Buyer’s Guide: Trimming Machines

Explore your options before committing to a purchase

There may never be a winner in the debate of hand trimming versus machine trimming, or wet trimming versus dry trimming — but in the growing world of consumer cannabis, there seems to be room for all varieties.

Deciding between those options generally comes down to where producers want to be on a store’s shelves. Gourmet consumers who are willing to pay top dollar demand high-quality, hand-trimmed buds. But for the much larger percentage of everyday customers, the difference between hand trim and machine trim isn’t nearly as important, says Brad Zusman, owner of Canna-Daddy’s, one of the largest dispensaries in Portland, Oregon.

“There are several consumers in the market,” Zusman says. “The connoisseur wants top-shelf, nice and tight, no trim left over, hand trim. But the average consumer, they’re more interested in a deal or price break. They don’t care as much about hand trimmed or machine trimmed.”

The following article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of SunGrower & Greenhouse, © 2018 Marijuana Venture.

Trimming is one of the most important aspects of marijuana cultivation and production, but the time-consuming and labor-intensive nature of the process has led to the rise of professional trimming companies. Photo by Garrett Rudolph.

Machine trimming can save a significant amount of money compared to paying a crew of hand trimmers, especially for large operations. For small, craft growers, the cost of hand-trimming may be worth it because it adds value to the shelf price of cannabis. However, as with any consumer product, the number of premium products that can be successful are always outnumbered by middle-of-the-road and budget brands. And the costs rise significantly for growers who have to process much larger amounts of flower more quickly.

Jim Mullen, co-owner of The Herbery, a three-store Washington chain, says hand trimming is mostly a niche, top-shelf phenomenon. The trimming quality of machines has improved significantly over the years to where it’s considered “very close” to hand trimming, he says.

“Tight trimming, whether it’s hand or machine, that matters to people,” Mullen says. “But there’s also the value weed, where people understand it won’t be trimmed well, but they like it anyway because of the price.”

 

Wet vs.Dry

Trimming machines have evolved quite a bit since they first started appearing about 15 years ago.

The first generation of machines were all wet trimmers, which use a vacuum to pull the buds down into a tumbler that trims off the sugar leaf.

Trimpro, one of the first trimming machine companies, started out with a base unit that had a basic grate over a blade on a motor. The blade has flaps that pull buds toward the motor, and the blades clip off wet leaves when the buds are sucked onto the grate.

“It creates a soft downdraft to coax leaves down onto the grate slots,” says Laurent Saint-Jacques, a sales rep for the Canadian company. “Then the blades chop off excess leaves, and the trimmed buds stay on top of the grate.”

Trimpro now manufactures more than a dozen varieties of trimming machines, ranging from small units all the way up to large-scale industrial machines, in addition to the new Trimpro Bucker, which was designed to facilitate the removal of flowers from the stem. However, the base unit remains basically the same as the original, Saint-Jacques says.

“With a wet trimmer, the moisture content keeps the structure of the flower, so you’re not breaking down the context of it,” he says. “That makes the buds look very nice.”

One major advantage of wet trimmers is that they save space — especially for large farms that don’t have room to hang-dry their buds before processing them. With wet trimmers, farms can trim immediately after harvest.

All machine trimmers cause a bit of damage to the buds, and shake off more of the trichomes than hand trimming does. But for THC content, which is what most consumers care about, the loss is generally a fraction of a percent, Saint-Jacques says.

“I wouldn’t say it’s completely unaffected, but the loss is minimal.”

For overall quality, many machines come within about 85-90% of the quality of a hand trim, he adds.

Dry trimmers are a more recent innovation, and they’re considered a gentler method of removing sugar leaf from marijuana buds.

In dry trimming, growers hang-dry their plants before using the machine, which causes the sugar leaf to curl around the bud flower.

With dry trimmers, buds are dried to about 8-10% moisture, then the stems are removed and the buds are packed into a machine that lightly tumbles them, breaking the dried sugar leaf off and funneling it out using an air current.

An employee at Olympic Growers trims excess leaves from harvested flowers.

Some people claim that wet trimming changes the smell of the final product, giving it an odor of hay, rather than fine cannabis.

Tim Cullen, owner of Colorado Harvest Company, disagrees.

He hasn’t noticed a significant difference in smell between wet trimming and dry trimming. He says the scent is based on the flower itself and comes out more in the curing process.

“I think the scent is related more to the genetics,” he says. “Although wet buds in a machine do shake some trichomes loose. But the scent, most of that is in the bud itself.”

“If people have drying room capabilities to cut plants and hang them quickly, I don’t think there’s anybody who would continue with wet trimming,” says Leslie Peeples, Washington sales manager for GreenBroz.

Another advantage of dry trimmers is that the low moisture tends to reduce the threat of microbial contamination, which can ruin an entire harvest.

“In wet trim, if there’s bud mold, it gets mixed in with the wet material, and if you don’t clean the machine properly, that can contaminate subsequent batches,” Peeples says.

And with dry trimming, the excess trim material has a broader range of uses.

“That material, dry trim, can be bagged as shake and sold in trim bags, used for rolling or baking,” she says. “It can also go straight into joints or cones — or you can extract the kief and dry sift or press it for rosin.”

Wet trim is mostly used to make concentrates like oil or wax, but it’s generally too wet to be used for those other functions. Dry trim can be used for all of those purposes and also to make oil or wax, Peeples says.

All workers from ReLeaf Society, seen here hand-trimming marijuana buds at an Oregon farm, have prior industry experience and have passed all the necessary background checks and state requirements.

Renting vs. Buying

Baylee Sweet, co-owner of Harvest Helper, a trimmer rental and rent-to-own company in Olympia, Washington, says there’s plenty of demand for both styles of machine trimmer at her shop.

“Wet trimmers, those are still used by large outdoor farms, although there’s a bit more THC loss,” Sweet says. “But the dry trimmers, really that’s ideal. There’s less chance of contamination and better quality.”

For both types of trimmer, cleaning is a critical component, she says.

“One of the biggest threats to any farm is microbial contamination,” Sweet says. “An advantage of dry trimmers is that they’re easier to clean. Tumble-style wet trimmers, when those come back, they’re trashed — they need to be power-washed and cleaned with a sanitary solution. Dry trimmers like GreenBroz, they’re generally cleaned with an air compressor, a brush and a food-grade sanitation solution.”

The Maestro, a dry trimmer from Genuine Industries, actually has a built in cleaning system that can be used between flower batches at the push of a button.

“That way your next batch is protected from contamination by the previous batch,” says Rudi Wiedemann, the company’s chief operations officer. “And it also kills any of the smell from prior batches.”

The Maestro also has a feature that allows operators to sift kief in three different grades, he says.

The result of wet trimming is a denser bud, which makes leaves easier to remove, but overall, Sweet says she sees more advantages to dry trimmers.

The advantage of a service like Harvest Helper is that farmers can try out a variety of trimmers before deciding to spend several thousand dollars on a model of their own. Small rentals through Harvest Helper cost about $295 a day for a machine that processes up to four pounds an hour. Larger machines that can process 10 to 14 pounds an hour cost $495 a day. But if growers end up buying the machine, Sweet discounts that rental cost from the end price, she says.

Derek Rayhorn transports a harvested branch to the trimming area.

A Mixed Approach

Of course, farmers don’t have to select just one option.

Cullen says he’s developed a mixed method of trimming over the past several years that is ideal for his business.

“We actually landed on a hybrid method,” he says. “We do wet trimming by hand, then we do a pass through in a wet-trim machine, and then we dry them for a week, cure them for seven days and touch it up by hand,” Cullen says. “It really works pretty fast and we find we get good quality that way.”

Cullen says his farm uses machines manufactured by Twister, which is capable of trimming .

Zusman has also used a mixed approach when trimming products for his store.

“When we were growing last year, we would hand-trim the tops (colas) and then run the mid and lower grade through the trimmer,” Zusman says, adding that he prefers Trimpro models. “There are great machines out there now that make the buds look nice and fluffy.”

Trimming the top colas by hand while machine processing the rest also lets stores sell different grades of cannabis from each plant.

In an ideal world, it would be great to be able to have all hand-trimmed product, but in the end that’s just not feasible, Cullen adds.

“It really is just a balance of cost to quality of product,” he says. “If we could pay hand-trimmers the same as it costs to trim with a machine, we’d love to do that. But we process more than 100 pounds of marijuana a month, and that’s just not practical.”

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