Cannabis patients and consumers who smoke or vape the flowers of the plant — about 95 percent of users — must grind their buds to create a fine texture suitable for airflow and trichome exposure. This is especially true of vaporizing, where a finer grind will result in more cannabinoids and terpenes being exposed to the flow of hot air that causes their vaporization.
Grinders don’t get much attention in the media, even though they play a very important role in the daily lives of tens of millions of cannabis consumers. Often an afterthought, many patients use cheap plastic models or scissors to cut their buds. While there’s no right or wrong, and consumers should choose a method of grinding their herb that satisfies their particular preferences and lifestyle, most patients and tokers use a conventional grinder.
The best grinders are made from top-tier metals like stainless steel, anodized aluminum, and even titanium and are sometimes medical grade in quality. Many employ magnets as part of a simple and reliable lid closure system. Textured grips and ergonomic designs are helpful for patients suffering from conditions like multiple sclerosis or arthritis, for whom manual dexterity is often scarce. Some experts recommend cannabis grinders that are no smaller than 2.5 inches in diameter, even for those grinding for only themselves.
Some advocate use of grinders to transport fresh herb for use when on the go, much like how coffee connoisseurs grind roasted beans immediately prior to brewing their coffee. This is where grinders that feature a magnet that fastens the lid to the lower chamber are valuable for keeping a unit closed when in one’s pocket, purse, or backpack (much slicker and reliable than a rubber band).
A Wise Investment
Not everyone uses an herb grinder to break up their weed for smoking and vaporization. Some simply separate it by hand. Still other bohemian tokers just shove a small bud, or “nug,” into a bowl, often a wooden or glass spoon, and smoke it. This is typically not encouraged, simply because the herb burns much more smoothly if ground, allowing hot air (in the case of vaping) and flame (when smoking) to more freely and evenly pass through it. This also helps prevent the scorching of stems and leaf matter that damage taste and offer almost no plant resin.
Good solid metal grinders have a heft and feel that is difficult to match. Many fans of the culture enjoy the feeling of cold aluminum or steel in their hands when grinding their herb for an optimized smoking or vaping experience. Priced from between about $20 to $120 or more, there is a type and size of grinder for every preference and budget.
Hand grinders include small teeth or pegs designed to grind the herb when the two pieces (or two top pieces, in the case of a three-piece or four-piece models) of the grinder are twisted in opposite directions. About the only downside of a circular grinder is that they can become sticky and even clogged with use. The more herb that passes through a grinder — especially flower that’s particularly resinous — the more easily it will become resistant to twisting. Often, grinders will begin to squeak if compacted cannabis interferes with the action of the two grinding plates (the lid and the lower or bottom portion). However, most grinders are easy to clean and quick to remedy squeak-free and rolling smoothly again.
Some grinders feature beveled, sharpened, or curved teeth purported to result in smooth, accurate cutting of cannabis and easier operation (great for folks with dystonia or muscular dystrophy). Many manufacturers claim that such grinding tooth designs reduce sticking and clogging, unlike standard pegs, which sometimes encourage plant matter to wrap around them. Often, an aluminum grinder will feature stainless steel teeth. In the end, what really matters is how adeptly a grinder does its job with respect to how a particular patient or user prefers to consume their cannabis. Those who vape, via any type of device, especially need to be concerned with how fine a grind is applied to their herb. Remember: When vaporizing, finer grinds will result in thicker, more potent vapor. Some fans of vaporizing will actually re-grind their herb after one or two passes in a vaporizer in an effort to expose additional trichomes to the air stream.
One Chamber vs. Three Chamber
To kief or not to kief? That is the question when it comes to high-quality grinders designed specifically for cannabis. Kief is typically comprised of about 30-60 percent THC, so it can be a potent addition to a bowl or joint of ground cannabis. It can also or smoked alone for potency, quick relief, and flavor.
There are many different types of hand grinders available that are manually operated, including single-chamber, two-piece models and three-chamber, four-piece varieties. Single-chamber grinders are the most straightforward and inexpensive. They are available in puck-like forms in a variety of sizes, from about 1.5 or two inches in diameter up to almost four inches for huge models like the Santa Cruz Shredder (3.75 inches) and Mendo Mulcher (three inches, available in both kiefing and single-chamber models).
Many three-chamber and four-chamber grinders feature a special, very fine screen designed to capture the trichomes of the bud while preventing most plant matter from passing. This kief is stored in a spare chamber within the grinder. More expensive kiefing grinders of this type allow consumers to capture dry kief, or trichomes and trichome heads, from the herb that can later be smoked, vaped, or used to create small quantities of rosin.
Those who take their herb seriously and want the perfect grind often advocate models featuring diamond shaped, sharpened pegs (often called “razor style teeth”) that are more likely to gently and accurately slice the the buds of the plant, not mangle or pinch the flowers as some models featuring older style cylindrical pegs can do. That said, many models that feature standard cylindrical grinding pegs, like Sweetleaf, are among the best and most desireable available.
For those who consume moderate to large quantities of cannabis or frequently grind it for a group of people (such as a patient collective or holiday party), large 3-4 inch grinders are perfect and can save time and effort. For patients and lifestyle users who smoke alone, a smaller, less expensive grinder — either with or without a kiefing screen and chamber — may be perfect.
Two-Piece vs. Three-Piece vs. Four-Piece
Two-piece grinders are the most basic and feature a single chamber in which ground herb is collected and tapped out onto a paper or tray for use in bowls, joints, or bongs. A variety of three-piece and four-piece grinder designs are available, each a bit different. One lifehack for grinders featuring a kiefing screen is to place a small coin, like a dime or nickle, on the screen. The agitation of the coin against the screen helps push trichomes down to the chamber below, where they are trapped for collection.
Kiefing grinders, especially those that feature a high-quality industrial screen and dedicating kiefing chamber, are perfect for being able to pack bowls and roll joints when on the go. They provide the option of sprinkling some kief over one’s herb for a boost in potency and flavor.
A Word About Card Grinders
Grinder cards, also known as card grinders, are a relatively new product category that features a flat plate that’s about the size of a credit card and can fit into a wallet or pocket with ease (but should always be kept in its protective sleeve because these things are sharp). Card grinders feature grooves and holes, much like a cheese grader, that are designed to slice up cannabis. Nugs of flower are raked against the cutting side of the card, falling to a surface below.
Many companies sell card grinders, including Black Rock Originals out of Denver, which offers one for $10. This simple and inexpensive device features a “split screen” that offers dual grinding surfaces, one for a more finely ground herb that’s appropriate for vaping and a medium grind, which many consider optimal for rolling joints. It is made of medical grade stainless steel and resistant to corrosion.
There are literally dozens of brands of cannabis herb grinders available on the market from both larger companies, like Sweetleaf and Space Case, and smaller players, like Cosmic and Mendo Mulcher.
Some reviewers have ranked Space Case, which offers a line of titanium models, as among the best grinders on the market. Wrote one:
“Space Case grinders are the cream of the crop…I’ve used and I own 17 different models to compare…”
Another favorite is Sweetleaf, a company in Toronto, Canada. Sweetleaf is known for stylish wood and traditional aluminum grinders (which feature stainless steel teeth) in Pocket and Party sizes ranging from two to 2.5 inches in diameter, both of which are available in kiefing three-chamber models. All others are basic two-piece, single-chamber units.
Mendo Mulcher, from Mendocino County, California, takes a basic approach and builds one of the world’s most solid grinders for breaking through even the densest indica nugs. Founded in 1998, this company’s powerful, ergonomic grinders are made of billet aluminum and claim to have twice the number of grinding teeth as the competition. All models feature a magnetic lid and curved grinding teeth designed to help prevent sticking.
Some companies, like reasonably priced Santa Cruz Shredder, have expanded into also manufacturing titanium nails for dab rigs. Those wanting to stick with products made in the U.S. should consider the Shredder, as well as Space Case, the Mendo Mulcher line, and Phoenician Engineering from Arizona. The Phoenician, a pricey $120 unit, is one of the nicest cannabis grinders available. It is a high-quality four-piece, three-chamber medical-grade metal model with a kiefing screen that features a unique grooved lid designed to accommodate rolling papers (a good choice for those who enjoy smoking joints) that can also be used as a small ashtray (without having to remove the papers).
When possible, it’s advised that one visit their local headshop or dispensary to get hands-on experience with a variety of models to learn what they most prefer. Some desire the feel of basic but organic wood grinders, like those offered by Sweetleaf and others, while many love the feel of cold metal in the form of something like attractive and scratch-resistant anodized aluminum.
Regardless of one’s choice of device, ensuring a sufficient grind of one’s herb — especially those who are practicing harm reduction and vaping — is paramount to getting the most from one’s medicine and saving money.