Tuesday May 26, 2020

By Michael Walters


Commercial cannabis is now welcome in many states throughout the US, giving consumers countless options regarding the type of cannabis products they can acquire. And though concentrates and edibles are certainly growing in popularity, good ol’ cannabis flower is still the top choice among consumers everywhere. Whether the flavor, convenience, or nostalgia, people still want bud, and they want it to be as pretty – and potent – as possible.

Of course, there’s more to high-quality cannabis than growing it and bagging it. Between cultivation and curing, the buds must be trimmed to remove unnecessary (and harsh) leaves and stems from the product. There are two methods to trim your marijuana – trimming by hand and using machine trimmers – both with advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation. Today, we’ll discuss the difference between hand trimming and machine trimming cannabis flower and outline steps you can take to discover how the buds you purchase are trimmed.

Hand Trimming Cannabis

Hand trimming is the most traditional form of cannabis trimming. It became especially popular in the early 2000s as people started shying away from “brick-packed” (i.e., illegally imported) cannabis in favor of more potent, flavorful buds. Trimming sugar leaves and excess stems off of buds not only created more aesthetically-appealing buds but also reduced the harsh smoking sensation that comes with smoking chlorophyll. This practice helped set premium cannabis strains apart from the rest of the, well, schwag.

Hand trimming cannabis continues to be a popular practice among both private and commercial grows. That’s because hand trimming cannabis results in a more thorough trim, more attractive (and unique) buds, and a higher potency because of both the reduced fan leaf leaves and careful handling of trichome-covered buds.

Example of someone hand trimming cannabis flower.

Additionally, hand-trimming has a low start-up cost. For example, small-scale grow ops need only a few dedicated hands (and maybe a binge-worthy Netflix show) to get the job done quickly and efficiently. Whether a small group of employees or just some close, personal friends, hand trimming is relatively cost-efficient provided that harvests are not too large. When it comes to quality, hand trimming beats automated machine trimming, too. Due to its nature, hand-trimmed cannabis is also carefully checked for quality by real people with an eye for quality bud. Trimmers can flag worrisome buds like those that contain mold or pests and can remove and dispose of them properly.

Finally, commercial hand trimming provides countless jobs in the cannabis industry. Trimming jobs are an entry-level position that requires little to no training for around $12/hour or more. Furthermore, trimming positions can open the door to more advanced, higher-paying jobs in the cannabis industry through networking and industry submersion.

Drawbacks of Hand Trimming

Hand trimming is not perfect. The job is tedious and time-consuming and can take a major toll on the health of trimmers if they arch their backs over their trimming trays for 8+ hours each day. Furthermore, the time it takes to produce beautifully trimmed buds can cost commercial facilities both in labor and in downtime before the product can go to market. Because it is so laborious, hand trimming is usually reserved for premium cannabis strains and/or boutique dispensaries.

Machine Trimming Cannabis

Machine trimming offers an easy alternative to hand trimming, which is especially valuable for larger commercial grows and those that produce lesser quality buds. Though the machines themselves can be quite pricey, after subtracting labor costs and processing times, machine trimmers are actually quite affordable.

Trichomes may be lost during the machine trimming process.

Machines trim cannabis by placing them in specialized rotating bins that shave off excess leaves and shape buds into standard football shapes. Trim collects in secondary bins which can then be used to make concentrates or edibles. However, because machine trimmers agitate the buds to smooth their appearance, potent trichomes can be lost in the process. Trichomes are either collected in the trim bin or lost to blades and other machine parts, which means a loss in potency of the final product.

Machine trimmers also offer more consistent bud shapes and sizes and do so in a much more sanitary environment than hand trimming operations. Machines are cleaned and sanitized regularly as compared to human trimmers who, despite washing hands, may come to work with a case of the sniffles (or worse) which can be hard to regulate. Those with severe medical conditions that make contamination a concern may fair better with machine-trimmed cannabis.

How to Know if Bud is Hand Trimmed

You can often tell the difference between hand and machine trimmed buds by their appearance. For example, hand-trimmed buds boast unique shapes and structures, whereas machine trimmed buds all look pretty standard and conical. Hand trimmed buds may also contain fewer sugar leaves and more trichomes.

Hand-trimmed buds are often regarded as higher quality and placed on the top shelf with higher price tags (though this is not necessarily a constant).

But perhaps the best way to determine if cannabis is hand-trimmed or machine trimmed is simply to ask. Most budtenders are familiar enough with their products to know if they cultivate in-house (in which case, they will know many basics about their cultivation practice like which nutrients they use and what their trimming process is). If they outsource, especially to a large cultivation facility, they likely sell machine trimmed cannabis.

The long and short of hand-trimming is that is it a major selling point for most dispensaries. If they sell hand-trimmed bud, everyone in the dispensary knows it. Sure, the price may be a bit higher (you help offset the labor cost with the pricey purchase, after all), but the care put into preserving the bud – and its potency – is well worth it for those who seek premium, high-quality cannabis flower. Those who prefer cheaper products, however, will likely find them in machine trimmed cannabis.

How do you feel about hand versus machine trimming? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Michael Walters Michael Walters

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a degree in Writing and Rhetoric, Michael started his journey in the cannabis industry managing content, communications, and technical writing for one of Colorado's largest dispensary chains. In 2016, Michael pivoted to the ancillary sector to become PotGuide's Content Manager and was responsible for overseeing all of PotGuide’s editorial endeavors and content marketing strategies. Now, Michael is PotGuide's Director of Content & Marketing, focusing his efforts toward new educational content and exciting media endeavors.

With a life-long passion for cannabis knowledge and education, Michael devoted himself to becoming a subject matter expert on marijuana at an early age. Now, Michael has worked in the marijuana industry for over four years helping break down negative stigma and promoting safe cannabis practices. An avid consumer himself, Michael has worked tirelessly to improve content marketing strategies for cannabis businesses and is devoted to creating meaningful content that is useful to a wide variety of marijuana consumers. Follow Michael on LinkedIn and Instagram for updates and insights.

Related Articles