OK, so listing all the reasons why blades and shears go dull may not be the most exciting subject in the world.
But it is an important one.
There are few things more frustrating for a professional pet groomer than to have shears or clipper blades go dull during a busy grooming day. Dull cutting instruments can lead to lost time, lost money, and subpar grooming results.
So how do you avoid this dreaded dulling?
Any sharpened metal surface will eventually grow dull with regular use, but there are ways to reduce the rate at which your blades and shears lose their edge.
Here are some suggestions from our staff groomers.
The types of dogs that you groom can be a big factor in the rate at which your blades dull. If you primarily groom soft-coated breeds like shih-tzus (above), yorkies or silky terriers, your blades will probably hold their edge longer.
If, on the other hand, you primarily groom dogs with coarse, wiry or thick coats such as dark-coated Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs or Newfoundlands (below), your blades will dull at a faster rate.
Although you might not think it, the hair shaft of a dog is actually stronger and denser than a similarly sized piece of copper wire.
Every time you cut hair, it puts a tiny ding into the cutting blade. The stronger the hair, the bigger the ding, and the more quickly the cutting surface will lose its edge.
Some groomers charge more for dogs with thick or wiry coats because they know it will make their blades dull faster.
To Bathe or Not To Bathe First? That is the Question
The cleanliness of the coat also plays a key role in determining how long your blade and shear edges will last.
If you clip or scissor the dog before the bath, you are cutting through any dirt, oil and grit that has accumulated in the coat since the dog's last bath. This process is akin to cutting a paper doll out of a piece of sandpaper. It can be very tough on blade edges.
It is easier and gentler on the blades to cut hair after the bath, when the coat is clean and hair shafts are plumped with moisture.
Some groomers like to cut or clip before they bathe because it helps to reduce washing and drying time (and as any groomer will tell you, "time is money.") There is nothing wrong with this practice, but it will increase the rate of dulling.
In addition to the condition of the coat, clipper blades can go dull if they are exposed to extreme changes in temperature.
When a metal clipper blade heats up during use, the metal expands. When the blade cools down, the metal contracts. This cycle of expanding and contracting can result in subtle changes in the angle of the blade edge over time.
The hotter the blade gets and the faster you cool it down afterwards, the more likely it is that the edge will be altered by the process and no longer cut like it used to.
We recommend monitoring blade heat to prevent blades from heating up too fast, and using a heat-absorbing surface like slate or granite to gradually draw out the heat during cooldown.
When Clippers & Blades Grow Old Together
If you've been using the same clipper with the same blades for a while, you can run into problems when you try to switch out your old blades for new ones.
The blade drive on an older clipper often becomes weakened with age. Your old blades may have continued to cut well on this blade drive because the cutting tension on your blades also loosened over time. It was no problem for the blade drive to move the blades at a speed that would cut through hair.
When you attach new blades with a tighter blade tension to your old clipper, the blade drive isn’t able to move the blades at a fast enough rate of speed. So the blades won’t cut and will appear to be dull.
You can solve this problem by replacing the blade drive on your clipper or adjusting the tension of the blades, and they should cut fine.
Coming To Grips with Your Shears
When it comes to shears, the technique that you use to scissor can also affect the longevity of your blades. If you are putting too much of your fingers through the handles of your shears, you may be holding them too tight.
A tight grip can cause the two blades of the shears to grind against each other with each cutting stroke, which will dull them down fast.
Holding the shears lightly with the tips of your fingers so that the rings don't go past your first knuckle (see photo above) will help to ensure that you're cutting hair instead of grinding metal.
A trick that groomers often try when their shears are going dull is to crank down on the dial adjuster. This will increase the cutting tension and make it possible to cut with shears that otherwise seem dull, but it will do more damage to the blades in the long run.
When you go to get your shears sharpened, the sharpener will have to take off more of the metal to restore the edge, which in turn will cut down on the life of your shears.
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