Clipper Blade Myths and Folklore

First, let me explain how this whole thing started. I am a sharpener who does clipper blades, scissors, and clipper repairs for professional groomers, home groomers, colleges, beauticians, etc. Basically, I work for anybody who uses these tools. During the course of my sharpening work, I have seen some of the worst-kept equipment and some of the best kept. I have talked to lots of people in the animal and human business on how they handled their equipment and what they did--or didn't do--to take care of it.

Blade replacement

There are two blades in a horse clipper: The big bottom blade is called the comb and the small upper blade is called the cutter. If the cutter slides all the way out when you're cleaning the blades, very gently lift the front of the spring to get it back in as shown.

Wing straightening

Frequently, the blade(s) rattle because the socket wings are bent. A pair of needle-nosed pliers can be used to gently straighten the wings.

Some of the information I was given really scared me and made me wonder how these groomers got into the business. It seems that some, but not the majority, were school trained to become groomers. The rest were handed a set of clippers with blades and told to go clip all that disgusting hair off of that horse, dog, goat, lamb, cow, etc. This segment of groomers was not given any information or instruction on the why to, where to, what to, and how to clip that hair. They learned by trial and error, or more commonly called the School of Hard Knocks.

What are we going to discuss? Primarily, I will provide information to help you with the care and maintenance of these mysterious monsters called clipper blades. I also hope to dispel some of the old myths that exist and bad practices gleaned from our parents/relatives.

It seems that many people who have groomed for years do not know or have never been taught how clipper blades actually work. For the purposes of this article, we'll use the model A-5 blades, made popular by Oster. Everything mentioned will carry over to the other types of blades (i.e., small blades, wide blades, large blades, sheep blades, etc.). There are many manufacturers across the country who manufacture clipper blades that are fully compatible with the A-5 blade. That means practically all the other manufacturers' A-5 blades will also work on any A-5 compatible clipper.

First Two Myths

Myth #1--Only manufacturer A's blades will work on clipper A.

Myth #2--There is only one manufacturer of clippers and clipper blades.

I was truly amazed when I ran into these first two thoughts (myths). To assist in our discussion of the A-5 clipper blades, it might be helpful to know all the parts involved.

There are two blades: The big bottom blade is called the comb, and the small upper blade is called the cutter. The comb is the one nearest the skin when clipping, and the cutter is the one that is moving crazily back and forth on top. To hold these blades together we use a couple of different pieces. The first is called the spring, which has a plastic piece fitted over the front edge called the blade guide. The blade guide fits into the groove on the top of the cutter blade and keeps metal from rubbing against metal. The spring, properly tensioned, applies the pressure on the top blade (cutter) against the comb. The last piece is called the socket, which fits over the hinge and has the screws in it to hold the whole thing together.

The blades used to cut animal hair must be hollow ground (the blade is concave so it will have a sharper cutting edge) in order to work properly. Likewise, certain parts on the clipper blade must be in the proper position/order to work properly. People are continuously complaining about the blade(s) making so much noise on their clippers. This is directly related to the socket piece in the blade set. The socket is where the blade set is placed onto the hinge before being closed. The socket has two wings that stick up and ultimately wrap around the hinge to help hold the blade tight on the clipper. When the blade "rattles" on the clipper, it is because one or both of these wings on the socket have been bent outward. They are supposed to be straight up and down, but because of the cutter blade being driven back and forth, these wings get bent.

One blade manufacturer is using a metal in this piece that is extremely soft and the wings bend very easily. It is a correctable situation, and the operator can fix the blade by gently straightening the wings (see photo on page 104). A pair of needle-nosed pliers is the easiest tool to use. Ninety-five percent of the time the blade(s) rattle because of the socket wings. Tell your sharpener about this piece bending, and we will replace it.

They Need Oil?

Another situation that needs to be addressed pertains to the use of clipper oil. I know that the words clipper oil must be Greek to many groomers because they never use it. My favorite question for these people is: Do you drive your car without oil?

There has to be oil on these pieces of metal to help reduce the heat buildup. When you have metal rubbing fast against metal, you must keep these metal pieces clean and oiled to reduce heat and allow them to perform at an optimum level.

The other response I get all the time is, "I don't want the oil to get on the hair." Well, just wipe the excess oil off of the comb after running the clipper for 10-15 seconds, and you won't get any on the hair.

Everybody complains about blades getting hot, but when you ask them about lubrication, they just look at you.

Oil the blades and test them periodically for heat against your wrist. If the blade is hot to your arm, then it just might explain why that animal is jumping or dancing all over the place. Oil the blades, and if the blades are too hot, remove them to cool and put another blade on the clipper (or take a break until the blade cools if you don't have another blade).

How To Oil

To properly oil your blades, all you have to do is slide the cutter half way out to the right and brush out the blade. Then slide the cutter half way out to the left and brush out the blade. Put five drops of clipper oil on the blade, three drops on the teeth (each corner and center), and two drops on either side of the cutout area in the top of the cutter blade. Put the blade back on the clipper and run the clipper for 10-15 seconds. If you are going to continue clipping, then wipe the excess oil off of the comb.

If you are putting that blade away, do not wipe off any excess oil. This will provide protection for the blade(s) when you put them into the airtight container.

AW SHUCKS! That cutter blade slid all the way out when I was trying to clean them (this will happen occasionally). Simply slide the cutter blade back by very gently lifting the front of the spring to get it started. Do not loosen any screws, and don't pry the spring up to get the cutter back into place. When you do either one of these things, you have just lost the tension setting we put on the blades when they were sharpened. This tension is critical to the blade working properly. It determines whether the blade cuts the hair or just grabs/chews the hair. It also will determine whether you are a happy groomer or complaining because the blades won't work.

Cleaning Your Blades

Another area to be addressed is the type of blade wash/cleaner to use on these clipper blades. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of products on the market today that do not contain water. A couple of favorite answers I get to this question are, "Well, I dip my blades in kerosene or diesel fuel, and I was taught this way by my folks."

I fully understand what they are saying, but the problem is with the steel being used in today's clipper blades. This steel is not nearly the same quality that was used in the blades many years ago. With today's metals, kerosene draws moisture, which ultimately causes rust to form on the blades. Check the blades you are dipping in kerosene or diesel fuel for rust. You'll probably find it.

The answer is to put clipper oil on the blades and work it in on both blades, then put them into a small plastic storage container with an air-tight lid. This will help keep the rust from getting to your blades. When sharpeners grind your blades, the flat areas or "rides" between the blades (no, we don't sharpen between the teeth) are critical sites for rust. If these areas on the teeth become pitted from rust, then the blade is essentially no good. Sometimes we can clean these up, but not often.

Take-Home Message

I hope this information helps clarify some of the mysteries associated with the A-5 clipper blades and also dispels some myths and trends. It is essential that the groomer understand what makes the blades work the way they do, as well as what will render them inoperative and/or dull. With this information, you will be able to better protect your investment in clipper blades and get more use or life out of them. Happy Clipping! 

CLIPPER BLADE LIFE: Dealing with Dull Blades

During the life of your clippers, your blades will eventually dull to the point they do not cut your horse's hair very well. "You can get several clippings per blade," says Fred Koeller, vice president of marketing for Andis. "It depends on the breed of horse (the coarseness of his coat), how much hair the horse has on its body, if he is clean, and if you properly maintain your blades."

Continues Koeller, "A 1,000-pound horse can have as much as 7,700 square inches of hair on his body. During the winter, the hair gets longer and the horse gets dirtier, which can dull blades quickly. This is also the time most people want to clip their horses.

"When clipping your horse, put oil on the blades every few minutes to keep the hair flushed. You can also use Cool Care Plus, which is a lubricant, disinfectant, and inhibits rust on the blades. It is not a substitute for oil, but a supplement," says Koeller. Cool Care Plus is a spray that can be used alternately with the oil.

Koeller also notes that your blades will last longer if you only clip your horse when he is well groomed. "You will have better results with your clipping (the hair will be evenly cut) and will be less apt to dull blades if the horse's coat is clean."

When your clipper blades do need to be replaced, but the blades appear to be in good shape and don't have any broken teeth, you can have the blades sharpened instead of purchasing new blades. "You will spend anywhere from $3.00-$4.00 or even $7.00-$8.00 depending on where you take them, what area of the country you live in, and the size of your blades," remarks Koeller. "Every horse owner should have two sets of blades. One set should be available for clipping when the other set is being sharpened."--Marcella M. Reca

About the Author

Gil Settlage

Gil Settlage started a general sharpening business in 1989, and in 1994 began to specialize in the grooming industry (scissors, clipper blades, and clipper maintenance/repair) as well as providing services at dog and horse shows. His business can be found online at

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