Pros and Cons of Hand Trimming vs Machine Trimming

THE PRESS CLUB HAND TRIMMING VS MACHINE TRIMMING
THE PRESS CLUB TIPS AND TRICKS VIVIANE
Viviane Schute        

Cannabis enthusiast and student of the art of solventless extraction

 

Autumn is here, and outdoor growers are looking ahead to that magical time of year when nearly a year’s worth of hard work will finally pay off. Flowers are maturing, leaves are turning, and trichomes are swelling with medicine-rich resin that’s nearing peak ripeness. October is called Croptober for good reason, as the crop and chop is top of mind! 

Whether you have 3 plants or 300, planning and preparations are in order to ensure your cannabis makes it across the finish line in top condition. Part of that is determining when exactly the plants are ready for the harvest. Check out our article How To Harvest Cannabis for Peak Trichome Ripeness to make sure you time it just right. 

Once harvested, the flowers can be prepared as fresh frozen material for washing bubble hash, or hung to air dry in the traditional fashion. Fresh frozen cannabis can skip most of the trimming process, as the trichome-coated trim leaves can be washed with the buds for bubble hash. Learn more about fresh frozen in How To Prepare Fresh Frozen Cannabis. 

 

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With air drying, plants are chopped down, stripped of their fan leaves, and hung upside down to dry in a climate-controlled environment to ensure gradual and even moisture evaporation. What’s the best environment for hand drying cannabis? We’ve got you covered with more information here

So now your plants have hung to dry and they’re ready for the cure in mason jars. But before going into jars, the remaining trim leaves need to be removed, which represents one of the most laborious phases of the entire job as a cannabis farmer: trimming your harvest. There are two approaches to trimming dry flowers before the cure, and that’s by hand or with a machine. Let’s look at the pros and cons of both methods. 

Hand Trimming

Hand trimming is exactly what it sounds like, the manual task of clipping away trim leaves from the buds with a pair of scissors. There are brands like Fiskars that are designed with a spring action to open automatically after each snip, which actually does make a big difference in comfort after hours of trimming. This spring action does help with fatigue, although fatigue is certainly inevitable when spending many days working through a harvest. 

 

THE PRESS CLUB HAND TRIMMING VS MACHINE TRIMMING

Good scissors also have non-stick blade coating to help minimize time lost in stopping to clean the blades. However, trichomes will stick and eventually accumulate on the blaes no matter what, so plan on keeping ISO alcohol and clean towels or wipes nearby. Keeping the blades clean makes the process more efficient. You can also find trimming scissors with curved blades, which offer a huge advantage. 

To trim flowers by hand, hold the bud by the stem and rotate the flower around as you snip the trim leaves away. Some people prefer to take virtually all of the trim leaf away, using the scissor tips to poke slightly in between the calyxes of the flowers to cut the trim leaf close to its base. This makes for a very clean and manicured look.

Other growers don’t mind a more natural look, and take away the trim leaves just slightly above where they emerge from in between the calyxes. Your approach depends on personal preference and market demand. Often a more manicured look conveys a higher quality, although the base of the trim leaf that remains will still be covered in trichomes. In addition to appearance, trim leaves contain lots of chlorophyll which can negatively affect the flavor of the smoke. This is another factor to consider when gaging the precision of your trim job. 

Trimming by hand allows for careful handling of the flowers plus precision work that can produce top shelf visual appeal. With gentle handling of the buds, the least amount of trichomes fall to waste, which is an obvious benefit. 

Pros:

  • Best possible trichome preservation 
  • Greater amount of control regarding how much of the trim leaf is removed 
  • Most visually appealing

 Cons:

  • Time consuming
  • Can be physically fatiguing 

Machine Trimming

Machine trimming is the automated way to tackle the job of trimming your dried flowers. Normally only used for large-scale, commercial operations, machine trimmers can process a harvest quickly and efficiently. Some of the high end machines can trim up to 19 pounds of buds every hour! 

THE PRESS CLUB HAND TRIMMING VS MACHINE TRIMMING

Flowers are placed into a slotted tumbler which rotates when the machine is powered on. A series of blades just below the surface remove the trim leaves that poke through the slots as the flowers are jostled around. As the flowers tumble around, the trim leaves across the entire surface area are eventually removed. It doesn’t take much time, but it does have other costs. 

There’s not much precision involved, and any pieces of the flowers that protrude through the slots are cut by the blades, including pieces of calyx and pistils. Machine trimming amounts to shaving the flowers to a uniform level across the entire surface area. Not to mention, the jostling around that happens in the tumbler causes trichome loss from the flower. 

Machine trimming optimizes for production time and costs, but not for quality.

Pros:

  • Much faster than hand trimming
  • Saves on labor costs
Cons:
  • Damages trichomes
  • End product is not as visually appealing
  • Diminishes overall quality of the buds
  • Not as effective for buds that are already dried, best for wet trimming
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 Conclusion

Hand trimming is the go-to method for most home growers, but when you’re working with weight, machine trimming can save you a ton of time. That said, in the pursuit of top quality, machine trimmers don’t really have a place in the playbook. 

If your main concern is working through your harvest as quickly as possible, then machine trimmers might be for you. But if you want to protect and preserve the trichomes you worked so hard to farm, and showcase the buds with a detailed and aesthetically pleasing appeal, hand trimming is the way to go. At the end of the day, we’ll always advocate for hand trimming. However, we can still be friends if you decide that machine trimmers work best for your operation.


Thoughts? Let us know by joining our secret Facebook group. Hang out with a community of like-minded solventless heads like yourself. Ask our head extractor questions, share your latest press and learn from hobbyists and experts in the industry.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What kind of scissors do you need for hand-trimming cannabis?
Trimmers that are spring-loaded with anti-stick coating on the blades are ideal for cannabis. 

How does a machine trimmer work?
Dried cannabis flowers are placed inside a tumbler or over a metal grate with rotating blades turning just underneath. The trim leaves poke through the grate and the blades remove the leaves (plus any other parts of the flower) that poke through. 

What is better hand trimming or machine trimming?
Hand trimming is best for overall quality. Machine trimming is better for speed. 

Is machine trimming good for home use?
Machine trimming is generally best for commercial applications. For a few plants cultivated at home, hand trimming usually makes most sense. 

Should I buy a machine trimmer?
If your goal is working through many pounds of dried flowers in the shortest amount of time, and with as little labor costs as possible, then machine trimming makes sense (if you're willing to sacrifice quality). 

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