A budding invention

The Aronie brothers are back with a brand-new way to grind.


What does it take to be an inventor? Do you need to be a creative genius? Maybe you simply need to have a keen eye for design and the willingness to take a chance. For brothers Joel and Alan Aronie, inventing a new product usually starts with a simple observation.

“One time way back when, I was faced with this unbelievable task of repointing 15 buildings, each four to five stories tall, all red brick mortar in the city of Boston, all turn-of-the-century buildings,” Alan told The Times over Zoom during a visit to Joel and Nancy Aronie’s house in Chilmark. “It would have taken me five days to do 15 feet using the classic hand method. So I threw some PVC pipes together with a wood auger and a few other things, stuck a drill on it, and went up to those parapets and did like five days of work in one day — I said, Man, I’ve got something going here.”

With an understanding that manually repointing brick buildings was incredibly arduous and inefficient, the Quikpoint Mortar Gun was born. It was the brothers’ first patented invention, and it’s now sold in more than 12 different countries.

Apart from some of the industrial inventions that make certain tough tasks easier and quicker to accomplish, the brothers have also made some beautiful and unique toys, home goods, and other products that are fun and creative. In 2018, The Times did a story on Joel and Alan’s Zero Blaster, a kids’ toy that shoots tiny rings of nontoxic smoke that has sold more than 200,000 units since it went on the shelves in 2001. While their inventions are always built to fill a need, fun is also at the top of the Aronies’ priority list.

The pair of inventors have been passionate advocates of cannabis for decades, and about seven or eight years ago, when cannabis vaporizers were just coming on the market, Joel and Alan strongly believed they could make a better product. “We didn’t like the way the vaporizers felt. They were harsher, they dried the air out, and we thought we had a better idea,” Alan said. “We had a very unique idea for making the vaporizers inexpensive, using bimetallic strips and so forth to control the temperature.” By the time their product was approaching its final iteration and the patent was just around the corner, many other vaporizers had been released on the market.

The inventors had already gone back and forth with the mold maker, making slight adjustments and creating samples. Just as the vaporizer was ready for production, “instead of there being three vaporizers on the market, there were 30 vaporizers floating around,” Joel said. Around that same time, Alan had an idea for an alternative cannabis grinder, but recreational (and even medicinal) cannabis was illegal in most states at that time, and the stigma surrounding cannabis use still had the market in a chokehold.

Now that cannabis is slowly being destigmatized, and more and more states are decriminalizing and legalizing, the brothers thought it would be a good time to revive the grinder concept — a general rethinking of what it takes to construct a manual cannabis grinder.

The conventional cannabis grinder of today utilizes sharpened blade posts on the top and bottom that grind the material as the top is turned by hand. With their mindset on fun and functionality, Joel and Alan have created a whole new method of shredding herbs — the Bud Wakker.

“All of today’s grinders are pretty much variations on the same kind of little post grinders. We thought, ‘Why isn’t anyone thinking about this in a different way?’” Alan said. “When you are inventing, it’s all about going outside the box.” After coming up with a base concept, Alan began experimenting with his 3D printer, making parts using digital renderings.

After much hard work, successes, and failures, the finalized Bud Wakker was created — a polycarbonate cannabis grinder that uses a pull cord to perform the grind. Upon first glance, it’s easy to tell this isn’t your typical grinder. It’s colorful, sturdy, fun to use, and effective. All folks need to do is place some cannabis in the grinder, lock the lid in place, then pull on the heavy-duty cord to grind up the material to the desired consistency.

At this early stage in the game, Joel said, they just flew the first 1,000 Bud Wakker grinders in, and they’re working on getting them into the hands of as many dispensaries, headshops, and retail stores as possible. They are currently available at Island Puff n’ Pass in Vineyard Haven, and are soon to be patented. “The marketing is almost half the success of the item. You think your idea is good, then you have to go out there and sell it,” Joel said. “I don’t know if we have to get influencers online — we will do the social media thing and try to get the word out there. We are hoping the Wakker might go viral; who knows what might happen?”

For the Aronie brothers, the process of conceptualizing a new product and slowly working out the design is both joyous and frustrating. It’s joyous because they get to use their creativity to bounce ideas off each other until a lightbulb goes off in one of their heads; it’s frustrating because of the amount of time and energy it takes to work out the kinks. “Sometimes you do the drawings on the computer, you submit them to the mold maker, you put the parts together, and you find that something needs to be changed. It’s like remaking the entire mold again, just for a few little tweaks,” Joel explained.

With the brothers spending so much time together, necessarily, it’s a good thing they have such a warm and loving relationship. The closeness of their relationship allows them to be open and honest about a product during its development. “You hear these horror stories of brothers working together, and they can’t stand each other. Whereas we can’t wait to end the day and go out and play tennis together, and have some laughs. We have had so many wonderful times with each other during the workday,” Joel said.

As of now, the brothers have invested $100,000 of their own money into the Bud Wakker, but it’s never been about the money. According to Nancy Slonim Aronie, Joel’s wife, the brothers have a slogan they go back to for all of their inventions: “We are going to put one foot in front of the other until they tell us we can’t do it anymore.”

“They definitely aren’t motivated by money. Originally we really had to push Al on the price,” Nancy laughed. “I told him it’s all right to make a little money on it, you can donate it to charity if you want.” Although they’d be happy to make a profit off the Bud Wakker, Nancy said, it’s the process that thrills them. Sometimes the brothers even volunteer in schools and try to encourage kids to use their imaginations and let their creativity be their guide. “Most people don’t see the time and effort and brain power that goes into a finished product. I get to see the whole event unfold — it’s a thing of beauty,” Nancy said.

For the Aronie household, the Bud Wakker is a product near and dear to their hearts. Joel, Alan, and Nancy all agree cannabis has helped them by giving them a fresh perspective, and a clearer outlook on life. “I think if people use it in a responsible way and in moderation, I don’t see it harming anything. Cannabis allows me to look within my community, my household, and find joy by bringing myself closer to home,” Joel said.

According to Joel, if the Bud Wakker brings in a windfall (or any kind of significant profit), they are going to invest that money into thorium salt reactors. And yes, they have an invention in mind for that too. “We feel like wind and solar just can’t hack the amount of power we need,” Joel said. “These thorium reactors can be made the size of a trailer truck, they are incredibly safe, and I think that’s the future of clean energy.”

Although they would like to use profits from the Bud Wakker to invest in clean nuclear energy, Alan said, the joy of inventing a new product is reward enough. “That immense delight you get from perfecting something, that beautiful joy with those little waves of frustration thrown in there until you get that ‘aha’ moment,” he said. “I feel sorry for people that aren’t doing something like that in their lives regularly. It’s such an important part of life, creating.”

Head to budwakker.com for more information, to purchase a grinder, or to contact the inventors. 



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