"I just got my first 'bong' ever from you guys, and was surprised to find that there is no Instruction Sheet or Owner's Manual... I'm just a 'regular old person' and have smoked but never used a 'bong' before. But I think there’s a little more to it than: 'put cannabis in here; pour water in here – lots of water to fill up both chambers; put a flame here; put your mouth here; now suck! Please help?"
The following is specific to a 'two chamber' bong like that which was ordered in this particular case (shown below), but applies quite simply to other bongs including those with MORE than one chamber and those with the much more 'standard' single chamber setup.
Hi! I guess it's ALMOST as simple as your list - not MUCH more to it truly, but here goes:
First and foremost, don't over-think things too much - bongs are really very simple and I think the most important thing is that you imagine it basically being and working very much the same as a 'dry pipe' - like grandpa's traditional tobacco pipe, that kind of idea - the only difference really being the material(s) that your bong is made of and that a bong is designed to allow water to be in between your herb and your mouth - there to filter/cool your smoke before it gets into you. So, like a 'dry pipe', there is a bowl where you put your herb, and there is a 'mouthpiece' where you put your face (the rest in between being 'additional' and less crucial to your smoking through your bong than the crucial basic parts, bowl and mouthpiece).
In many bong designs you're more putting your mouth 'in' or 'on' the mouthpiece and making a solid air-tight seal between your mouth and it by pressing your lips or even the skin around your lips to the mouthpiece rather than putting the mouthpiece actually IN your mouth like with a traditional tobacco pipe. Very similar functioning but a little different perhaps (there are also many bongs / water-pipes / 'bubblers' that have a more 'traditional' mouthpiece design where you would more put it in your lips / mouth). The other aspect to grasp and keep in mind similar to a traditional pipe is that you have to pull your lighter's flame INTO the herb that's packed in your bowl, to light the herb - once you get it started you don't need to keep the lighter running as the action of pulling air into and through the herb, and the flammability of the herb itself, will generally keep it 'lit' - you can re-light it as needed and/or when you start another 'hit' and/or bowl-full.
So before we get going, the first thing you might want to do is : it can't ever hurt to give the whole thing a little rinse-out just for dust, etc...
But even before that, first please note that there are usually two SEPARATE pieces that fit together to make your complete bong / water filtering smoking apparatus (they may have been delivered to you wrapped up separately to keep them individually safe during shipping) - there is the 'bowl' in which your herb ends up going, and then the main body of your bong. Keep the bowl aside to start, it'll only get in the way while filling up the bong with water and it is quite easy to accidentally break your bowl if you're not careful and comfortable with how it and the bong body work together for sure. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone turn a bong sideways or even upside-down, forgetting or not knowing that there is a separate 'bowl' piece that will fall out of its 'joint' and break quite easily if you give it a chance to.
You'll notice that the bong you purchased has two 'chambers' - an upper chamber with the '8-arm tree perc' and the bottom chamber with the simpler 'showerhead percolator'... you're going to want to put water in both chambers - you might start with the lower one, pouring a bit of (cold) water in through the 'joint' (this is where the bowl fits later). You will want to balance the following factors regarding water levels: The less water you have the easier it is to inhale through your smoke through the bong as less water provides less 'resistance' for you to have to pull through about half-fill that bottom chamber. The MORE water you have, the more 'filtration' / cooling you'll experience as the smoke will have to travel through that increased amount of water before getting into you. Also, the more water you have, the longer the water will remain cold (if you choose to use cold water of course) and the longer the water will remain clean, having a lower smoke & bits of herb / ash-to-water ratio. More water may also help keep your bong, and its 'percolators' / 'diffusers' cleaner and make your cleaning job less difficult and less necessarily frequent (and time consuming). So you may actually want to start your water level for this testing phase for each of your chambers at just above the part of the 'percolator' where the air/smoke will come out - you need to cover the active part of each percolator so that air/smoke will travel through the water. With a little experimentation you'll soon easily understand what we mean here (about percolator parts, etc.).
It is wise for you to experiment and endeavor to figure out what water levels you like best with the bong clean and before packing and inserting the bowl, in the two chambers and getting an idea of how the two chambers work (when sitting straight vertically on a table, and tilted back a little which might be a little more comfortable if you're sitting back in a chair holding the bong instead of hitting it while it sits vertically for example.
Once you've filled that bottom chamber to roughly where you think you want to try it at, you can fill the top one (likely a good bit less) - through the top 'mouthpiece' opening (where your 'put your mouth here' will happen shortly :)) - I'd guess up to around a quarter-full measuring from top to bottom of that upper chamber - to a level of maybe around half-way up the 'arms' of the 'tree perc'
Having put water in both chambers, without the bowl or herb involved yet, do some 'dry run' inhalation of just air through the bong to see how the bubbling function works see how things work with a little tilt versus straight up-and-down, etc. - get comfortable with inhaling through it and how the percolation / bubbling functions and fine-tune the levels of water to your heart's content.
With a better idea of where you want your water levels, and how the two chambers function WITHOUT a bowl attached, pop the bowl in its joint and have a pull or two WITH the bowl in, to get an idea of any difference in function and how hard you want to pull while avoiding any water getting into your mouth, etc., - again with the bong straight up-and-down sitting on your table and with it tilted a little like you're chilling back in your lazy-boy :)
Lastly before putting herb in it, get an idea of how it feels to be inhaling through the bong, with your desired water levels, with the bowl in the joint and WHILE inhaling pull the bowl up and out (holding it firmly so as to not risk dropping it of course) - this is the action you might use to finish a hit, to 'clear' remaining smoke out of the bong chambers when you are smoking through it, so you might as well see how the transition between having the bowl in its joint and then having it pulled out of its joint feels, and avoiding water being pulled into your mouth when that transition happens (you might still want to adjust water levels once you've gone through all this 'dry-run' experimentation as you continue to figure out what water levels you feel make the most sense for your bong and preferred technique and strength-of-pull and orientation of the bong, etc.
Alrighty, now put the bowl in its joint, and pack a little herb into the bowl - depending on how small the little hole at the bottom of the bowl is and how finely ground and how dry your herb is, you might want to drop a tiny 'nuglet' into the bottom of the bowl to act kind-of as a 'screen' before packing the rest of your desired amount of herb into the bowl. Start with a small amount... smaller fresher hits are always nice, you may or may not prefer them over over-packing your bowl and hitting it a whole bunch of times before it's done.
Bowl packed and in its joint, now basically you just smoke it like you would any pipe - the only difference being there's water in the middle between the pipe's mouthpiece and bowl. So you start inhaling and your inhale can pull the flame of your lighter into the bowl and herb to light it, like it would with a 'dry pipe'.
Again the finishing touch of any hit can be to lift the bowl out of its joint (carefully) to 'clear' the remaining smoke out of the bong without more entering it (OR you can finish the hit by smoking it til it's done, removing that need to 'clear' anything)...
There are two options, depending on preference and consistency of your bud etc., for emptying the bowl... you can pull until the herb all burns up and pulls into the bong, but better is usually to not pull the ashes into your bong water, instead keeping them in the bowl, lifting out the bowl, turning it upside-down and using a 'poker' of some kind (we sell metal ones but any skewer / toothpick type thing will surely do) to poke the herb out into an ashtray (DON'T 'tap' your glass bowl on a hard surface to try to knock the ashes out! Glass is quite breakable, in case you were unaware ;))
Generally you'll want to empty and rinse the bong between uses - leaving water in it can get gross and dirty and leave calcium rings and the like, and it's nice to start fresh each 'session' with nice cold clean water.
Cleaning will likely involve something like 99% isopropyl alcohol, pipe cleaners and/or paper towel, maybe a brush to get into the bong chambers somewhat, and/or abrasive additives like sea-salt and/or soaking and/or applying heat to parts like the bowl (using hot water or a lighter most often for me).
There are also many VERY helpful gadgets / tools for bong cleaning, including 'cleaning plugs' that plug the openings in your piece so that you can fill it more, let it soak, shake, etc., and other great items like magnetic scrubbing pads to let you scrub the inside of your bong from the outside of it! Check out the cleaning section on this torontohemp.com website of course... and the list of excellent bong accessories goes on and on - activated charcoal filters to remove all smell from your exhale.. 'Tap Tray' ash trays made of softer material like silicone on which you actually CAN safely 'tap' your bowl, lighter holders of various kinds, among so much more.
HOPEFULLY that helps if even just a little!! To be honest I think I feel a little envious - you should have a good fun time with this fresh new experience, with experimenting and figuring out the function and your preferred setup, etc. of your new toy (especially once you get to the 'put herb in the bowl' part of it!) Enjoy! :)