Buying your own clippers is a great way of maintaining your hair or beard without having to make regular trips to a barber.
It’s not just your hair that needs to be maintained though – the clippers do too. And if you don’t bother, then you’ll end up with blunt clippers that don’t work well, that give you an uneven cut, and that can even become painful to use.
Sharpening clipper blades at home is something you’ll need to do eventually. Otherwise, the clippers will snag and pull at hairs instead of cutting them. So, let’s look at how you sharpen hair clippers. It’s not as difficult as you might think.
What is the best way to sharpen clipper blades at home?
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to sharpen clipper blades at home:
What you’ll need:
- Screwdriver: A Phillips head or a specialist screwdriver depending on the type of screws your clippers have.
- Safe Container: For storing screws and small parts that you remove.
- Toothbrush: For scrubbing the blades and the clippers.
- Blade Cleaner or High-Percentage Isopropyl Alcohol: To remove any gunk or rust from the blades.
- Cotton Wool Balls: To apply the cleaning solution on the blades.
- Soft Rag: For drying the blades and clippers.
- Pressurized Air Canister (Optional): To blast away any remaining water droplets from the blades.
- Highlighter Pen: To mark the blade edge for controlled sharpening.
- Grinding Stone (Sharpening Stone/Honing Stone/Whetstone): With grit ratings of 3000 or 4000 for initial sharpening and 8000 for fine honing.
- Dry Cloth: To wipe away any debris after sharpening.
- Magnet (Optional): To hold the blade while sharpening, for safety.
- Clipper Oil: For lubricating the blades after sharpening.
Step 1: Disassemble the blades
The first thing you need to do is remove the blades from the clippers. You can’t properly sharpen the blades whilst they’re in place.
So, look for the screws that are holding the blades in the clippers. On most models, there will be two screws at the bottom of the blades. If you’re lucky, they’ll be Phillips head screws, but some clippers will use less common hex screws that may require a specialist screwdriver head.
Once you’ve found the screws and the right tool, unscrew them and put them somewhere safe. You mustn’t lose them otherwise your clippers are done for!
You also need to make a note of how the blades were put together, so that you can easily reassemble them later.
Step 2: Clean the blades and the clippers
Before you sharpen the blades, you need to clean them. It might be that the blades don’t actually need to be sharpened, but they’re not working because they’re clogged with debris and dirt.
Clippers will usually come with their own cleaning brush but they’re very soft, and not really up to the job. It’s better to get a toothbrush and scrub the blades properly – the bristles will be tougher, but not so rough that they damage or mark the blades in any way.
You should also clean the clippers themselves, while you’re at it. If hairs and other debris have got caught up in the handle, they could fall back into the blades once you reassemble them. Spend time giving everything a thorough clean as this could solve the issues.
Step 3: Remove any rust
If cleaning with a brush hasn’t removed everything, or if there are signs of rust, you can wash the blades gently to help remove the build-up.
Ideally, you’ll use a proper blade cleaner (see below), but you can also use a high percentage isopropyl alcohol instead.
Andis Blade Care Plus for Clipper Blades
- Leaves clippers clean, lubricated, and cool for optimal performance
- Washes away hair build-up in seconds
- Prevents rust
Either soak the blades in the solution for a couple of minutes or use cotton wool balls soaked in the solution and rub along the blades to remove any gunk. Keep using the brush to help remove any leftover rust too. Warm water on its own can work, but it’s not the most effective against rust.
Step 4: Dry the blades thoroughly
It’s really important now to make sure that, once you’ve cleaned the blades and the clippers, you dry everything properly. Leaving any moisture on the blades at this stage could cause more rust to form. Just use a soft rag, or if you have any pressurized air canisters, those can help you quickly blast away water droplets from in between the blade teeth.
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Once the clipper blades are completely dry, you might want to reassemble them and test it – often, it’s not a dull blade but a dirty one that’s causing issues. If that doesn’t work, or you just know that they need to be sharpened, you can move on to the next step.
Step 5: Highlight the blade
Clipper blades are fine, and it can be hard to tell when you’ve sharpened them enough. A lot of people will therefore over-sharpen the blades, reducing their lifespan because they’re wearing away more than they need to.
A handy tip to prevent that is to run a highlighter pen along the inside of the blades and wait until it’s dried. Then when it comes to sharpening, you only need to do it until the highlighter pen has completely disappeared. That way you know you’ve taken off enough of a layer to improve the sharpness of the blade, without going too far.
Step 6: Sharpen the blade
The best way to sharpen a metal clipper blade is to use a grinding stone. They’re sometimes called a honing stone, a whetstone, or a sharpening stone. You can pick these up at most hardware stores.
You need to start with either a 3000 or 4000 grit stone. It’s good to have a second 8000 grit stone too, though some stones have different grit ratings for different sides, so they can save you buying two.
3000/8000 Grit Sharpening Stone
- High-quality and affordable
- Sharpens clipper blades and knives
- Comes with flattening stone, angle guide, and non-slip bamboo base
Hold the blade at around a 30-45 degree angle and then run it across the grinding stone. It’s best to do it in one direction only – don’t go back and forth as you can wear the blade down too much.
It should only take around 5 to 10 swipes across the stone to sharpen the blades fully. Remember that you’re only sharpening the inside of the blades – the parts that rest against each other. You don’t want to sharpen the outside.
Once you’ve used the lower grit rating stone, move onto the finer 8000 grit surface for a few more strokes, just to give a slightly finer edge to the blades.
With the sharpening complete, wipe away any debris using a dry cloth.
One tip – if you’re worried about holding the clipper blades and running them near the grindstone, you could use a magnet to hold the blade. This keeps your fingers away from the sharp edges.
Step 7: Reassemble the clippers
Make sure the clipper blades are completely dry, and then reassemble them. Just follow the steps to disassemble them but in reverse, making sure the screws are in place nice and tight.
Gently try moving the blades with your thumb just to make sure they move back and forth as expected, making sure not to touch the really sharp points of the blade.
Step 8: Oil the blades
You should be oiling your clipper blades every 2-3 times you use them, but it’s absolutely essential to do it once you’ve sharpened them before you switch them on.
When you sharpen the blades, you increase the amount of friction between the newly honed surfaces. Switching them on without any lubrication could cause them to overheat, and it can also wear down the sharp edges before you’ve even taken advantage of them.
Use proper clipper oil, making sure it is light enough to work as a lubricant. Don’t assume that any oil will do – blades are delicate, and a heavier oil will only clog them up and cause problems.
A small amount, run across the clipper blades, should be all you need.
Step 9: Run the clippers
Before you use the clippers on yourself, switch them on and let them run for a couple of minutes. With the lubrication of the oil, this will just make sure that they’re working correctly. It’ll also help to hone the blades even further and make sure that the oil is distributed evenly across the blade teeth.
With that done, your clippers should be ready to use. You should notice a huge difference if it’s the first time you’ve sharpened them, as the cut should be much cleaner without any tugging or snagging.
Maintaining Your Clippers
If you want to minimize the need to sharpen your clippers, you need to make sure you’re looking after them.
This means you need to:
- Oil them every 2-3 uses
- Make sure they’re completely dry when you’re finished using them
- Store them securely in a dry location – don’t leave them in the bathroom if it gets humid
- Clean them regularly
Looking after your clippers doesn’t mean you never have to sharpen them, but it does mean you can get away with it for longer, and it makes the job easier when it is sharpening time.
How often you sharpen your clipper blades depends on how often you use them. If you use them every couple of days, then you’ll want to sharpen them every 4-6 weeks. If you only use the clippers sporadically, sharpen them every six months. You may be able to wait a year if you use them rarely.
You don’t want to sharpen the blades too often. They have a limited lifespan, and every time you sharpen them, you’re wearing more of the blade away. But once you feel the blade snagging or pulling, or you notice they’re overheating, it’s time to sharpen them.
You can use sandpaper to sharpen clipper blades. With the blades removed from the clippers and cleaned, lay the sandpaper flat and then rub the blades along the paper in one direction until sharpened. Use a 3000 or 4000 grit sandpaper first, then swap to an 8000 grit paper.
To sharpen clipper blades with salt, don’t remove the blades from the clippers. Instead, dip the whole clipper into a tub of salt, straight down. Turn on the clippers and allow the blades to sharpen. You’ll need to move it around, as the salt will be broken up by the clippers.
Hair clipper sharpening with salt will work, but it’s nowhere near as effective as using sandpaper or a stone. Use it when you’re in a rush and don’t have time to sharpen the blades on a stone, but make sure you clean the blades properly afterward, as leaving salt on them can damage the blades.
An electric handheld grinder will easily sharpen clipper blades but can be tricky to use. You’ll need to pin the blade down securely, and then brush the grinder against it. It should only take 2-3 strokes. With the difficulty of securing the blade in place, it might be best to avoid this method.
To sharpen metal clipper blades, use a regular grindstone/whetstone from a hardware store. You want one with a grit rating of 3000 or 4000 for the initial grind, and then optionally an 8000 grit stone to finish. For ceramic blades, use a diamond sharpening stone.
It’s important to check labels carefully. You can get ceramic sharpening stones that are designed for metal blades but not for ceramic blades. So buy a stone that is designed for your blades, not one made from the same material.
To sharpen clipper blades on a wheel, run the blade side to side along the wheel while it is spinning. Wear eye protection as there will be sparks. Specialist grinding wheels are used by professionals to get a ‘hollow’ on the blade – a very slight curve that gives a better cut.
You can sharpen rusty clipper blades, but it’s best to remove the rust first using a blade cleaner. Once you’ve removed as much surface rust as possible, use a stone to sharpen the blades, making sure any leftover rust is removed.
If the rust is deep-set then you may not be able to get rid of it with sharpening. You can only sharpen a blade so much. If the rust won’t clean off and is too thick, you may need new blades.
You can sharpen Wahl clipper blades. They’re the same as any other clippers, so just make sure you use the right sharpening stone for the material. Depending on where you live, Wahl also sometimes offers a blade exchange service, so you can swap worn blades for pre-sharpened ones (for a fee).
You can sharpen Andis clipper blades using a grinding stone or a grinding wheel. Remove the blades, clean them, and then sharpen them against the stone using a sidewards stroke. Only sharpen the inside of the blades that rest against each other.
Professionals who care for their clipper blades will use a grinding wheel to sharpen them. Grinding wheels are fast and effective (so can be used to clean multiple sets of blades in a short time) and they give the best grind, leaving a slight hollow curve for a better cut.
You shouldn’t be able to see this ‘hollow’ curve. It’s extremely minor, but it just helps to improve the contact between the blades during cutting.
I’d definitely recommend that you buy a good sharpening stone for your clippers and that you sharpen them on a regular basis (depending on how much you use them).
A good set of clippers can last a long time but if you neglect them, for example by using them to shave wet hair, they may just need to be trashed and replaced.
Regular oiling and sharpening will keep them working much better, making shaving much more comfortable.
Finally, leave a comment below if you’ve got any tips on sharpening clippers blades from your own experience, too.
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