Austin glass blowers go full blown with largest water pipe

Jose Gonzalez

When creating glass pipes and other smoking devices, GRAV Labs usually aims for practicality. But they took the plunge to step out of their comfort zone when they forged Goliath, the world’s largest water pipe.

GRAV, a company founded in 2004 by David Daily, is an Austin-based facility that manufactures smoking appliances out of Pyrex glass. The company’s name is derived from its popular namesake product, the Gravitron, an all-glass gravity smoking device.

In 2014, GRAV was approached by the TV show Shipping Wars to make the world’s largest water pipe a reality and deliver it from Austin to Denver. Glassblowers like Stephan Peirce worked on the project at GRAV, taking dynamics like centrifugal forges into account.

Kate Csillagi, Chief of Sales at GRAV, is a former glassblower and said she respects Peirce’s ingenuity, especially since he took on such a large challenge.

“Stephan Peirce is a mad scientist and a glass genius,” Csillagi said. “He has broken a lot of unspoken records around glass, so he thought about doing the biggest (water pipe) for a long time.”

As a result of her own experience, Csillagi said she knew the complications that this project involved, like annealing, the complex process of heating glass.

“To stabilize the glass, you have to raise it to a certain temperature and then (bring it) back down so that the actual molecular structure of the glass is stable and won’t just crack on you,” Csillagi said.

Originally three giant pipes were made but only one survived the annealing at 11 feet tall. Maria Hansen, creative director at GRAV, said she named the giant water pipe Goliath and saw for herself that it wasn’t just meant for display. 

“We would go up to the first story roof, and then people would try and hit it from there, and some were successful — it actually did work,” Hansen said. “I thought it needed a vacuum to get the smoke up, but it turns out you just need strong lungs.”

Originally destined for Denver, Colorado, the facility where it was going to be held had a 9-foot ceiling– two feet too short for Goliath. So, the pipe was then sold off to a client in New Orleans for $6,000.

GRAV once collaborated with a shop in Austin called 420Science on building the tallest STAX pipe, a water pipe that stood at 16 feet tall. However, Csillagi said it doesn’t compare to making a solid glass piece that stands on its own like the Goliath.

In thirteen years, GRAV has innovated with products like the STAX pipe, which allows clients to mix and match components and customize their pipe to fit their needs. As an ancillary business, brand director Tanya Rosenzweig said GRAV doesn’t like to be exclusively associated with the marijuana industry as glass pipes serve various purposes. Rosenwzweig said GRAV aims to expand as a household brand and educate customers that recreational smoking is a normal thing.

“A lot of people, when I tell them what I do, they always have this chuckle,’ Rosenzweig said. “We’re all adults, and there are a lot of people out there that are users, so we wanna help shed away some of those stigmas.”

Though events like 4/20 draw a lot of attention, Hansen said she loves the niche clientele GRAV has attained because the product sells itself.

“I don’t have to push anything on anybody, “ Hansen said. “At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is supply (people) with an experience, whether it’s to have fun with friends or for comfort reasons.”