If you’re just tuning in to Romancing The Smoke, this is a blog following my journey to becoming a hookah know-it-all. If you’re also a beginner, or a pro who wants to offer some advice, then I hope you’ll follow along! Believe it or not, I have a lot to say about ball bearings. These tiny, unassuming little nuggets of metal are essential to the modern hookah, and it's important to know how they work! But first, Ball Bearing Fun Fact: Although roller bearings had been developed since ancient times, the first recorded patent on ball bearings was awarded to a Parisian bicycle mechanic in 1869. The bearings were then fitted to the winning bicycle in the world's first bicycle road race, Paris-Rouen!
Back to business. Take a look at your hookah stem, it more than likely has two arms sticking out of it. One is the hose port, and the other is the purge valve. The purge valve is an exit-only valve used to clear any smoke that may be trapped in the base of the hookah. The purge valve is engaged when the smoker blows air into the hose. This is typically done if the smoke becomes harsh or stale. Inside the purge valve is a ball bearing which lifts up when purging, and is pulled down to create a seal when drawing.
The ball bearing is not done yet! If you have a multi-hose hookah, you know that only one person can smoke from it at a time. The other hoses must be plugged by the other users in order to allow the smoker an effective draw - that is, unless you have the majestic auto-seal!
Auto-seal is a feature on many modern day water pipes, such as the Mya Saray hookah, which allows air to be drawn from the hose but does not let air back in, which means that you don’t need to plug the extra hoses with your finger when someone else wants to draw. Inside the hose port there will be a small ball bearing that works very similarly to the purge valve. There is always a screw or a plate above the bearing to prevent it from being sucked into the hose while still allowing airflow.
This is definitely a cool feature, but here are a few things to watch out for when using an auto-seal hookah hose port: 1. Over time the moisture can promote rust in cheaper bearings and can fuse it in place, making it impossible to smoke from. To prevent this, I suggest regularly cleaning the hose ports and the bearing (don't lose it!). For even greater prevention, try oiling the bearing slightly with olive oil or canola oil, or use a plastic hookah ball bearing. 2. Because the bearings are there to prevent air from getting into the hookah that means that you can’t purge (blow into) the hose either. This can be remedied by removing one of the bearings and having that hose port be the only one that can purge - but it needs to be plugged when not being used. There's your brief tutorial on ports, purges, and bearings! Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions, suggestions, or personal experiences. Also, here are some instructions if you want to adapt your single hose water pipe into a multi-hose hookah. Until next time, happy smoking! -Katie