so be prepared for a wait. Using a lighter will be a waste of money, so I suggest using the gas on your gas hob, or barbeque easy lights to start these.

Only once the charcoals or quick light coals are bright red place them atop the foil of the head.

The shisha molasses will now start to generate smoke and will be ready to smoke in a matter of minutes.

Smoke responsibly and only used shisha molasses inside a hookah pipe!


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