Almost all hookahs have four key components in common - the bowl, the stem or pipe, the vase, and the hose. While other hookah parts and accessories are available, and are often used to complement and enhance the smoking experience, these four comprise the basic elements of hookah design.
The bowl, usually made of clay, sits at the top of the hookah. It is designed to hold the shisha tobacco and charcoal. Size, shape and design will vary, but all will have at least one, but more frequently five, holes in the bottom to allow smoke to travel down the stem.
The stem or pipe is the heart of the hookah. It connects the bowl to the vase, channeling the smoke down and into the water. Typically made of brass, stainless steel, or sometimes tin, the pipe has a socket to which the hose is attached, and a release valve to void stale smoke from the vase.
The bottom of the hookah is the vase. Designed to hold the water through which the smoke passes before bubbling back to the surface, vases are made of glass and come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Sometimes simply presented, vases can often be intricately and heavily decorated, lending an air of exoticism to the hookah experience.
Finally, the hose is the piece which enables the user to inhale the hookah's smoke. Generally designed of a flexible material with an inner coil, attached to the hookah on one end and a mouthpiece on the other, hoses may be washable or nonwashable. A hose with a metallic coil is nonwashable. Exposing the coil to water will cause it to rust. The user will be exposed to this rust and inhale some of it with the next use of the hookah. Washable hoses help to keep the smoke fresher tasting by reducing build up inside the hose, but also tend to be more delicate and fall apart from repeated exposure to water. As with the stem, the wider the diameter of the hose, the easier it will be to pull smoke through. Hoses come in a bewildering array of colors and styles, with a level of design that is perhaps best described as exuberant.
Beyond these four components, there is one other part that is very frequently, although not universally, included as part of the core construction, namely the tray. Sitting on the stem just below the bowl, the tray is designed to catch falling ash from the burning coals. It is also a convenient platform upon which to place the tongs.
There are also quite a few accessories that are available to the hookah user. In addition to the aforementioned tongs, there are bases to place under the hookah to protect it and the table upon which it rests, lighters for quick lighting charcoal, portable electric heating elements for igniting natural coals, charcoal carriers, and windscreens to help control the burn rate of charcoal, to name a few.
It is reassuring to note that hookahs can be disassembled, making it easy to replace parts that have broken or worn out through repeated use.