How to Set Up A Hookah: A Guide for Beginners
by Aaron Cadena on Aug 10, 2022
Hookah smoking is a great social pastime that has been used for conversations, get togethers, and as tradition for almost 400 years. The origins of hookah are thought to be traced back to Northwestern India, near the border of Pakistan, and other parts of the Middle East and Turkey. There are also parts of Africa and Asia that also partake in hookah smoking. You might also hear hookah tobacco referred to as a shisha! Whether you call it a shisha or hookah tobacco, there's one thing you should know - it takes time to learn how to properly set up hookah.
That's because there are lots of physics involved in getting a hookah pull that is just right. Overpacking your bowl, too many coals (yes, hookahs use hot coals), or even having the wrong hose can all make your hookah smoking experience negative and uncomfortable. Fortunately, we're here to help teach you how to set up a hookah for you and your friends. Our hookah setup can help you get a pull that's just right, get the right amount of nicotine, and improve the flavor of your hookah.
Below is our comprehensive article on hookah for beginners. We'll teach you the basics of a hookah set up, what tools you'll need, and how to enjoy this past time to start on your journey towards relaxation and one of the best buzzes you'll ever feel
How to Set Up Hookah With Right Materials
For starters, it's important to know what tools you'll need to set up your hookah. If you're wondering how to put a hookah together, below are the essentials you'll need to get started. We'll go over these materials in more detail below, but to get you started and to cover the basics, you will need the following. After you learn how these tools come together, it's easy to learn how to set up a hookah for the best and longest smoking session.
To set up a hookah for beginners, the materials you will need include:
- A hookah base
- A hookah bowl
- A hookah tray
- Metal tongs (make sure they're metal and can withstand the heat of coals, no silicone!)
- Your choice of flavored hookah tobacco (we recommend Tangiers)
- Hookah hose
- A coal burner or somewhere to heat up your coals (as a last option, use a blow torch)
- Heat management Device (Optional)
The Hookah Base and Water
The hookah base comes in a variety of designs, and in a variety of heights. The most important thing to note is that it is designed to hold water. Some hookah bases are made with heating design in mind, so they can distribute heat more evenly across your hookah, helping to produce a better pull. All bases have a basin at the bottom where you will fill it with water.
If you're a starter in smoking hookah, we recommend using only water. Some daredevils out there will use alcohol, but this is highly unrecommended. Some people are also known to put milk in hookah, or even mix a little bit of half and half or heavy cream into their water.
Mixing milk or cream into the water is thought to produce a creamier consistency, and it's not as bad as you might think! However, we recommend starting off with pure or distilled water beforehand. If you have to use tap water, don't worry, this is also safe so long as you use cold water. Hot water has a tendency to have corroded parts due to boilers, so it's best to start off with cold tap water. You can even add ice to the base for an added coolness to your smoke.
This added cooling effect on your hookah smoke can help minimize the risks of a harsh pull.
The Hookah Stem and Connection to the Hookah Base
The hookah stem connects the hookah base directly to your hookah bowl, and also connects the hose to your bowl. The main thing to note about the hookah stem is to make sure there's no cracks in it, and make sure it is airtight. There are other parts in between your stem and base, including the:
- Hose connector, which is a part of your hookah that connects the hose to your base
- The release valve, which attaches from the stem to the bowl
- The stem heart, which holds the hose and also connects to the base
- The downstem, which is the part of the stem that is submerged in water
- An optional diffuser, which submerges into the water and helps quiet down the sound of your pulls
Fortunately, you won't have to mess with many of these items. Most of the time, you'll only need to worry about taking apart the stem from the base, which is universal for most hookahs. You will also need to clean your hose connector from time to time, and use this to connect your hose to the base.
Coal Tray and Tongs
In between the hookah base and stem and underneath the hookah bowl will be the coal tray. This coal tray is designed to catch ash and support coals, which will be used to burn the tobacco. The smoke from the burning tobacco will then lead down to the base, where you will then collect the smoke and puff it out.
The tongs will sit on top of the tray, and are usually shorter than traditional tongs. However, if you're in a pinch, you can use longer tongs if necessary as long as they're made of metal.
It's important to get your coals from a certified hookah shop or coals made specifically for tobacco burnings. Some options for coals below include:
- Coconut coals
- Quick light coals (which are easy to heat up but do not last long)
- Crescent coals which are good for lotus heads (See below)
- Flat coals made for ceramic and aluminum foil setups
- Cube coals which are standard in most hookah bars and come in packs of 84
These coals will need to be heated up using an electric burner, on your stove, or by a blow torch lighter. We recommend purchasing an electric burner made for lighting up coals, as this can help prevent damage to your stove.
The Hookah Bowl
Next in your hookah setup is the hookah bowl. This is the star of the show, and is the part of the hookah that is packed with tobacco. The hookah bowl will usually come with your hookah set. However, some stores might sell these separately. Make sure that your hookah bowl fits snuggly on top of your stem. If you find that your connection is loose, you can shop for grommets, which are small silicone, heat-proof parts that create an air-tight seal for a perfect smoking session.
The traditional hookah bowl is ceramic and heat proof, and will be covered with a piece of foil that has tiny holes placed. However, if you opt to buy a heat management device, you won't need to purchase foil or a ceramic bowl, and can instead use this device to hold your coals. Speaking of which....
The Hookah Heat Management Device (or HMD)
While some hookah set up for beginners might use only a ceramic bowl with foil, you can also use a heat management device, known as an HMD, to store your coals. These HMD's are designed to hold heat better, helping to prevent your tobacco from burning too quickly. The better the HMD, the slower your tobacco will burn and the longer your smoking session will last. Some popular heat management devices include:
- Flavor Savors
- Kaloud Lotus
- Apple on Top
- Gemini hookah bowl
All of these HMDs will support coals placed on top, and will then protect your tobacco from burning too soon.
Hookah Tobacco / Shisha
There are many brands of tobacco on the market, which will vary in mostly flavor and composition. Some very traditional hookah bars will cut up tobacco and mix it directly into molasses. However, you can purchase pre-packaged tobacco in a canister that can then be placed into your hookah bowl at home.
Tobacco flavors can range from minty, to fruity, and even stronger nicotine. There are also brands of nicotine-free hookah. Unfortunately, the nicotine content on these tobaccos might not be readily apparent, so it's best to ask your local tobacco shop owner or another hookah smoker for help.
Hookah tobacco is usually sticky, and a reddish color. Colors can vary from bright red to orange, so protect your clothes or countertops from staining.
Finally there's the hookah hose. There's really nothing special about these hoses, but you might want to opt for a chiller hose. These types of hoses are equipped with a center compartment that holds ice for a smooth pull. Hookah hoses can also be disposable if you have guests coming over and don't want to share your hose. However, it's best to simply use tips to share your hose among friends.
How to Setup a Hookah
Now that you know what materials to use, it's incredibly simple to set up a hookah. To do so:
- Heat up your coals on your burner. Heat about 4 to 8 coals, which will be placed on top of your bowl later on.
- Pack your hookah bowl with your tobacco in a circular fashion, almost like loading a washing machine. There will be a hole in the middle, so pack your bowl so that it's not too tight. Your goal is to get air flow to go through the tobacco so that it will heat evenly.
- Take the stem off your base and fill with water (as discussed above). Water levels will depend on your specific hookah base. Typically 1-2 inches above the down stem.
- Put the stem back on, and then connect your hose.
- Place the bowl on top of the stem and make sure your coal tray is securely in place.
- Place your flavor savor or HMD on top of your bowl, or take a piece of aluminum foil and poke tiny holes using a needle evenly throughout the foil in a circular pattern.
- Place the coals on top of the foil or HMD. Place them in a circular pattern, most heads will have room for 3 to 4 coals.
- Wait around 1 to 2 minutes if using foil to let the coals heat your tobacco. If using an HMD, wait times will be around 5 to 10 minutes before the tobacco burns enough for you to smoke it.
- After your coals have burned your tobacco, put the hose to your lips and inhale. Do NOT inhale like you would a blunt or joint. Instead, let the smoke sit in your mouth and enjoy the flavors, then promptly blow it out.
- Replace the coals as they begin to dwindle away, removing spent ash in the process using your tongs and the replacement coals on the coal tray.
- Your hookah is done when the coals are done.
The best thing about hookah is that you can learn to refine your technique to help improve your specific pull, prevent a harshness from forming, and improve your overall smoking technique! Look at our line of products to shop the best tobacco and hookah products for your next smoking session.
Find Your First Hookah Setup at Hookah Vault
Whether you’re looking to setup a hookah for the first time or use your existing setup, Hookah Vault is your source for all things hookah! From full hookah setups and hookah bases to bows, coals, and more, Hookah Vault is your source for all things hookah!
Thank you so much for checking out out our beginner’s guide to setting up a hookah! If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you! Please drop us a message in the comments and our team will get back to you as soon as possible!