Making Hash Without Solvents

source: HighTimes

By Ry Prichard

One of Colorado’s premier hashmakers and the winner of the 2012 Denver Medical Cannabis Cup award for non-solvent hash
Selecta Nikka T is a true artist, producing high-quality water hash that sets itself apart thanks to its unique semi-translucent and oily appearance, incredible terpene preservation and a potency that rivals or surpasses many high-quality solvent extractions (his hash routinely tests at 60 to 70% THC). This highest grade of Selecta Nikka T’s product is referred to as “solventless wax,” and though it takes a lot of practice and attention to detail, it can be made at home using simple equipment. So if you’re interested in giving it a shot, here’s a series of tips from the master to help you get started.

Quality is Important

One of the most common sayings in hash making is “garbage in, garbage out.” This is because a hash maker can only work with (i.e., extract) the quality that was present in the plants to begin with. If a plant is simply lacking in trichome production, has been machine-trimmed or was diseased before harvest, the quality of the extract will suffer greatly. In short, strong, healthy plants produce the best extracts. A few other things to keep in mind: leave the trichome heads as pristine and undisturbed as possible when trimming and processing; eliminate as many of the fan leaves without trichomes as you can to reduce the presence of chlorophyll; and never spray anything on your plants when bud sites are present, because this residue will make its way into your extract.

Keep It Fresh-Frozen

One of the main rules for producing world-class water hash at home is to always start with “fresh-frozen” material. How do you do that? Simply by harvesting your plants, trimming off the fan leaves or any other material without trichomes (leaf tips, stray stems and petioles, etc.), and immediately freezing this material for later use in making hash, whether it’s the trim, small buds or the whole plant (more on that later). A deep freezer or blast chiller helps with this process, but since most people don’t have either one at home, wrapping the trim tightly in a freezer bag is the next best thing. However, it’s also important not to keep your material in the freezer for too long (a week or two is the recommended max), because the cold and moisture can burst and destroy the trichome heads before you get a chance to extract them.

Selecta says: “The variables [in water extraction] can even be as precise as which nutrients were used in growing the cannabis, whether it was grown in soil or hydro—and, especially, whether or not it was trimmed fresh, then frozen immediately, or if it’s bone dry. Fresh-frozen trim is definitely preferred for making solvent- less wax in the end, but it is possible to make it with dry trim as long as you can figure out a way to re-moisten it correctly.”

Controlling Your Variables

According to Selecta Nikka T, the key variables in producing high-quality water hash are:

  • The temperature of both the water and the external environment
  • Trim quality/preservation
  • The amount and type of agitation
  • The sequence and size of the micron screens
  • The water itself and how it is used.

Selecta says: “You don’t necessarily need a science lab or loads of expensive equipment to properly produce solvent-less wax. Just remember to keep the water temperature below 34F degrees at all times. Also, keep temperatures in the drying area between 40F and 68F, depending on how quickly you want to remove the water (which will vary according to strain), and keep the relative humidity between 15 and 50%. There are certain strains where I like to keep the humidity and temps on the higher end of that range to create the appearance desired by the patient or client. Be very particular about your work environment, cleanliness and control are key!”

The key to home hash production, especially when just starting out, is working in smaller batches, which makes it easier to control these variables. Working with five-gallon extraction bags instead of 32-gallon ones (at least to start) will help you “dial in” your variables; you will also need less storage space, less ice and less agitation of the material. Making the step up to larger amounts normally requires the aid of mechanical separators such as washing machines, and while this often does improve yields, it also arguably reduces the quality compared with manual agitation. Making perfect solvent-less wax from a five-gallon (or even a one-gallon) bag set is the best way to learn what you’re looking for in terms of the final product before going bigger.

Man vs. Machine

Due to the high demand for his product on the Colorado medical scene, Selecta Nikka T has used washing machines for several years. These machines are meticulously cleaned and utilized for extraction purposes only. For home hash makers, a small portable washing machine will probably suffice -- but if you want the absolutely best final product possible (though with a sacrifice of overall yield), manual agitation is the way to go. A simple tool such as a large wooden spoon or bamboo stick is used to gently agitate the plant material as it sits in the icy water. “Smooth and easy” is the key to this process, as keeping the trichome heads and stalks as intact as possible will help the screens do their work in separating the good from the not-so-good later on. Lots of hard, vigorous agitation will cause the plant matter to break apart, increasing the likelihood of a “green,” chlorophyll-laden final product (as well as for particulate and plant matter to taint the finished extract).

Work Quickly

The belief that a quicker extraction process produces a better product has a scientific basis. Though the entirety of the stalked, glandular trichomes are not water-soluble, Selecta Nikka T believes strongly that the outside layers contain terpenoid and flavonoid compounds that are often washed away by a long soak or too much agitation in the water. Even so, the fledgling hash-maker should always keep in mind that nothing is cut-and-dried (so to speak) in a process with so many variables.

Selecta says: “Generally speaking, the longer you wait for your product to settle between the different layers of micron screens, the darker and less pungent your product will turn out. By retrieving trichomes quickly after agitation, we are able to preserve the flavonoids, terpenoids, tastes and smells better than if we let it sit longer. There are certain strains, however, that -- when pulled immediately from the water -- turn out very dry, powdery and crumbly in the end product. This is avoided by finding a nice balance between letting the trichomes soak up some water (to give the end product a bit more of a shiny, waxy appearance) and pulling them from the water immediately (to retain taste and smell). Both flavor and texture are very important to my final product.”

Micron Size Matters

One of the most critical variables in this process is the number and micron size of the filtration extractor bags. Using too few bags will often result in a messy product, with only one layer being truly “full-melt” quality, while using too many can reduce yields and will always require a lot more time and energy spent working with each individual bag (as well as each “layer” of separated material).

Selecta says: “When separating by micron size, anything above 160 microns generally has quite a bit of plant matter in it, as well as anything below 38 microns. At 160 microns, it’s because plant matter is generally larger than trichome heads, while at 38 microns, it’s because anything below that size tends to be particulate matter or broken trichome pieces. Simply saying that the 70-micron level produces the highest-quality product is oftentimes wrong because of the variables that come with using different-sized screens.

There are some people who will go straight down from a 160 to a 70, making the 70-micron bag less clean than if you went from 160 to 120 to 90 to 70. Using a series of bags will give you a much cleaner final product in the 70-micron bag, and also in the other, ‘middle’ bags.” “Generally, you will find that the “sweet spot” for hash making is somewhere between the 70- and 120-micron screen levels, which will lead to a final product with the best color, oily appearance and full-melt properties desired in a top-grade water extract. However, certain strains have plenty of smaller- or larger-headed trichomes, which can make the results of using a 38- or 120-micron screen equally impressive in those areas. Learning your strains through experience (as well as using a USB microscope to get an idea of the trichome head size) can help you “dial in” the various components of your hash-making process batch by batch, much as you would for growing a particular strain after several years of experience with that varietial.”

Drying It Out

Probably the most neglected yet important step in making high-quality water hash is the finishing. Much as an improperly done harvest and cure can turn formerly amazing cannabis into iffy-looking, hay-smelling garbage, in hashmaking the drying, jarring and curing process can greatly affect the way the final product looks, smells and bubbles -- as well as its safety for many medical usersin the hash is super-important. Chopping the hash into smaller pieces allows it to dry more quickly, expelling the water from it.

 Trapped water tends to cause off flavors as well as a harsher smoke or vapor in the final hash. I like to use large drying racks, laying the hash itself on parchment paper to help wick away moisture and preserve the terpenes.” “Some extraction artists use a microplane grater (similar to what you’d use for ginger or hard cheeses), while some even use a credit card. The key is to break the hash up into as many uniformly sized pieces as possible to facilitate quick and even drying. Once the hash has sufficiently dried, it generally has a little bit of gooeyness and malleability to it, but the smell should be very strong and the granules should break apart easily (though some strains will retain a more oily sheen and be stickier to the touch).

“Finally, never put wet hash into a jar, as the formation of mold can begin very quickly in such conditions, especially if the external temperature is fluctuating outside the prime range (from about 40F to 70F). Storage mold won’t kill you as a rule, but people with deficient immune systems, mold allergies or other respiratory issues can experience health problems from consuming moldy hash. Any white growth on the end product should be immediately inspected using a USB microscope, and any affected hash should simply be thrown away A properly cured water hash can deliver the most incredible aroma and flavor of any cannabis extract, so once your hash is properly dried and safe from mold, jarring it up in a half-size Mason jar with a rubber sealing lid will help to preserve all of those essential oils and terpenes. A well-stored water hash can keep for up to a year with minimal terpene loss, meaning you can enjoy that stash well into your next couple of harvests.”

Solventless Wax “Starter Kit”

If you want to put together a list of equipment to make your own solventless wax at home, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Two five-gallon buckets
  • For machine extractors, a (very gentle) agitating washing machine with gravity drain; for manual extractors, a large wooden spoon or bamboo pole
  • A cool, dry, sterile environment (i.e., keep floating hairs and the like to a minimum)
  • A set of mesh-screened, micron-specific bags and remember that more bags means more work, but a better final product!)
  • Parchment paper
  • A knife or other chopping tool
  • Lots of ice (preferably from a filtered or distilled source)
  • Lots of water (ditto)

This basic equipment list (minus the washing machine) can be purchased for less than $150 in nearly any locale. The large amounts of filtered water and ice are probably the hardest things to procure, but you can still get good results using tap water and bagged ice, though there may be some extra minerals or salt residue in the final product depending on the cleanliness of the water.

Remember, if your extraction room is too warm, the ice will melt faster and everything becomes more difficult to keep at or below 34F. Working in a clean area in the basement or in an air-conditioned space is recommended if you live in a warmer climate.

Get to Work!

Now that you have all the tools you need to produce this incredible extract, it’s time to begin the process of learning and perfecting your craft. There’s a long road ahead of you: Selecta Nikka T has been doing water extractions for more than 10 years now and says he still learns something new every day. Fortunately, you get to test your product along the way,which certainly makes the process more enjoyable!