She cuts my hair, I look less disheveled. It works out. Kinda.
October 17, 2013 11:20 AM   Subscribe

My wife cuts my hair but it's never quite as good as a good barbershop haircut. What are some things she and I may not be doing properly or can do differently/better to improve the results? Many [non-dandruff related] snowflakes inside.

You can skip all the below text and just reply, but for those who may want or need more details, I'm not shy.


Please forgive any wrong terminology here. Perhaps my usual cut could best be described, in the terms I don't really have a familiarty with, as a short, layered, ceasar style? But that may be all wrong. Somewhere between a blocked and tapered nape. Sideburns off. I like it short and simple enough that I can roll out of bed in the morning and not futz with it at all. This isn't usually a problem until it approaches haircut time, then we cut. Easy to schedule that way.


My hair is black, thickish (both in general and individually), with *many* cowlicks. The last item is why *insert normal random barber here* usually dosen't cut it (ba dum ching) for me as, while I'm not picky, I do have some crazy spots that can be handled differently by different people. Every hair cut she's given me has been stylistically, if not technically (hence this askme), as good or better than all but my hometown/childhood barber who is out of reasonable range.


We have, what could probably best be described as, a cheaper set of electric clippers, a pair of scissors/shears of the same quality, and cheap combs. Something that came as a set and for cheap. Like this but not exactly that model, although I think it is Conair brand. I also have a few DE and straight razors around so those could be incorporated if need be.


She basically follows the little pamphlet that came with the clippers. Top of head with clipper attachment comb of length A, sides with length A-1 or so, slide the lenght lever on clippers down a bit to blend, use proper left/right comb over respective ears, remove clipper attachment comb for nape/sideburns/misc trimming, shake/rub head, repeat on top and sides to catch stray hairs.

She's probably cut my hair at least 7 to 10 times already, so this is somewhat solidified for better or for worse but changing it is still an option if we need to.

Specific Problems:

A) First, it seems to us that we leave more stray hairs that are longer than the rest of the head than a normal barber (who leaves almost none). I don't like the hedgehog look.
B) Time. If it could be done faster we'd like to do it faster but that's subsidiary to other things.

Specific Inquiries (feel free to drop general advice as well):

1) What can we do to improve the procedure itself? Are we doing it quintessentially wrong, if so how?
2) I feel like the clippers we have may be the limiting factor here as well. They may be the culprit for A) above and they also probably contribute to B) as well. They don't pull or snag and we keep them clean/oiled for what that's worth. We are not opposed to paying for quality here if it will improve the experience by a non-marginal amount.
3) Scissor usage is mostly nil for us, she uses them a bit here and there but if there's a method to that madness that we're missing, fill us in.
4) We don't use water/spray bottle at all. Are we missing something crucial by not doing so because I recall most barbers using them but never quite groked why?


Please don't say that I should have someone else cut my hair, that's the trivial/obvious solution that isn't on the table in this discussion. If her observing someone else or getting a lesson or two (not going to a salon school or anything) may make sense that might be an option but even that's probably not going to happen or be as quickly implemented as other hints/tips.

I'm also not looking to change my style, not that I really care, but that's also outside the scope of this question really.


Thanks for the help.
posted by RolandOfEld to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you are cutting the hair dry, that's probably your first issue. Dry hair has various levels of curl that tend to flatten out when wet down. Give that a shot, if you're going to use clippers overall.

Your cowlicks are probably to blame for a lot of it, as well. If you want to use clippers, section your hair with your fingers (or have her do it, I mean) and compare the length when you think it's done. Catch stray hairs with the scissors and cut to length.
posted by xingcat at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2013

Stray hairs may be due to cheap clippers. This year I invested in a Wahl Super Taper clipper (currently $45 on Amazon) for my self-clippering, and I wish I'd done it years ago -- it's built like a tank and will probably outlast me. Upgrading your clippers may also help with speed, if your wife is currently having to go slow to avoid snagging. There seems to be a huge gulf between consumer-grade clippers and even the cheapest professional-grade ones (I think mine count as professional-grade because the box blurb assumes that I am a stylist working at a salon).

You can pay well over $45 for consumer clippers with Li-ion battery, USB charging, LED charge indicator, built-in beard trimmer etc. etc. with only the minor downside that they're terrible at cutting hair.
posted by pont at 11:36 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I cut my husband's hair. These things really help: going really slow and steady with the clippers, working with damp hair, then finally going back through with the scissors and getting the stray long strand. I sometimes go at it at various angles if the overall "hedgehoggyness" is very apparent.
posted by stormygrey at 11:41 AM on October 17, 2013

I've been assuming that the problem with my husband's hair clippers is that they're old and the blades are dull, which is why I have to go really slowly to make sure 99% of the hairs get cut, and then go back and do a second and third pass over everything to pick up strays. I was considering buying new blades, and wondering if a new trimmer would be cheaper - now I'm thinking that I should listen to pont. But my data-point is, it's probably something to do with the clippers.
posted by aimedwander at 11:51 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I got my hair cut at the barber's it never took less than 25 minutes and he always made many extra passes to get those stray sticky-up hairs. I used to do my son's hair with clippers and as far as I can see a barber takes quite a bit longer than amateurs usually do.
posted by glasseyes at 12:02 PM on October 17, 2013

Get decent scissors from somewhere like Sally's, and don't use them for anything except hair.
posted by radioamy at 12:02 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I cut and "fix" hair as a non-pro, including my own.

She shouldn't be afraid to use the clippers to do the bulk of the work on the sides/back (which are time consuming) and then to start working in scissors if possible rather than relying on the clippers for clean up and shaping.

If there are waves/cowlicks in hair, my preference is to cut (with scissors) when it's dry so it is behaving how it normally will and it doesn't come out too short.

I use my fingers rather than a comb and mimic a technique I've seen used, which is like this. Key: I work directly against the natural direction the hair is falling in a given area and use my fingers as a rough guide. It controls the volume in certain areas (ex top) and gives a nicer cut than clippers alone because it adds "texture" and blends in any parts that might stick out (it also grows out better because hair doesn't grow in a uniform way). The result I'm describing is a George Clooney-esque caesar, you may be looking for more of an Eminem caesar which is probably better left to clipper technique.
posted by skermunkil at 12:15 PM on October 17, 2013

Response by poster: The result I'm describing is a George Clooney-esque caesar, you may be looking for more of an Eminem caesar which is probably better left to clipper technique.

Hmmm.... let me add some more dirt to the, potentially already overly muddy, waters.

After consulting this list, it may help to mention that I'd probably fall into the Ivy League/Princeton/Harvard Clip (*shiver*) category before the Caesar. Although I don't part my hair at all nor use wax/gel in all but the most random of occasions. Just au naturale.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:31 PM on October 17, 2013

Should still probably start with clippers.

Could you both go to a barber's, and have her watch while you get your hair cut there? Then you can take some pictures when you get home for use as references during future haircuts.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:20 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good equipment will help quite a bit. I bought professional Andis clippers for around $50 about 10 years ago. They perform very well with good maintenance. Hardly any stray hairs. I like Tweezerman brand shears because you can send them back for free sharpening.

I cut my husband's hair damp for better control and precision. I use the clippers for the sides and back (with attachment). I use shears for the upper sides (where they transition to the top hair) and for the top length of his hair. My husband's hair is also thick, so I use thinning shears, but those aren't necessary for all hair types. I'm pretty fast at this point and I get a professional result. My shaping is better than that of the professional he sees intermittently when we can't coordinate a home cut in time. I attribute this to professional-level equipment and practice.

I think the 2 things you could do to get a better result is cut the hair damp and get a better set of clippers.
posted by quince at 2:17 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have an Oster Classic 76. It is old fashioned, a little loud, and does a fantastic job. It made cutting hairs super fast and easy. It's not cheap, but in the context of saving $20 once a month, it has paid for itself well over 4 times at this point. It works about a million times better than my Wahl Hair-Cuttin' kit did- those little snap on combs did a really terrible job.

And yes, even professional, experienced barbers will go over a clipper cut with a scissors to grab any strays.

Last tip: do the cuts twice as often as you normally would. I think you'll see better results.
posted by gjc at 3:00 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I cut my husband's hair when it is clean and dry. It takes about 10 minutes and he gets some variation of the "business man" cut in your link.

I would recommend a few things:

-Instead of blending with the little lever on the side of the clippers, use a sort of rolling motion when blending into the next section. For example when you are clipping the short part on the neckline do a slow swoop up and away from the head at the point where your next length will be. I find that the difference between the lever's close cut position and long cut position is too much of a dramatic change.

-Once you have done the back and sides, comb and inspect to fix any sticking out parts before you move on to the top. Fix with the clippers, don't get scissor happy.

-For the top of the head, I always start a little bit behind the bangs and then trim the bangs with scissors. If I include the bangs with the top of the head, they usually end up too short. The scissors provide a little more control over the length. Use your fingers to pull down the bangs in a straight line and make little vertical snips to cut the hair instead of going straight across. Only trim a little at a time.

-I also clean up around the ears with the scissors. Comb the hair down, bend the top flap of the ear, and trim the outline where the hair should fall. I learned that one the hard way. One time when I used the clippers things got a little too short (way too short). Although he was very generous with me and said it didn't look too bad.
posted by donut_princess at 4:07 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Quality scissors; in the sense of good blades (that can be resharpened) and a blade length that fits your SO's hand and cutting style.
posted by buzzman at 9:52 PM on October 17, 2013

Nthing buying good clippers. Particularly ones that include a large number of guards (#1, #2, etc.). Always good to start with a "large" guard and work your way down if it's not short enough or isn't quite "right."
posted by kuanes at 5:13 AM on October 18, 2013

Youtube is great for DIY stuff - she could watch a few videos to see if she can pick up some tips on technique.
posted by vignettist at 8:42 AM on October 18, 2013

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