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Trimming the old fashioned way

As many old-timers will testify, back in 'the day' trimming was above all a happy activity, one in which groups of family and friends would relax in a festive atmosphere while preparing the freshly gathered harvest for drying. A little music, a joint or two, just shooting the breeze... But since the stakes of the game were raised - I'm talking about the steady increase in scale of growing operations and the increased detection efforts of the upholders of the law - this bucolic picture has slowly changed.

It is not only the time-is-money principle that is responsible for this. The trimmer forms a indispensable link in the production of weed and hash, but at the same time he is also a huge security risk. Growers are completely at the mercy of loose-lipped trimmers, and the trimmers of course are fully aware of this. That's why you always see adverts in the (Dutch)

He reckons the trend is for growers to make decreasing use of an old-fashioned trimming team made up of friends and acquaintances. Frank reckons that: "Trimmers will always be a risk for growers, but if you only use one of them, then that risk remains limited. Many growers nowadays work together to spread their risk by sharing the costs of setting up a growing space. That they then work as in the old days - by setting a pair of this is an unnecessary precaution, since trimmers, despite the large profits that are being made, are often not paid too well, the inclination towards loyalty to the grower can be limited. The harvested plants are often packed in boxes for transport to the trimming location, especially by the larger operations, sometimes they are placed in buckets of water to prevent their premature drying out. For a space with 20 to 30 lamps the harvest can be processed by six trimmers working with scissors in two to three days. Usually one trimmer removes the largest leaves and cuts the stems into manageable lengths that can then be more easily manicured by the more experienced trimmers. Plants are usually trimmed while wet, since it can be harder to trim a neat bud with dried plants. At the end of the

Although trimmers are pretty low down in the cannabis hierarchy, they do have more power than you might assume at first glance.

trade press placed by trimmers offering their services the word 'discretion' so prominently displayed. Because when you're bringing in a harvest worth tens of thousands of Euros, the last thing you want is to bring into the tent as a trimmer is an incorrigible blabbermouth or a vengeful troublemaker. In order to minimise the risks involved, sometimes growers will go to the lengths of taking their trimmers to the site in a bus with the windows blacked-out - since what you don't know, you can't gossip about.

Trimmers often do their work in regular teams who stay together, on location, sometimes they work in mobile trimming rooms, such as old buses with no windows in them. There are also independent trimmers who work in a fixed location to which growers bring their raw product for processing. There are few 'incidents', as trust in one's fellow man tends to be a little lower among growers than among the general population.


Frank has been in the cannabis scene for years now, mostly as a grower and as a middleman. To earn a bit extra on the side he offers out his services as a trimmer. To help him he has acquired a trimming machine which he takes to his various work locations. "The time of the trimming scissors is over," states Frank. "With the trimming machine I can handle about 160 plants in three hours. If you want to reproduce that speed using traditional shears, you would need three or four trimmers working together. Then they all want something different to eat and drink: it all adds up to a load of hassle that you can do without."

housewives to trim the lot - is becoming decreasingly common. If you have two or three regular trimmers at your disposal who you can really trust, then these risks can be kept well in hand. The fewer people who know about your operation the better." Frank asks 100 Euros per hour, versus 5, 10 occasionally as high as 20 Euros for an individual trimmer using scissors. According to him, the trim machine is not only considerably faster than old-fashioned scissors, but it also allows for much more precise manicuring. The drawback is the noise the machine makes (thanks to the necessary vacuum cleaner suction), but that can be overcome by choosing a trimming room in which a bit of noise will not be noticed. Others choose to wear ear plugs, attach the vacuum suction to a long hose and put it in an separate room, or make sure it is placed in a sound-proofed box. Although small grow operations tend to have the growing space and the trimming room under the same roof, among larger growers the trimming room is generally at another location. This is because although the transport of many kilos of fresh hemp to the trimming room is not without risk thanks to the powerful stench given off, the risk is still always preferable to allowing the trimming team to become aware of the growing location. And don't assume that day it is the method used for drying which determines in which way the trimming will be done: those who choose to let the branches dry out upside down leave the buds on the branches, while those who use a drying cupboard tend to remove the buds completely in order to get a more economical distribution of them over the sieves in the drying room. This room, where the trimmed material begins its last phase before distribution, is then set up in the same building.

Earning a crust

As always, when a new technology reduces the role of the human by reducing work costs, the introduction of mechanical trimming tools has been met with resistance by those who see their ability to earn a crust threatened: the trimmers. And although trimmers are pretty low down in the cannabis hierarchy, they do have more power than you might assume at first glance. Henri has been trimming for years, but has had to give up recently thanks to RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). He was part of a steady team of trimmers who worked for two employers. They all used the old-fashioned scissors. According to a number of people who we spoke to in making this article, many growers know

Amsterdam Weed Shop Growing Under Shop
Trimming tackle at the Interpolm grow shop (Amsterdam): in the background is a box with rubber gloves and cleaning materials for shears and hands, in the foreground (left) pruning shears for thicker branches, to the right of which are regular shears.

absolutely nothing about how to trim. And some trimmers take grateful advantage of that knowledge. "The man who we worked for once brought a trim machine in with him," says Henri. "He had hired it from a grow shop. 'Give this a try' he says. Well, of course we did not like the look of this, but fair enough, if the boss we've got to do it, then we were willing to give it a whirl. Naturally, we raked away with the thing. The buds we ended up with of course looked like shit and when the boss saw this, he had immediately had his fill with trimming machines." Another retarding factor in the mass switch over to mechanical trimming has been the clients themselves. As every grow shop can testify, growers are often quite conservative

No bolshiness, no gossiping: Kermit at work

No bolshiness, no gossiping: Kermit at work and do not find it easy to switch over to new methods of doing things. That applies to the tried and trusted growing techniques, but also for the manner in which the end product is trimmed. Despite the mechanical revolution it is still widely the case that growers get themselves a pair of friendly ladies and set them down at the trimming table. It is also increasingly popular (in Holland at least) to make up a trimming gang from foreigners working here illegally. Poles especially are popular, even if they do need to have a sharp eye kept on them thanks to the huge temptation that they are exposed to in the presence of the green gold. The advantage is the low wages that such workers are content with. When the decision has been taken to step over to mechanical trimming, then the client is generally sneakily aiming to avoid paying the same rate per trimmed weight as he did with the old-fashioned hand trimming, or to pay by the kilo rather than by the hour. At least he also gets to enjoy the significant shortening of the time it takes for him to get the trimming phase done and behind him.


Many growers prefer to use people as trimmers who personally do not smoke, so as to minimise the temptation to them to slip a few buds into their bags. A drawback to this practice is that non-smoking trimmers react badly to the sometimes overwhelming powerful aroma of fresh buds. You can even get stoned from it, according to the stories. This is bollocks, according to the earlier quoted Frank. 'You simply cannot get stoned from the aroma of the weed; you have to have THC in your blood supply, otherwise you will not notice any effect. And this just doesn't happen through your nose." Nevertheless, there is frequently a (portable) carbon filter-fitted air extractor installed in the trimming room - though not primarily for the benefit of the trimmers. The most important reason for this is to keep the location secret, because it happens quite

Making the same monotonous movements with the same hand, hour after hour, not infrequently produces pains - and these can lead to the eventual burnout of the trimmer.

Aardvark Toppensneller
'We just can't make it any more fun than this: The Aardvark at the worktop

frequently that growing activities are discovered at the very last stage thanks to the smell. Other aids found in the trimming room include rubber gloves, which prevent trimmers' fingers becoming all gooey with sticky hairs in just a few minutes, trimming overalls and various cleaning fluids for the removal of said sticky stuff. As well as the economic aspect of mechanical trimming there is also a strong argument in favour of trimming machines: the ergonomics. Trimming with the traditional scissors is still generally considered to be the most accurate trimming technique, but has the drawback that it takes longer and trimmers need regular breaks from it. More importantly for the trimmer (and eventually for the client) is the heavy strain on the muscles and tendons of the hand. Making the same monotonous movements with the same hand, hour after hour, not infrequently produces pains - and these can lead to the eventual burnout of the trimmer. Thanks to the variety of movements that using trim machines make possible, this risk is reduced with their use.


Already by the beginning of the 1990s the first trim machines had appeared on the market. The Canadian Power Clipper was in all probability the first, a by present standards rather primitive and rather dangerous tool that was imported from Canada by the Pollinator Company. Switzerland made a play for the market with the Stripper and the Hanf Turbo Cleaner. All these machines made use of a vacuum cleaner that served to draw the leaf material towards the blade and then remove the trimmed waste and trap it somehow for eventual making into hashish. In the meantime there have been a number of alternatives made available, and these have often elaborated on the principles used in these first trimming machines. Glawill produces the Kermit trim machine, that's available in two versions, the first with a single cutting head, the second equipped with two. 'Kermit keeps on trimming, he doesn't smoke, moan or chatter!', says the company in its promotional material. Housed in a robust metal casing is a shaft inside of which is a rotating drill. Via the opening in the shaft the bud is drawn along the drill, on which the rough covering leaves are snipped off and the connected vacuum cleaner sucks away the leaf waste. This can be used later for making skuff or water hash. By varying the suction power, even the smallest buds can be processed. For anyone not producing on an industrial scale but who has lost a brother to the soul-destroying hand trimming, there is the chance to rent a Kermit (or another trim machine) from their grow shop. Not infrequently this is turned into a purchase after the positive experience. The gizmo functions best, according to the makers, with fresh - therefore wet - material. Hans from Glawill says: "In Switzerland they leave the plants to hang for two or three days before they set to work with the trim machine, but you shouldn't leave them to dry for any longer than that. Working with dried plants, you tend to suck away too many resin glands, and you therefore lose some of the potency of your weed." The eye-catching design of the Canna Cutter has further advantages: the three-legged apparatus makes less noise than the machines that are connected up to a vacuum cleaner. What's more, it can more or less be used independently without it being necessary for a trimmer to be stood behind it the whole time. He can then be busy with the rough trim work and throwing the prepared buds into the drum, whereupon the Canna Cutter quickly and automatically does its trimming job. The apparatus is fitted with a rotating knife that is under a grid. The distance between the grid and the knife is precisely the same as the distance the leaves stick

The top model from Canna Cutter

To trim or not to trim?

Trimming is not always necessary straight after the harvest. For those growers who just raise small quantities for their own consumption, it is perhaps even better to not do so. Instead, hand the whole plant upside down in a drying space and just clean up buds as and when you want them. Do make sure that the plants are not touching each other and that there is enough ventilation, otherwise mould can easily take hold. In this way you can store your buds for longer because the leaves have not been damaged and the resinous bits actually improve due to their exposure to light and oxygen, which according to connoisseurs improves the flavour of the weed.

out from the bud. Around the grid is an open drum with a Plexiglas lid. Since the whole thing vibrates, the pre-trimmed buds bobble around over each other, so that all the buds get a turn having their rough leaves removed. The waste is left behind in a tub under the machine. The Canna Cutter is available in two models. The Aardvark is also a machine that makes use of a vacuum cleaner. With this apparatus, with which according to the distributor 'trimming is once again FUN,' liveliness is the key word. The cutting head with a built-in motor is housed in a separate handle that can be fixed directly to the vacuum cleaner hose. The current is supplied via an adaptor. Thanks to the loose cutting head there is no fixed place where the buds have to be inserted, and this gives the trimmer a greater degree of freedom of movement and allows more flexible movements to be used for the manicuring. Here again, the trimmer can vary the suction power in order to be able to carefully trim even the smallest buds. The trim waste is sucked away and caught in the vacuum cleaner's bag. Napoleon stays closer to the old-fashioned scissors with its two models of electric trimming shears: the Testarossa, designed for small-scale hobby growers, and the Bonsai Hero, that with its Swiss precision motor is manufactured to indestructible, industrial-quality. The most important advantages of electric trimming shears are their cheaper price, the greater precision with which they can be wielded (comparable to that of hand scissors) and the care with which the delicate, pollen-rich material can be processed. Users praise the moderate decibel production, thanks to which if necessary they can even be used in the evenings in a domestic home. What is noticeable is the flexibility of Napoleon's products: they can be use a whole range of energy sources, including a set of penlight batteries for when you're engaged in a little guerrilla trimming out in the woods. Starting with something new is always difficult, and that goes for trim machines too. No-one should expect to be working at his best after just five minutes if he has just made acquaintance with the trimming machine. But the phenomenal speed with which an experienced (!) machine trimmer can finish the harvest off does mean they stand head and shoulders above the old methods. Exactly which trimming machine should earn your preference really depends on a number of factors. Besides the price sticker and the noise volume, other factors include the speed of the trimming work, the quality of the end product and the usability of the trim waste that is produced. Or of course a combination of these. An important question to ask can be whether the existing trimming team can be convinced that it can get on with working with a trim machine, or whether they will be so against it you need to find yourself a new team. Even the plant being grown can be factored in to your eventual choice: Haze varieties, with their often capricious buds are a bit more difficult to trim than commercial varieties with more regularly-

Wet or dry trimming?

shaped, 'beefy' buds. "I advise people always to go to a grow shop and hire every model of trimmer they stock for a whole weekend and do a comparative test on them," says Napoleon. Look at the quality of the trimmed buds, smoke some end product and see that not too much foliage sits in your trim waste, and also don't forget to check how much pollen is left on the buds after they have been trimmed. If you use the same variety of plant, then it will very quickly become clear which choice is best for you."

If you do use a trim machine, you are best off using it on wet weed. Using simple electrical shears you can trim wet or dry, though most growers do prefer to trim wet with these too. The advantage of trimming dry is that the buds keep their shape better if they have been thoroughly dried out. The drawback is that the resin glands are more easily shaken free from dry material than from wet plants. Before starting to trim you should remove the large finger leaves, and trim the buds as neatly as you can. You can safely leave bits of the small shoot leaves (partly) intact, since these are usually covered in resin.

Info on The Aardvark:

Hydroponic Wholesale, Unit 16, Derby Trading Estate, Stores Road, Derby DE21 4BE, Tel. +44 (0) 133 220 8090, Fax. +44 (0) 133 285 1640 Web site: www.toppensneller.com

Info on the Canna Cutter:

Indoor Garden Trading, Rietbaan 11, 2908 LP Capelle a/d IJssel Tel: +31 (0) 10 209 96 65, Fax: +31 (0) 10 209 73 09 Web site: www.indoorgardentradingbv.com

Info on the Kermit:

Glawill Commerce, Postbus 6116, 5700 EV Helmond, The Netherlands.

Web site: www.glawill.com

Info on Napoleon: www.bonsaihero.com

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