Trimming 101

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So you want to be a Trimmer?

“Bud manicurist,” “cultivation technician,” “tree defoliation expert”… regardless of which euphemism you’d like to employ, Trimmers are an essential component of the modern cannabis industry. 

Since cannabis has become legal for medical or recreational sales in over 30 different states, the industry has become highly regulated. Whether medical or recreational herb, some things will always remain the same, but trimming is no longer the seasonal, regional activity it was prior to legalization.

Trimming has become a full-time, year-round job for thousands. This might be because, as experts seem to agree, there is no better way to prepare harvested cannabis for consumer consumption than with the human touch.

The Trimmer’s role is to remove the stems and outer leaves from the cannabis plant. This reveals the glorious nugget that will eventually be ground up and smoked, vaped, or otherwise consumed by some lucky individual.

Trimming is the most popular entry-level position in the weed business, so there are lots of talented Trimmers out there. The best and fastest can trim multiple pounds in a day, depending upon the product provided, while maintaining an acceptable quality level based on the client’s guidelines.  

Sure, there are machines that can “get ‘er done” faster, but with far less precision. Regardless of the type of machine, if you choose that route there will still be some touch-up required by a human in order to produce something that is ready for sale at a dispensary.

With so many growers producing quality flower, and so many shops competing to sell their bud, it has never been more important to have strong “bag appeal” to the buyer, be it wholesale or retail.

Boutique strains and consumer demand are driving the quality up while the price will eventually go down. Most reputable grows continue to employ professional, human Trimmers to process their product, including a staff of full-time employees or temp crews.

As with any job, there are certain “Dos” and “Don’ts” that should be observed, or “Best Practices.” This article covers several of these tips, tricks, and bits of advice on trimming cannabis, in an effort to educate newbies to the industry, as well as to air some grievances that veteran Trimmers often have.

Some of the ideas discussed here are, of course, debatable, since there are many different theories on the “best” way to trim. This is not an instruction manual on the best or fastest method, since that can be very subjective. Instead, the intent here is to bring to light topics that not everyone considers, as well as to reinforce the most obvious and important rules, even some unwritten ones.


trimming 101 stay safe compliantStay Safe; Stay Compliant.

First of all, safety and compliance are paramount. You’ve always heard the phrase “safety first,” and that should be your mantra, because it holds true here. Be mindful of hazardous situations, and do your best not to create any yourself. Feel free to ask for personal protective gear, such as a mask or respirator, if you have a strong sensitivity to pollen, dust, or have an allergic reaction to the oils in the plant. 

The next mantra you memorize should be “compliance, compliance, compliance.” As a responsible cannabis industry  worker, it is your duty to be aware of and comply with all state rules and regulations. Study and learn the laws for your locale. Not being informed on local laws can end up being very expensive.

For instance, you probably already know not to bring cannabis into a licensed facility, just like you shouldn’t toke up in the parking lot of a dispensary. Yes, people will probably still do it, but trust me from experience, it’s a great way to get fired. I personally lost my first trim job in Colorado by ignorantly packing an infused beverage with my lunch. Lesson learned, the hard way.

Don’t take anything with you.

I wish I didn’t have to mention this, but you should remember not to bring any product OUT of a licensed facility, whether it’s a nug that “accidentally” fell in your pocket or some trim stuck to your shoe. Remember, it’s not your weed. Despite the temptation to grab a bunch of buds out of the trim bin and turn your glove inside out, don’t do it. It’s the oldest trick in the book and trim managers know this. This is why many facilities collect used gloves upon exiting the trim area. Oh, and you’re always on camera, so there’s that. 

I once saw a Trimmer collect a pile of kief (the yellowish dust composed of trichomes that fell off the plant during processing) from his table and collect it in a glove, which he then pocketed. One place I used to work at actually allowed us to collect “finger hash” from our gloves, but, in retrospect, this is not at all compliant. Again, no matter what you might think, NO product should ever leave the area for any reason… especially in your pocket. 

Prepare to be humble.

Depending on the facility and their rules, you may be asked to wear medical scrubs, a hairnet, a face mask, or a beard guard in addition to gloves while handling product. Your hair might get messed up. You might look silly. But everyone has to follow the rules of their respective employer or find other work. My wife worked for one spot that made her take a shower before entering the Grow area. Dress accordingly to make it easier, and make sure to wear closed-toe shoes.

Respect the flower.

Whether working for a Grow as a full-time Trimmer or as a member of a temporary trim crew, you should always care for the flower you are processing, regardless of your perceptions. Keep it on the table, away from contamination (especially jars of isopropyl alcohol filled with scissors, because those can and will spill), and try not to create what are known as “floor buds.” The sinking feeling a Trimmer gets when they realize they just stepped on something solid, yet kind of spongy is the worst. 

Again, respect the plant. If you or your co-workers do drop some, pick it up immediately and ask your crew supervisor whether it should still be included in the buds or added to the trim pile that will eventually be sent for processing. The rule in many places is that if it touches the floor, it automatically becomes either hash or waste.

Respect your co-workers and their gear.

While most places provide snips and other supplies, true pros will invest in their own tools, so they have precision instruments to work with that they are familiar and comfortable with. If someone brings their own personal scissors, don’t touch them.

Also, respect everyone’s space. Trim rooms can become congested and short on elbow room, so be mindful of the area around you. Try not to bump, kick, or otherwise disrupt the people working around you. This is especially true when a Trimmer is “in the zone” with headphones on, as it can be very disruptive and irritating.

cannabis trimming

Keep your blades clean.

When trimming cannabis flower, dull blades will be much harder to use and slow you down. A clean cutting edge will result in better and faster performance. For best results, rotate multiple sets of scissors, cleaning them in-between uses by soaking them in a jar of isopropyl alcohol, or by scraping them with a razor blade.

Coconut oil is sometimes used for lubrication to prevent blades from getting sticky with resin, and a sharpening tool is also recommended for optimum lifespan. 

Watch for bad stuff.

Keep your eyes open for anomalies such as powdery mildew, Botrytis (bud rot), or Aspergillus (a type of dangerous fungi). Watch for pests, such as spider mites. If you are not sure of what to look for, do some research online for examples, or ask your supervisor if you have any suspicion that the product you are working on has a problem.

Don’t make comparisons.

A true professional will not discuss other places they’ve worked or make comparisons, favorable or not, to the current location. Measuring your own performance against others at the table is generally a bad idea as well, because there’s little to be gained. It’s not a competition. The person next to you may have much more or much less experience than you. They might be trimming a different strain or starting weight than you. While it’s tempting to try to keep up with one another, don’t sacrifice quality for speed. If you race through it, chances are the product will be returned to you so you can complete the job.

Protect your health.

Trimming cannabis can take a toll on your health, in terms of neck and back pain as well as the possibility of developing an RMD (Repetitive Motion Disorder) such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis. To help prevent these ailments, stretch regularly and take breaks. Try standing for a while while you work, rather than sitting all day. Focus on improving your posture to prevent back pain. Some have been known to use a back brace for support during long shifts, and there are even new, lightweight scissors with reduced resistance springs that make the job easier and faster.

Don’t get bored. Don’t waste time.

Most of the time you will be stationary for at least a couple hours at a time, so be prepared for this. You’ll probably be most productive if you have some upbeat music to help set the pace. Bring headphones or earbuds, and a music source such as a smartphone (or iPod, if you’re old school) with a full battery charge. Try to plan your playlist in advance, so you’re not spending time picking music while on the production floor. It’s unprofessional to spend time looking at your phone when you are working, whether it’s picking the next listening choice or just a quick text response to someone.
My personal pet peeve is having to hear one side of a telephone conversation. Unless it’s work-related, save it for the break.

There’s also a fine line between entertainment and distraction. Don’t think it’s OK to watch YouTube or Netflix when you need to have your vision focused on the task at hand. It’s too easy to get immersed in what you’re watching and lose momentum, or even accidentally cut yourself.

“Less lip, more snip.”

Some of the most successful Trimmers are the least social while they are working. It may not be true for everyone but, in general, the less the mouth is moving, the faster the scissors will go. If someone does engage in conversation with you but avoids eye contact, it is usually because they are very focused on their work. Don’t take it personally. Avoid “speaking with your hands” because that will also slow you down. The “bobblehead” is also discouraged… continually looking around at everyone and everything except the work that is in front of them. Focus on your goal, and you’ll accomplish it faster.

close-up of cannabis trimming

Finish your work.

Many people tend to trim the largest buds first, then leave the little tiny stuff for the end. Do not try to speed up the process by “squashing” the smaller buds to get around trimming them, and using the screen on their trim bin like a cheese grater. Don’t do this. Use the thumbnail rule: If the bud is smaller than your thumbnail or really airy (“larf” is the term applied to this type of plant material), don’t waste time trimming it.

However, many places are looking to get a certain percentage yield from a plant. If what you hand in is below that expectation, chances are it will be returned so you can pick through the tiny buds to pick up weight. Not fun.

Maintain a drama-free zone.

Keep your wits about you and your opinions to yourself. Use the same guidelines for discussions at the trim table that you might adhere to during a family gathering. Avoid topics such as politics and religion. If you have nothing nice to say…well, you know the rest. Everyone has rough days. Be as understanding as possible of your fellow humans so they may reciprocate when you are the one having “a day.”

Avoid mentioning your work on social media. Although it may be tempting to take a selfie with a giant bud you’ve just trimmed, do NOT post photos of your work without the express consent of your employer.

Know how you’re getting paid.

The majority of Trimmers are paid based on an hourly wage. Some places also add a performance incentive for those who rack up the highest numbers. There are a few remaining spots that pay strictly based on weight trimmed, which can work out very well for those with speed and experience. The most reputable companies not only pay on a regular basis but will give pay increases based on performance, availability, and loyalty. But I have worked for a few fly-by-night organizations where I had to virtually jump through hoops to get paid within a reasonable amount of time.

If you are working as a 1099 contractor, also remember to set aside a portion of your income for paying taxes as the employer will not withhold them for you. That is your responsibility, and you don’t want to get socked with a huge bill at tax time.

Look to the future. 

Trimming can be an excellent entry-level position in order to get involved in legal cannabis. Due to the turbulent nature of the industry, it’s also be a great skill to fall back on if you find yourself “between gigs”. Above all, maintain your personal integrity and professionalism at all times because you might find other opportunities presenting themselves to you that will allow you to advance your career.

Trimmers often become Trim Supervisors, Cultivation or Inventory Control Managers, or other higher level roles, depending upon the needs of the organization. Be patient but diligent in your climb up the cannabis ladder. The industry is continually evolving and expanding, so the skills you develop here may lead to other things.

 

Your thoughts.

Share your thoughts and trimming best practices with us… 

What’s the maximum amount you’ve trimmed in an eight-hour shift?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?

What tips, tricks, or advice for trimming cannabis would you give a novice to increase their speed? 

What did we miss?

Written by Andy Maroney

August 2020

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