How to Get Started with Dab Making
High-quality dabs take the experience of smoking cannabis to new heights. If you’ve ever considered making your own cannabis concentrates at home (or as a professional extractor), it has never been easier to get started. In the past, dab-making required complex, volatile equipment that required an advanced chemistry degree just to operate. And while there are still a lot of benefits to doing things the old-school way, it’s not always practical for the newbie who just wants to produce their own shatter.
Is It Legal to Make Your Own Dabs?
First, it’s important to consider the often-complex legal nuances of dab-making.
In short, you can make dabs for personal use if you meet all of the following criteria:
- You live in a state with legal cannabis or you’re a card-holding medical marijuana patient.
- You always remain within your legal purchase and possession limits.
- You don’t intend to sell your dabs for profit.
- You don’t intend to distribute your dabs to anyone who’s not authorized to consume cannabis.
- You don’t use extraction equipment or solvents that are regulated or subject to special licensing requirements.
If you want to make dabs for commercial purposes (i.e., to sell your cannabis concentrate in the cannabis marketplace), you’ll need to meet all of the following criteria:
- You live in a state with a legal cannabis market (recreational and/or medicinal).
- You obtain all required licensing (which may include a processing license and/or manufacturing license).
- You follow all local and state regulations pertaining to lab setup, equipment types, waste management, storage, product handling, solvent use, track-and-trace accountability, and other applicable aspects of the business.
- You limit your sales to the legal market in the state where you conduct business (interstate commerce for cannabis products is a federal crime).
The licensing requirement can get a bit complex. For instance, California has different types of manufacturing licenses. Solventless extractors will need a type 6 license (“non-volatile solvent manufacturing or mechanical extraction”) while solvent-based extractors will need a type 7 (“volatile solvent manufacturing”) license. For this reason, it’s very important to review all laws and regulations carefully.
In addition, all of the notes in this section are intended as a general overview and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Whether you intend to process cannabis for personal or professional use, you should always consult a legal expert beforehand.
How Dabs Are Traditionally Made
Before you can start making your own dabs, it helps to understand what goes into the extraction process.
Traditionally, cannabis concentrates are made with the help of a solvent like butane, propane, or ethanol. The best-known type of solvent extract is butane hash oil (BHO). The highly flammable solvent is fed through a closed-loop extraction system where it passes over the cannabis plant material and dissolves it, collecting only the cannabinoids and terpenes.
Those compounds are then filtered and subject to various post-processing measures like de-waxing/winterization purging, and (in some cases) distillation. Finally, the remaining butane, propane, or ethanol is purged from the extract. When the process is complete, you’re left with a potent concentrate (which, depending on your post-processing, may be wax, shatter, budder, sauce, or any other popular solvent extract).
Solvent-based extraction has a number of merits. You can isolate individual cannabinoids and terpenes. You can process large volumes of extract in a short time span. You can achieve precisely the texture and flavor/aroma profile you’re looking for.
However, this process generally isn’t ideal for people who just want to get started with dab-making. It requires the use of volatile solvents and extraction equipment that can run hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. And don’t get us started on the labyrinth of regulatory lab requirements.
Just to give you an idea of what you might expect to pay for such a system, consider some of the major starting capital costs you’ll incur (as estimated by Cannabis Business Times):
- General extraction equipment — estimated at $650,000.
- Reactors, filters, temperature control, and holding vessels — estimated at $135,000.
- Solvent recovery system and cannabinoid distillation system — estimated at $305,000.
We’re already at over $1 million, and we haven’t even factored in the laboratory itself.
The good news is that you don’t have to have massive capital to start making dabs. For anyone just getting started, the easiest and most cost-effective way to get off the ground is with solventless extraction.
Why Solventless Extraction Is Ideal for Dab-Making
If you’re new to dab-making, solventless extraction provides the perfect entry. While you certainly can create dabs using a solvent like ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, there’s a steep learning curve to this type of extraction—and there’s also the risk of solvent being left behind in the final product. For these and other reasons, we recommend solventless dab-making instead of alcohol extraction for the beginner.
Consider some of the benefits of solventless dab-making:
- The startup and maintenance costs are much lower (especially for hobbyists, but for professionals as well).
- The learning curve is much smaller (you don’t need any sort of science degree to process solventless extracts).
- The regulations and requirements are much more straightforward (a hobbyist can literally get started at home with a manual rosin press as long as they follow their state’s general cannabis laws).
- The entire process is much safer for newbies (with solventless extraction methods, there’s no risk of fire or explosion and very little risk of contamination).
And, of course, with the solventless extraction method, you can get up and running almost immediately. You just need a bit of equipment.
How to Start Making Dabs as a Hobbyist
If you’re looking to make potent dabs at home, the first thing you’ll need is a good rosin press. It’s also possible to make solventless dabs with a hair straightener or T-shirt press, but this isn’t recommended as your quality and yields will suffer greatly.
Aside from the rosin press, you’ll just need:
- Food-grade parchment paper (for your plates)
- Rosin bags (for your starting material)
- A collection tool (to collect your extract)
For home use, we recommend a manual model like the Helix 3 Ton Manual Rosin Press. This state-of-the-art press has all of the features you need to create high-quality, custom dabs in minutes. Just make sure to start with a high-quality, trichome-rich cannabis flower or hash.
When using a rosin press, your biggest consideration is the temperature setting. For most extractions, you’ll want to stay within a 130°F-220°F temperature range.
- Cold pressing (130°F-170°F) is great for achieving a budder or badder-like consistency, but your overall yields will be lower.
- Hot pressing (170°F-220°F) is great for achieving a consistency similar to shatter or cannabis oil. Yields are higher, but you lose slightly more terpenes. Just make sure to stay below 220°F to minimize terpene degradation.
The best thing you can do is experiment with different temperature ranges until you get the dabs just the way you like them. For more information, refer to our Guide to Rosin Press Temperatures.
How to Start Making Dabs for Commercial Purposes
If you’re looking to produce cannabis extracts as a business, the same basic rules apply. You’ll need a good rosin press and rosin processing tools , and you’ll need a good starting material to extract.
A manual rosin press—while great for hobbyists and craft cannabis makers—isn’t the best solution for extracting high volumes. For professionals, we recommend a pneumatic rosin press like the Longs Peak. A pneumatic can process much higher volumes at the press of a button—no cranking or twisting required. And when you add an automated pressure control system to the mix, the machine can run almost entirely on autopilot.
- To get the highest-quality commercial-grade dabs, you’ll want to invest in a few extra pieces of equipment—including:
- A hash washing system. This will allow you to transform cannabis flower into high-quality bubble hash. When you press bubble hash (ice water hash) in your rosin press, you can achieve some of the highest-quality rosin available. Refer to our Bubble Hash Guide for more information.
- A freeze dryer. This allows you to remove residual moisture from your bubble hash prior to pressing. Drying is essential for ice water hash processing, and the use of a freeze dryer (as opposed to hand-drying) greatly reduces the chances of contamination.
- A freezer. If you grow your own cannabis for processing, we recommend freezing the freshly harvested buds instead of drying and curing. When you’re ready to make your extracts, transfer the buds from the freezer right to the hash washing system. This will give you a live product with a much richer flavor and aroma profile. For more information, refer to our guide on How to Process Flower From Harvest to Fresh Frozen.
- Additional supplementary equipment like a trichome extractor (if you want to make dry sift), a trichome separator (to automate the agitation process for ice water hash), and a pneumatic hash pump (if you want to upgrade your hash washing system from gravity filtration to pump filtration).
Finally, you’ll want to make sure to meet all licensing and compliance requirements before setting up your lab.
Additional Tips for Dab Making
If you really want to take your dab-making to the next level, our Solventless Education blog has resources for extractors at every experience level. Here are just a few comprehensive guides to get you started:
- Bubble Hash vs Rosin
- The Process of Making Hash Rosin: Explained
- How to Cure Rosin for Perfect Consistency & Flavor
- What’s the Difference Between a Pneumatic vs. Manual Rosin Press?
- How to Pick the Best Rosin Press
Armed with this expert information, you’ll be making incredible concentrates for your dab rig or vape pen in no time!