Ace Sharpening & Co
How to get “The Touch” in Clipper Blade Sharpening
When you have the correct touch your re-sharpened clipper blades will cut as good as or better than new. So what is the correct touch and how do you get it? Of course it is elusive if you don’t understand what it is exactly so hopefully after reading this you will understand what it is and how to master it. I want to keep this as simple as possible so here it is.
The objective in sharpening clipper blades is to transfer the profile of the clipper wheel to the cutter. If you press down too hard on the cutter when sharpening the cutter will spread wider and receive a distorted profile resulting in an equally distorted rub pattern. To transfer the exact profile of the clipper wheel to the cutter the downward pressure on the cutter must be limited to a lighter pressure to prevent spreading the cutter, this then requires more passes across the face of the clipper wheel to remove enough metal to correctly sharpen the cutter.
A human hair I am told is about 3 thousandths thick. Relatively to removing all of the damage on a cutter a correctly sharpened cutter must then have between 1 ½ to 2 thousandths metal removed to be fully sharpened. Considering how thick a human hair is this is not a lot of metal removed, but if you fail to remove this amount then your blades will not cut as well as they could. You still have to look and make sure the grind lines go all the way to the tips of the cutter teeth, if they don’t then you need to remove more metal, but in normal sharpening on blades that have been previously sharpened correctly between 1 ½ to 2 thousandths metal removed will do the job.
If the blades have been sharpened say on the side of a grinding wheel then you will have to remove way more metal to get them to work. I can tell you that from experience and it is not very pretty what you end up with, but they will work if there is enough metal left to sharpen them.
I use a dial indicator gauge to measure exactly how much metal I have actually removed from a cutter, calipers don’t work you need a dial gauge to get an accurate reading.
The dial indicator will tell you exactly how much metal you have removed relative to how many passes you have made. If you have not removed enough metal or you have removed too much metal then you need to increase or decrease how many passes you make until you narrow it down to the exact amount of metal removed you are looking for which is again between 1 ½ to 2 thousandths.
At two pounds of downward pressure I do 12 to 14 passes to remove between 1 ½ to 2 thousandths metal, but you may need to do more or less. It all depends on how hard you are pressing, but the dial indicator will help you determine how many passes you actually need to make to remove the correct amount of metal. One pass is from the center of the wheel to the outer edge of the wheel then back to the center = one pass. I always end up on the outer edge of the wheel to end my final pass and stop there moving back and forth only ¼” both ways a couple of times to ensure everything is lined up properly then I lift the cutter and magnet straight up.
I use a small scale to measure how much downward pressure I am putting on a cutter when sharpening it. Place the cutter in your magnet then press it down on top of the scale until it reads two pounds of downward pressure. (This amount of downward pressure will not spread the cutter.) Do this over and over till you can consistently get two pounds of downward pressure with your eyes closed. Once you get that down then you are ready to sharpen.
“The touch” Two pounds of downward pressure alone is not enough to get a feel for what you are doing; you have to feel what is happening on the face of the clipper wheel. In order to get the touch you have to completely relax your body, your arms and your fingers, you can have absolutely no tension in your body at all that can be transferred to the cutter you are trying to sharpen. Like Bruce Lee said: “Be like water.”
You still have to stay in control, but without any tension in your body. Using muscle power to put downward pressure on the cutter will cause tension so use the dead weight of your arm instead, always staying in control of what you are doing and limiting your downward pressure to just two pounds. Again don’t use muscle power to sharpen clipper blades it will not give you the results you are looking for.
Now that you are in control and relaxed you are ready to feel what is actually happening on the face of your clipper wheel. There is a reaction between the cutter and the face of the clipper wheel that you have to be in constant awareness of. Only using two pounds of downward pressure and totally relaxed you will feel the cutter start to vibrate, or chatter, or even try to bounce. This is normal, but it is not what you want, any vibration, chatter, or bounce between the cutter and the clipper wheel will ruin your attempt to sharpen a cutter. So as soon as you feel any of this starting to happen simply press or hold the cutter a little firmer to stop it completely, and this friend is the beginning of “the touch” you are looking for.
What should it feel like? At first you feel for any vibrations, and then you just press or hold the cutter firm enough to stop them completely and no more; using only the dead weight of your arm and fingers. The surprising thing about all this is that you can stop all of the vibrations without actually increasing the downward pressure over two pounds, if you wanted to you can even stop all of the vibrations using less then as little as ½ pound of downward pressure, it’s all in your touch, but two pounds is what you want.
Ultimately what you are trying to do is control and completely stop any and all vibrations between the cutter and the face of the clipper wheel. The good part is this can all be done with as much or as little downward pressure as you want. What you will then get with “the touch” is a “very smooth grind”, (you can feel it) across the face of the clipper wheel. What your customers will get is a very smooth cutting clipper blade.
Once you feel the very smooth grind of “the touch” then all you have to do is maintain that touch throughout the whole sharpening process then you will realize just how relaxing clipper blade sharpening can really be with the satisfaction of knowing your blades are going to cut better than ever before.
It should be noted that “the touch” also applies to scissor, and knife sharpening as well, no vibrations only smooth even grinds regardless of what you are sharpening.
Here is something I learned from a recent seminar on clipper blade sharpening. It may be controversial to some, but I have been using it with great success.
For an even sharper blade instead of holding the cutter parallel to the laser line as in normal sharpening move the right edge of the cutter (or comb) up ¼” from where you would normally line it up. The left side of the cutter stays where it is normally. Then use the laser line to move the cutter back and forth as normal except the blade will be tilted up ¼” on the right side. What this does is create grind lines that slant to the left on the face of the cutter and also on the face of the comb. It also hollows the teeth slightly from side to side as well as from tip to back. (The rub pattern will look the same as normal.) So now when you place the cutter onto the comb the grind lines will form and X pattern and they will ride on each other causing less friction and less heat across the blade. Grind lines that are straight will result in a rougher bearing surface.
Place both palms of your hands together and rub them back and forth. Your fingers will bump into each other as you move your hands back and forth, now make an X pattern with your palms and rub them back and forth and you will feel that your fingers ride on each other very smoothly. The instructor that taught this method is from Australia and his first name is Ian.