how to cut hair with clipper

How To Cut Hair With Clippers: The Hairstyling 101

Duty beckons. Keeping up appearances takes a seat in the low priority pool. Sooner than we realize, we start looking like cave dwellers.

Yes, I admit, self-care isn’t always at the fore of our worries because there’s so much to do. But it’s not to be taken lightly. After all, a first impression is always made through appearance.

People who prefer short hair are worse off in this case. Short hair equals regular maintenance. A visit to the salon every other month can choke the air out of your wallet. So, a lot of people (myself included) have taken up the duty of self-styling seriously.

If you are to board the self-styling train, the first course of action is to know how to cut hair with clippers. Don’t stress yourself out. In your head, you’re probably blowing the difficulty-level out of proportion. Trust me; it’s not hard.

However, it needs some getting used to, somewhat of a settling-in phase. Let me guide you through the process.

My Preferred Styling Set

Before we get our hands dirty with details, I’d like to give you a heads-up about what I think is the best hair clipper out there.

Wahl Color Pro Cordless Combi Kit

I don’t think Wahl needs any introduction to professionals. If you’re a beginner, though, you should know that Wahl is the pioneer in the hair-clipper industry. They’ve manufactured a lot of clippers since their inception. However, I prefer the Wahl Color Pro because it’s packed with professional features.

For starters, the color-coded blade guard system is a stand-out trait of this clipper. All the blade guards are color-coded for beginners to understand the entire system without having to memorize the numbers and their implications.

Also, it’s travel-friendly because the machine can adjust to different voltage settings. As you can see from the title, it’s cordless as well. So, if you’re in the great outdoors, looking to get some clipping done, the Wahl Color Pro has your back with its 60-minute runtime.

Whether it’s your first step into the world of hair clipping or your thousandth, Wahl has a lot to offer for people of all skill levels.

Are Hair Clippers Necessary?

Let’s be blunt. The term “necessary” only applies to people who either want to up their styling game or save some green by styling at home. If you fall into any of these categories, a clipper will light the way, so to speak.

You don’t have to be a professional stylist to understand that there are lots of ways to cut hair. From the tried-and-true method of using scissors to the advanced clippers-trimmers version, there are multiple options.

If classics like scissor-cutting is available, why bother spending extra money on clippers, eh? I’ve heard this question countless times, and my answer has always been the same.

I ask you – did you try cutting your hair with a scissor? If the answer’s yes, then you know how messy it can get. And the results- oh, let’s not talk about the results, my friend.

Scissors are undoubtedly powerful hair cutting tools. But without the help of a third-party individual, it’s nearly impossible to get your hair right. Most people who use scissors end up looking like a clown out of a circus. It isn’t pretty.

Let’s come back to the question at hand. Hair clippers are necessary for two different types of people. One being a professional stylist (you can’t go without it), the other being the super-busy, budget-wary individual who wants to take care of his/her own hair.

Getting a hair clipper will open up a world of styling options for you. What’s even juicier- is how easy it is to operate once you get the hang of the neat little device. I would even go as far as to say that using clippers is the most convenient grooming option for stay-at-home peeps.

You’ll still need other tools, though. For starters, it’s better to have a scissor handy in case you want to fine-tune your hair. Also, a comb is a must-have. Once you’re all set, you can jump right into the realm of self-styling.

Understanding the Math in the Machine

I know you’re excited to get into the meat of the article. However, a little patience can go a long way. Before you dive headfirst into the techniques of cutting, it’s important to know the fundamentals. Clipper-fundamental isn’t rocket science. All you need to know is the functions of the blade guards.

If you’re none the wiser regarding blade guards, they’re the slicers of the joint. Blade guards are situated in the front tasked with cutting and trimming, depending on the blade-length. So, once you get the numbers down, it’ll be easier for you to work with the machine.

The numbers start at 0 and go up to 80, and it’s pretty straightforward. A 0-numbered blade guard will barely leave any hair at all. In contrast, an 8-numbered blade guard will let 1-inch or more of your hair live.

The rule of thumb here is- every time there’s a leap in the digit, the blade’s cutting efficiency decreases by 1/8th. So, if you jump from 0-to-1, there’ll be a 1/8th-inch difference, as in 1/8-inch hair will remain.

However, this is all very general and doesn’t cover the full picture. Blade guard shifts from one number to another, and their highest point (8 or 16) depends on the clipper itself.

Manufacturers tend to switch things up, so keep that in mind. The general principle of a 1/8th-jump stands true for most manufacturers, though.

How to Go About the process?

Hairstyling is a creative endeavor. Therefore, it would be mighty restrictive if I narrow it down to a few steps only. Still, the basics are universal. After the fundamentals are in place, you can choose from a range of options. I’ll explain all there is once we’ve covered the basics.

  • Prep Your Hair for What’s to Come

Whether you’re cutting your own hair or somebody else’s, the hair needs some prepping before we head onto business. It’s a foolhardy decision just to start the machine and keep rocking until it works out. So, the first action is to wash your hair and get rid of any dust or dirt.

You don’t want your hair to be dripping with water when you’re cutting your hair. Make sure to use a cloth to dry your hair a little. A damp state is perfect. Then, try to use a comb to untangle any messy knots you have going on. You’ll realize that moist hair is more amenable to change.

However, whether to have dry or moist hair before cutting is still up for debate. A lot of stylists prefer the former as well. I like having moist hair because it allows better control.

  • Stay Ahead of the Mess

Haircutting can become real messy real quick. If you’re not prepared for the barrage of scattered hair, you’re in big trouble. There are two ways you can avoid a chaotic post-haircut nightmare.

The first is to cover your body from the neck down using a silk cloth. If you’ve been to a salon, you already know what I’m talking about. The protective clothing will save you from having an itchy body full of hair.

Secondly, find a place where it’s easier to handle the mess. For instance, you can go to your backyard or garage. If none of these options apply to you, there’s always the classic- washroom!

Just don’t start cutting hair in a place stuffed with furniture. You don’t want strands popping out of your sofa months after you’ve cut your hair.

  • Set Your Blade Guard and Action

Your hair’s ready; you’re sat with comfortable posture- it’s time we get down to cutting. So, you should know from the “Understand the Math” section how blade guards work. Judge your hair length and decide what sort of cut you want. Do you want a 4-overall or a 6? (The numbers refer to the blade guard. Read the “Understand the Math” section for further reference).

Use the long blade guard first and save the short one for later. This way, it’ll be easier for you to remove long, wound-up hairs first. So, let’s say you want a 6-overall with a slight fadeaway on the sides. The best practice is to choose a blade guard half the overall’s number. If the overall is 6, the fadeaway should be done with a 3.

So, start the machine with a 6 and move it from back to front, then work on the sides. There’s no need to rush as you run the risk of missing a spot (that isn’t pretty). After you’ve completed a whole circle with 6, change the blade guard back to 3 and work on the sides. This will give you a decent result.

  • Clip Against the Tide

I’ve seen a lot of people go with instead of against the hair’s growth. It’s a rookie mistake and is easily avoidable. Going against the hair will help you get a better cut from the clippers. If you do the opposite, the clipper’s efficiency will be compromised a bit.

Generally, hair grows from the top of our head and spreads in different directions. Instead of going top-to-back or top-to-front, you should reverse the process. You can start from the front and work your way to the top, or you can start from the back and do the same.

Also, don’t just move the clipper back and forth. The technique of removing hair with clippers is scooping. Once the blade guard comes into contact with your skin, move the clipper upwards. Imagine the whole process like a hawk swooping down and once contact is made, moving up.

  • Knowing How to Blend

I’ve already elaborated on the 6-overall and 3-fadeaway. As you can see, you have to use two separate blade guards to get this done. However, using two blade guards can (at times) result in a lingering horizontal line. It’s not something you’ll notice immediately, but trust me, it’ll stick out like a sore thumb.

To get rid of this problem, you need to use another blade guard to work as an intermediary. If the blade guards you’ve used are 6 and 3, then clipping the horizontal line with a 4 should do the trick. If you change the numbers, let’s say you’ve used 4 and 2, then a 3 should suffice. You get the gist.

Let’s Talk Style

As I’ve said earlier, getting a clipper will open a world of styling opportunities for you. I’ve only talked about the basics till now. It’s time I show you what lies in store beyond the basics. Let’s look at the different ways of how to use hair clippers.

  • The High and Tight Cut

High and Tight is a practical yet stylish haircut for men. This cut takes a page from the military and adds a little sauce to it. What makes it an amazing option is the sheer simplicity of performing the cut and the minimalistic appearance it promotes.


Get 1 and 2-numbered blade guards for the task.

Cut all the hair using a 2-numbered blade guard first.

Go slow. Make sure you don’t miss a spot.

Change the blade guard from 2 to 1.

Use a comb as a divider between the sides and the crown.

Then, use the clipper (with 1-numbered blade guard) to cut your side hair even further.

Always be mindful of the divider you’ve set.

Do it for both sides and once from the back.

Use a scissor to fine-tune the hair left on your crown, mid-scalp, and frontal region.

Clean up the mess, and voila.

  • The Burr Cut

This cut doesn’t shine too much in the style department. But it’s easy-to-do. Also, if you have some beard complemented by a stern facial structure, it can work out pretty nicely. The likes of David Beckham and Chris Evan surely pull off the Burr Cut with class.


Get a 1-numbered blade guard, or 2 if you have long hair.

Move the clipper around and cut everything.

Make sure the cut is even with no sloppy strands left.

  • The Crew Cut

The Crew Cut is an advanced maneuver, but it’s worth the effort. Many a celebrity have rocked the Crew Cut, and you can too. However, I would recommend getting the hang of using a clipper first before you attempt this cut on yourself.


Start with a 4-numbered guard. You can choose other guards depending on the length of your hair. Still, a Crew Cut is generally referred to as the number 4 cut.

Cut your sides and back, don’t go to the top just yet.

Once the sides and back are done, you have to move from side-to-crown and back-to-crown slowly.

Here is where it gets tricky (pay close attention). When you’re clipping in the mentioned direction, you have to switch the blade guards up.

The more you move towards the crown from the side or back, the longer the blade guard becomes.

If you’ve started with a number 4 for the sides and back, by the time you reach the crown, you should be using an 8-numbered blade guard.

This repeated transition of blade guards (from 4 to 8) will create a fading effect from the crown to your sides and back.

As you can see, there are multiple styling delicacies to choose from once you get a hair clipper. I’ve barely scratched the surface of possibilities. There’s so much more you could do, and with time and experience, you’ll begin to master the craft.

Note: The processes mentioned here are not etched in stone. The numbers can/will vary depending on the length of an individual’s hair. I have put out a basic perimeter for better understanding but the numbers mentioned should/must change to cater to different hair texture and length.

Do’s and Don’ts

I wish it were as simple as just buying the machine and having fun with it. Unfortunately, you have to abide by a set of rules, or you risk losing your expensive clipper for good. So, I’ll talk about all the things you can do during and post-clipping, also the things you can’t do during and post-clipping.

# Do-1: Slow and Steady for the Win

I’ve seen beginners whip out their clippers and start swooshing left and right. Don’t do that. When you’re buzzing hair with the machine, try to be gentle and patient. Going too hard on the case can hurt your scalp, and not to mention the machine as well.

# Do-2: Go Against the Hair

This step is like a general rule of thumb for hair clipping. Always go against the tide when you’re buzzing your hair with a clipper. If you go with the growth, the machine will barely clip anything. Also, the scooping technique doesn’t work if you’re not going against it.

# Do-3: Keep Hair Clean Before Clipping

You don’t want to bring the world’s dust and stuff it inside your clipper, do you? Always clean your hair before you use the machine. Doesn’t matter whether you use a shampoo or hot water- just wash. How you do it doesn’t matter too much.

# Do-4: Care for the Clipper

A hair clipper, similar to any other machine in the world, requires maintenance. Every time you take it for a swing, you have to spare some time for clean-up afterward. You have to clean the guards, oil the blade, and brush off the remaining hair from the machine. These are the essentials to keep in mind.

# Do-5: Learn

I might come off as a broken record player right now, but then again, a hair clipper will open up a lot of styling possibilities. So, don’t stop experimenting once you’ve mastered the basics. Move forward and try to learn more. Once the primary learning is over, you’ll realize there’s a lot more to it. Have a mindset to keep learning about the craft, and you’ll get the most out of the machine.

# Don’t-1: Use Water on the Machine’s Body

Hair clippers have two distinctive parts- the removable guard and the body. While there is no harm in washing the removable guard with water and soap, the clipper’s body isn’t as accommodating. The electric wiring inside the body can cause the machine to electrocute, providing you pour water. So, always be cautious and use a brush to clean the clipper’s body.

# Don’t-2: Push the Clipper too Hard on the Scalp

This is another rookie mistake. Force doesn’t equate to more power. If you’re trying to clip your hair, just simply perform the scooping technique. Pushing too hard on the scalp can result in permanent damage, given that scalp is pretty sensitive. So, always be gentle.

# Don’t-3: Use a Worn-out Clipper

Using a dead or nearly-dead clipper will do you more harm than good. It will only chip away at your hair without any substantial effect. If you observe that the clipper’s sharpness isn’t what it used to be, you can try oiling the blades. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to hunt for a new clipper.

# Don’t-4: Forget Post-Clipping Clean-up

Most stay-at-home stylists often get so engrossed in the joy of cutting hair that they skip the cleaning duties. I understand the ecstasy of getting the perfect haircut but don’t let it sway you from what’s important. Try to establish and maintain a routine of post-clipping clean-up. It’ll keep the clipper going strong and increase its lifespan to boot.

# Don’t-5: Use a Cheap Machine

I can empathize with the budget hunter’s plea. It’s natural to want a clipper packed with features at a reasonable price point. You can find great deals, but don’t pinch the penny so hard that it gasps for breath. You don’t have to go for a high-end clipper, but it’s best not to settle for cheap knockoffs that don’t live up to their promises. Have a minimum budget of $35-$50, and you’re good to go.

Before I Go

I hope you’re comfortable with the idea of cutting hair with a clipper by now. It can seem stressful at first, but after a few trial-and-errors, you’ll get there.

From the tips I’ve mentioned above, I think the most important is having the right gear by your side. The task of hair cutting can become bleak and frustrating if you’re out there with the wrong equipment. You can either choose the hair clipper I’ve mentioned or search for the other hair clippers that fit your style better.

Also, if you ever feel lost and bewildered, you can always come back to this guide on how to cut hair with clippers for help. Let’s raise our glasses to be the best version of ourselves, from the inside and outside- cheers!

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