How to Cut Your Own Hair with Clippers: The Definitive Guide

If you’re considering cutting your own hair, I think you should do it.

One of the easiest ways to save money and time is to cut your own hair.

I’ve cut my hair since college. If a haircut costs about $40 a month, then I’ve saved nearly $5,000 and counting. But cutting your own hair isn’t just about saving money.

We live full, busy lifestyles. Saving an hour or two out of my week adds up in the long run. My time is worth more than the money I save.

I spend that time on work, family, and hobbies, like my love of swimming.

New experiences can be tough. I butchered my first home haircut attempt. That’s why I’ve written this guide for the complete beginner. Below, you’ll find everything you need to give yourself a great haircut.

Clippers vs Scissors

Clippers vs Scissors

You will need a pair of clippers. Scissors are optional.

Most of the work you’ll be doing in this guide involves clippers, not scissors. Although it is possible to cut your own hair with a pair of scissors, I don’t recommend it.

It’s difficult enough looking at your reflection and precisely directing one hand. Adding another hand and a pair of scissors only complicates the matter. It’s a recipe for a sliced finger and a trip to the ER.

You can, however, use scissors to cut the hair on the top of your head. I’ll show you a few tricks so you can cut longer hair with clippers. But if you want your bangs over three inches long, then grab a pair of scissors. We have a guide to the best scissors for all price ranges.

What Clippers to Use

What Clippers to Use

The most important item you need is a set of good clippers. They’ll save you a lot of time and frustration.

With a lackluster clipper you make multiple passes over the same area, and they often miss hair. The entire purpose of cutting your own hair is to save yourself time.

They also break down quicker than a quality product. So, what you need is a reliable product that will last you years and cut well for its entire lifespan.

Good clippers don’t mean more money, either. Something like the Wahl Pro hair cutting kit fits most people’s requirements. If not, check out our guide to the best clippers on the web.

Another thing you’ll need is a full set of guard combs. You connect them to the clipper blade. They portion how much hair your cutting. They’re essential to this guide.

Guard combs are numbered 1 to 8, with 1 being the smallest (16th of an inch) and 8 the biggest (1 inch).

Make sure the clipper you buy ships with all 8. Over time, your style will change. Right now you may not need all the guards, but who knows what you’ll need in a few years.

Where to Cut Your Hair

Where to Cut Your Hair

Before you gather your items, think about where you’ll cut your hair.

You’ll need good lighting and a large mirror. The bathroom is the most logical choice. But sometimes it isn’t the best one.

The lighting in some bathrooms obscures dark hair. My bathroom, for example, has dim yellow light near the mirror and I can’t see details well from far away.

Sometimes it’s better to choose a location with better lighting even if that means shirking the bathroom. A kitchen with lots of natural light works great, or a living room. It doesn’t matter, just make sure it has a mirror, or bring one in with you.

Other things to consider are an electrical outlet and smooth flooring. Ensure the electrical outlet is within about 5 feet because most clippers have a 7-foot cord.

You don’t want to cut your hair on anything other than tile, linoleum, or hardwood. Carpet and other soft surfaces will cause more cleanup than necessary.

And be somewhere friends and family won’t bother you. Nothing disrupts concentration more than a girlfriend asking you if you need help, or a Mom goading you to visit your grandma.

What You’ll Need

What you need to cut your hair

Most of what you require you’ll find in the clipper kit. But I’ve created a checklist in case you’re parsing together the pieces on your own or want to make sure you’ve got everything in one place.

  • Clippers: Buy the best you can afford. A higher quality clipper will perform better and last longer than a cheaper product.
  • Clipper Guards: Have an entire set of 8 on hand.
  • Trimmer: Some people find it’s easier to use a trimmer for the detail work at the end of a haircut. They cut cleaner lines, are easier to hold, and are cordless.
  • 2x Mirror: The easiest way to see what you’re doing is to have two mirrors: a large mirror in front of you and a hand mirror. That way you can check the back of your head as you cut. If they’re dirty, clean them prior to your haircut.
  • Comb: You won’t need a comb for short haircuts. But if you want longer hair on top, then it’s best to have a comb on hand to move your hair around as you segment it and clip the sides.
  • Towel: It doesn’t have to be clean because you’ll be using it to wipe away clippings and clean up after you’re done. I usually opt for a used towel I’ve showered with earlier in the week.
  • Vacuum or Broom: Whatever you do, don’t leave a mess behind. Part of learning how to cut your hair is learning how to clean up afterwards. A vacuum is the best choice, but a broom and dust bin suffice, too. Don’t dump your hair down the sink or bathtub drain. Calling the plumber in a few months is the last thing you want.

Choosing Your Style

Decide on a hairstyle before you cut your hair. I recommend something easy for your first attempt.

You can cut shorter styles solely with a clipper and a set of guards. After some practice you can move on to more complicated cuts.

Most men’s hairstyles combine short hair on the sides that fades into longer hair up top. My guide will break down the basics of this style. Once you master it you can add variations, like tighter fades or longer bangs, whatever.

So, choose and visualize your new haircut as you set up your workstation. I recommend you save a photo on your laptop or phone to compare as you work.

Damp or Dry Hair?

Damp or Dry Hair

I’m asked all the time if it’s better to cut your hair wet or dry. Because you’re cutting your hair short, dry hair is best.

Wetting hair prior to clipping maximizes control. The downside? Damp hair relaxes and seems longer than it really is. You end up cutting off more than you want.

Stick to dry hair, preferably clean. I recommend you avoid working out or anything strenuous prior to cutting your hair. Sweaty hair clumps together and will cause you plenty of grief.

Cutting Your Hair with Clippers in 6 Steps

I’ve broken down the how to cut your own hair with clippers guide into 6 easy steps. Remember, this is a foolproof guide for a short hairstyle. Whet your skills on a variation of this style first before tackling something more challenging.

Don’t worry about messing up. Years ago, my first attempt went horribly wrong. I hadn’t learned a few tricks I tell you below and botched it. I ended up shaving my head right down to a buzz-cut.

Throughout the haircut you’ll be switching guards. Listen for the click sound as they lock into place. A loose guard can fall off and cut out a chunk of hair, leading you to chopping off everything and rocking the skin head look.

Remember to cut against the grain. For clipper cutting this means upward strokes along the sides and back of your head, and across the top of your head from forehead to crown.

  • Segment Your Hair

Segment Your Hair

All short haircuts fade your hair, blending the sides into the top of the head. To achieve a faded, you need to cut your hair in segments. Each segment will be a different length.

Staring at your hair in the mirror, imagine your head in segments. The top of your head has the longest hair. The ridge surrounding the top a middle length, and your temples and hair above your neck the shortest.

Assign your guard combs to these three lengths. The top of your head is an 8 guard, the first segment below it a 6 guard, and your temple and back of your head a 4 guard.

The shortest hair will be around your ears, sideburns and lower neck. For these areas assign the 2 guard.

You’ll cut the sides of your head first, then the top of the head. You’ll finish up with the details, like your neck line and around your ears.

With the four guards laid out in front of you, 8, 6, 4, and 2, we can get to work.

  • Bulk Cutting

Bulk Cutting

If your hair is long, then you need to bulk cut everything down. Snap on the number 8 guard and cut it all back. This way you’ll have an easier time fading the sides of your head.

Bulk cutting may seem like a useless step, but it gives you the chance to acclimate to the clipper. Listen to the sound it makes when its cutting hair and not cutting hair.

Get used to the sound of the clippers when they’re cutting. Whenever you stop hearing that sound, you can move on to the next step.

  • Start with the Sides

Start with the Sides

Attach the number six guard, or whichever you decided for the longest part of your fade. That’s first segment just below the top of your head.

Place your free hand on the top of your head. The hand protects the hair on the top of your head as you cut the sides. You’ll be using your free hand throughout your hair cut to protect hair you don’t want to cut.

Guide the clippers up through your hair. As you reach near the top of your head, lift the clippers in a hooking motion away from your hair. We call this tapering, and it blends the hair as it nears the crown of your head.

Go around your entire head. Star at the bottom of your hair, around your ears and temples, and sweep up. It’s okay to cut everything below the ridge because we’ll go over it again with smaller guards.

Routinely use your hand mirror to check that you’ve cut all the hair on the back of your head.

Do at least three full passes. Sometimes I make six passes, because even a good clipper can miss hairs.

  • Drop Guard Size, Repeat

Where to Cut Your Hair

Once you’re finished with the number 6 guard, switch it to the 4 guard and repeat the process.

This time use your free hand to cover the ridge of your head. With the same upward hooking motions, clip your hair on the sides and back of your head. The trick is to protect the last ring of segmented hair with your hand as you clip.

Once you’ve repeated the same process with guards 6, 4, and 2, you’re finished cutting the sides and back of your head.

Compare both sides of your head in the mirror in front of you. Then turn around and check the back of your head with the portable mirror.

Don’t worry about getting the hair around your ears, sideburns, and base of the neck. You’ll do that last.

  • Chop the Top

Chop the Top

Snap on the number 8 guard and blend in the ridge with the top of your head. Afterwards, clip the top of your head.

If you want the top of your head longer than a number 8, then use your free hand to lengthen the space between your hair and the number 8 guards. This way you have no need for scissors.

  • The Fine Details

The Fine Details

You can easily clean up your sideburns and around your ears. I snap on a 1 guard and go along the edge of my ear, looping forward to my sideburns. If you want it shorter, just take off the guard and position the taper lever on your clippers to the desired length.

But I don’t recommend cutting too close on your first attempt. Wear the longer style for a day or two before deciding to cut more.

After a shower and a night’s rest you can better judge if you need to cut more from the sides or the top.

The hardest part of the entire process is the neckline. If possible, get someone to help. You’ll figure it out easily enough, but it may take a few tries to perfect a straight line while looking in the mirror. Your reflection reverses your movements, adding to the challenge.

Looking in the portable mirror, slowly follow the line around your ear and cut away the excess. This is where a trimmer can come in handy.

Remember, cut less at first, check it out in the mirror, then cut more. There’s no need to rush and cut too much.

A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned

That’s it. You’ve just saved yourself money and learned a new skill at the same time.

The first time trying anything new is the hardest part. As you learn, you can explore other at-home style options like skin fades. I find the trick is to learn the basics first. Once you’re seasoned, experiment. Everyone learns in increments. Be patient.

If you read the process and still fear the clippers, get a barber to cut the style you want, then maintain it every two or three weeks. After a few tries you’ll have the method down.

Welcome to your life-long career as your own barber.

Leave a Comment Protection Status