The hookahs that we know and love can be made from many materials, but the most common hookah stems are made from some kind of metal. At one time that was not the case and wood was actually the most common material. You can still find wooden hookahs from time to time and they have some unique properties that make smokers either love or hate them.
This is a picture of a hookah from Iran; a place where wooden hookah stems are still popular. Many smokers who love wooden hookahs swear that the wood absorbs the flavors of the smoke and will intensify the flavor over time. The idea is similar to the logic behind breaking in a meerschaum or brier pipe. The material absorbs and adds to the flavor of each session. Bear in mind, these smokers are usually smoking black style molasses and devoting a particular pipe to a certain family of flavors. Many people also have the same mindset with traditional leather hoses, but that’s a whole other post.
Conversely, those of us who smoke a thousand different flavors and want the cleanest and most pure flavor with each session would probably not enjoy a wooden hookah. A metal hookah can be thoroughly cleaned and stripped of all ghosted flavors in a way that a wooden hookah can never be cleaned. As noted, this can be both an advantage or a disadvantage.
It is believed that the wood will absorb some amount of the nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals in the smoke. I really can’t comment on this. I wish that I could shed a little light on this subject, but I’m really no help. I hope to find an answer for you in time, but there are no studies on this at all and I don’t have the means to study this myself.
One of the biggest disadvantages to wooden hookah stems is that wood eventually rots. If you leave a wooden hookah stem sitting in water it is going to get water logged and become a perfect breeding ground for nastiness and rot. For this reason, many of the traditional wooden hookahs are built with removable down stems that can be replaced so you don’t have to replace the entire stem. Even some older style brass stems are made to use these replaceable, wooden down stems to offer the advantages of enhanced flavor without the extra care needed with a stem made almost entirely out of wood.
Before I let you folks go, I want to point out that not every hookah that has a wooden stem has wood exposed to the smoke. The Regal hookah is a good example. The stem is made from turned wood, but it has a steel pipe running the entire length of the stem. This means that the wood is only acting as an aesthetic accent and won’t influence the smoke in any way. Just wanted to further help you make informed purchases. That’s why I am here.