A step-by-step guide to rolling a joint
“How hard could it be,” they say before giving up entirely.
When you finally decide to settle in and figure out how to roll a joint, it will seem simple enough—until you try and realize it’s way more complicated than you expected. Even when you succeed, you’ll discover there’s a huge difference between a joint that holds together and one that’s actually good.
We’re not going to lie: it’s a long way between weed wrapped in a piece of paper and your first properly rolled joint. But everyone’s got to start somewhere, and the right tips and tricks can help you make joints with precisely ground cannabis within perfectly rolled rice paper. Consider this guide the first stop on your trip to better trips. Just make sure marijuana use is legal where you are before you start rolling.
Get the right implements
A good joint will smoke evenly and allow for enough airflow to carry every taste note into your mouth with each drag. Crafting one requires technique and a bit of dexterity, but you can make things easier for yourself by using the right tools. As you’ll see, a lot about rolling joints is personal preference, but the following advice will help you know where to start.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the paper options you’ll see online or at your local smoke shop, but there are some characteristics you’ll want to look out for.
“The most important factor in choosing a paper is getting the thinnest one, so you can taste the flower better,” says Ta’Lor (who prefers to go only by her first name), a budtender at The Astor Club, a hidden cannabis smoke lounge in New York City.
[Related: Can you overdose on weed?]
Ta’Lor, who’s the weed equivalent of a sommelier, recommends rice paper from popular brands such as OCB and Vibes. Ali Jamalian, founder and owner of Sunset Connect, a cannabis product manufacturer in California, says your choice of paper will be personal preference, but that thin rice paper is a great place to start.
Then there’s size. Some brands have several dimensions to choose from but if you want to make a classic cone-shaped joint, you’ll need king-size paper. The exact length will depend on the brand, but it’ll always be somewhere around 10 centimeters, which is a little under 4 inches.
You can definitely roll a joint without a tip, or choose your favorite from a large range of materials, from glass to cotton—it’s all personal preference. That said, both Jamalian and Ta’Lor advise using a tip, and recommend beginners stick to the classic cardboard ones. Glass is a bit too heavy and cotton requires a stronger draw.
Tips play multiple roles in smoking. The first is to provide a barrier between you and the cannabis, which will prevent weed from getting into your mouth. They will also save you from charring your lips and fingers as you finish your joint. Finally, a tip will be indispensable while rolling a joint, as it will provide structure and shape.
You can buy a bag of pre-rolled tips or a booklet of perforated tips you can roll yourself. Both offer about the same smoking experience, and the one you choose will come down to personal preference. The main difference between these two types of products is cost—a few cents per tip depending on brand and quantity. Buying in bulk, of course, is cheaper.
If you don’t have a tip, Jamalian says you can use whatever piece of soft cardboard you have at home as long as it’s not laminated or printed on. But the budtenders at The Astor Club are even more cautious.
“Honestly, if you don’t have a tip, don’t use one, because you don’t necessarily know what paper you’re gonna be burning,” says Ta’lor. Her coworker, Calia, who also prefers to go by her first name, agrees: “When high heat hits something and then enters your lungs, you’re smoking those particles and that could affect you in the long run. We’re already smoking—you want to keep your smoke as clean as possible.”
Cannabis is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, so you’re sure to find a wide range of gizmos that promise to improve your smoking experience. Technology has certainly created gadgets that can enhance your trip, but beginners should stick to the essentials at first.
Other than rolling paper and tips, the sources we talked to recommended having a rolling tray and a good grinder at hand. You can use almost anything as a rolling tray (a plate, a cutting board, or an actual tray), but make sure you clean it before every use. Its main purpose is to catch any weed that falls out while you roll—and that will happen if you’re a beginner. Since you’ll either put that cannabis back into your joint or smoke it later, you don’t want there to be any crumbs, dust, or gunk that could eventually make it into your lungs or ruin the taste of good weed.
As for a grinder, Jamalian recommends using a three-chamber one made out of metal instead of plastic, because tiny pieces of the latter can break into your cannabis.
“You should definitely always look at your grinder to see if all the little teeth are still there, that nothing is broken,” he adds.
Calia stresses that contrary to popular belief, grinders are absolutely reusable, and if you think it’s not shredding as well as it used to, it probably just needs a good cleaning. She suggests separating the grinder into as many pieces as possible and letting them soak in alcohol for a day. To clean hard spots or difficult nooks and crannies, like the rim, she recommends using a paper towel with alcohol.
Finally, get some good weed
The best implements in the market will do absolutely nothing to improve your smoking experience if you don’t roll quality weed. Which type you get, again, is a matter of personal preference, but you’ll need to make sure it’s fresh and hasn’t been sitting around in your big brother’s drawer for a year.
[Related: The tasty chemicals flavoring the edible cannabis boom]
Old weed will crumble to dust when you grind it, which, according to Ta’Lor, makes it harder to put into a joint. “When you roll with a really great, really fresh bud that sticks together and forms itself, it’s way easier,” she says.
To test your cannabis, Ta’Lor says you should squeeze the bud between your thumb and index finger. If it bounces and there’s little to no fallout, you should be good to go.
How to roll a joint
Now that you’re fully prepared to roll a joint, let’s go through the actual rolling process.
- Time: 1 to 2 minutes, depending on your dexterity
- Material cost: around $18 for implements
- Difficulty: easy
- 1 gram of cannabis
- 1 king-size rolling paper
- 1 tip
- Rolling tray
- (Optional) small tube (or slim pencil)
1. (Optional) Roll your tip. If you’re using a pre-made tip, you can skip this step. Otherwise, start by ripping a tip from your booklet. If you chose tips with perforations, you’ll be able to make folds where the dotted lines are and roll the rest of the tip around that shape.
If your tip doesn’t have any guides, you’ll need to pick the shape you want to start with—the classics are an “S” or a “W.” For either one, you’ll need to start by making a tiny fold of around 1/8 of an inch (around 3 millimeters) on one of the short ends of the paper and then make an equal fold in the opposite direction: it should feel like you’re folding a very tiny accordion.
Make one more fold (three in total) for an “S” shape, and two more (four in total) for a “W” shape. Jamalian says the difference between them is how much they protect the cannabis from falling out and into your mouth while you smoke. An “S” shape should do the trick, but if you’re dealing with finer weed (read: not that fresh) you’re better off making a “W.” Once that’s done, roll the rest of the cardboard around it.
Don’t worry if it bounces back into a looser roll the moment you let go—you’ll be able to adjust it later if you need to.
- Pro tip: Jamalian says he doesn’t like the thought of burning weed (a “hot cherry,” as he puts it) half an inch from his face. If you don’t like this either, try doing what he does: use longer tips. You can buy them as wide or king-size—they’re around an inch long—or you can make them yourself with the correct paper.
2. De-stem your cannabis and grind it. A king-size paper should be big enough to roll a gram of weed, which is approximately two to three buds, depending on the size. Starting with that amount is a good baseline, but don’t be surprised if you can’t fit it all in there at first—more on that later.
Take a close look at your buds and pick out any stems you might find. These will not only ruin your joint by possibly puncturing the paper or interrupting an otherwise even burn, Ta’Lor says, but might also damage your grinder in the long run. If it’s plastic, a stem might break the little teeth inside, and if it’s metal, it might blunt them quicker.
All of our experts agree that the cannabis you want in a joint should be on the finer side but not totally pulverized. The latter is more likely to happen if you’re grinding old weed. If you’re nervous about overgrinding, check on it as you go.
3. Clean your cannabis. Dump the weed onto your rolling tray (or whatever you’re using as one) and lightly roll it between your fingers. You’ll be feeling it out for any particles that are not supposed to be there: stems you might have missed in the previous step, plastic teeth or bits that might have broken off your grinder, seeds, and seed shells.
“When seeds pop—oh, it’s the worst smell in the world. You don’t want that in your joint,” says Calia.
4. Set up your paper. When you tug your rolling paper out of its packaging, you’ll notice it has a crease. This is where you’ll place the cannabis. Position the paper, making sure the glue line is on the inside of the folded paper and facing you the entire time. Handle the paper with both hands by placing the tips of your index fingers on the inside of the crease and using your middle fingers and thumbs on the outer sides of the paper. Your thumbs and index fingers should hold the paper tight, while your middle fingers act as supports to keep the glue side of the paper upright.
Before you place any weed on the paper, get a feel for tension—the paper should be taut, but not so much that it feels like it’s going to rip. If it does (and the budtenders at The Astor Club say this will happen a couple of times) don’t get discouraged—just grab another paper and try again until you establish some muscle memory.
- Pro tip: Take the folded paper between your thumbs and index fingers and roll it up and down to curl it along the crease, leaving a margin of around 1/8 of an inch on each side. This will give the paper more of a “U” shape that might help you roll the joint later. If the paper keeps slipping and you need more grip, lightly wet the tips of your index finger and thumb. If you lose any trace of the original crease, find it again by rolling the paper so that the front side facing you is only slightly below the glue line on the back side.
5. Add your tip. With the paper between your fingers as explained in the previous step, choose a side to place your tip—this will be the bottom of the joint. A lot of people choose their dominant hand side, Jamalian says, but you should do whatever feels comfortable. For example, even though he is right-handed, he likes to place the tip on the left side of his joints.
Put the tip on the paper so both edges are aligned, and use the index, middle finger, and thumb on one hand to keep it in place.
- Pro tip: If you have a hard time keeping the tip in place, slightly lift the loose end of your tip and slide a half an inch of the paper into the roll. Finish by slightly rolling the tip upward. This will prevent the tip from moving around and will provide structure, which will later make the rolling easier. If you’re rolling a straight joint, though, this technique will leave you with less space to put your cannabis in and will make it a bit harder to pack it tightly toward the tip. If you want to create a cone shape, insert the rolling paper into the tip at a slight angle.
6. Add the cannabis. With your fingers holding the tip in place inside the rolling paper, use your other hand to put the weed in. From time to time, stop to secure it in place and pinch the joint to give it shape. Using fresh cannabis will make this a lot easier, as it’ll stick to itself and quickly take whatever shape you give it.
Make sure you get rid of any air pockets, especially around where the cannabis and the tip meet. Any empty space will make for an uneven burn, creating what is known in the weed world as a canoe: when one side of the paper burns before the other because there’s nothing there to stop the heat from consuming the paper. This not only wastes cannabis, but will also ruin your experience as the smoke from the burning paper will alter the taste of your weed.
Take your time shaping your joint. The ultimate goal is to pack it tight and evenly, which will come more easily with practice, Calia says. If you notice cannabis falling onto your tray from the top of the joint, Jamalian suggests you leave it there for the time being. “Beginners should know it’s totally ok to have half of it fall out while you’re learning. Eventually, it’ll stop happening,” he says.
7. Roll your joint. Now is the moment you’ve been waiting for: the rolling. Using your middle fingers as support, use your indexes and thumbs to roll the front side of the paper down so it can only cover the weed and tip.
Reposition your index fingers to cover the insides of the joint with the front side of the paper and slightly roll it up upward. This is by far the hardest part: Your goal is to securely tuck the front side of the paper between the cannabis and the back of the paper as tightly as possible, so you can continue rolling up. While you try this, you’ll probably lose a lot of the tension you’ve been building up to this point, so don’t be afraid to go back and forth until you get the tucking right. Just know that it’s OK if you can’t make it as tight as you want: this is all part of the process and it’ll become easier with practice.
Once the front of the paper is tucked behind the cannabis as tightly as you can, release your index fingers and continue rolling your joint up to the glue line. Finish by licking the line and securing the joint by rolling it until the end.
8. Pack your joint. It’s possible that your joint is still not nearly as tight as you’d like it to be, but that’s OK. First, it’s part of learning, and second, you can still make it a bit tighter if you want.
Pick up your joint by its tip and light tap it against a flat surface. Gravity will push the cannabis farther down. Here you can also pick up some of that fallout from Step 6 and put it back into the joint. Use your fingers to fit as much of it as you can through the opening at the top, and then use a toothpick, a slim pencil, or any sort of thin tube to gently push it down. You’ll want to be delicate and work slowly, as any aggressive move can throw away all the effort you’ve made so far to roll a quality joint.
9. Finish by twisting the top. When you feel like you cannot put more cannabis into your joint and it’s as tight as it’ll ever be, it’s time to close up shop and enjoy. Use your index finger and thumb to twist the paper at the top of your joint. The more you twist, the farther down you’ll push the weed, so be careful not to do it too much—you might rip the paper.
If you had a lot of paper left over and now you have a long tail at the top of your joint, you can cut it before you light up.
[Related: Is growing weed sustainable? The answer is complicated.]
Everyone we spoke to emphasized that a lot of personal preference goes into rolling a joint. If you later find that something in this guide doesn’t apply to you, go ahead and change it up. They also underscored the importance of being patient and practicing. At the end of the day, there’s a reason why there are so many tutorials on how to roll a joint: as simple as it looks, it’s definitely not easy. So do it repeatedly and try new implements now and then. It’ll serve as a helpful learning experience, but also a process where you find out what you really like in the end.