Tricks of the Trade
These 25 easy-to-follow tips are sure to not only improve your scissoring technique, but also save wear and tear on your body.
Whenever I discuss grooming shears, I always begin by explaining the “whys” before I talk about the “hows” of scissoring, with ergonomics serving as an important starting point. For the uninitiated, ergonomics refers to the practice of taking comfort, efficiency and safety into consideration in the design of items for the workplace.
Why are ergonomics so important? When we use products that are made with ergonomics in mind, we lessen the wear and tear on our bodies. This enables us to work longer with fewer stress injuries.
Another key factor to consider is repetitive motion, which in no way, shape or form is normal. Repetitive stress injuries are caused by excessive and repeated use of the upper limbs and are more likely to occur when tasks are performed under difficult conditions, using awkward postures and poorly designed equipment.
With these factors in mind, the first step in selecting and using shears is deciding what is the most normal position for your own hands, wrists and arms. Take a look at your hand in its most comfortable state. It is usually hanging by your side or resting on something. Your fingers are probably slightly curled in and your thumb is pointing inward toward or between your pointer and second fingers.
The trick is to find scissors that fit your hand in a way that does not to disturb that normal position. I recommend hitting a grooming show and trying on different shears to see what fits best.
Understanding the right way to hold your shears is critical. First insert your ring finger into the finger ring. Then lay the handle across your middle and pointer fingers so that it is secured in a cradled position with your knuckles slightly curved. The handle should stop just at your pointer finger’s first knuckle, fitting right in the groove. The pivot screw should be just past your knuckle on your pointer finger. The tang is not important; it’s okay if you cannot reach it. Finally, your thumb should be placed between your first and second finger, so you’re holding the scissors in as close to a normal position as possible.
When working with scissors, you should not feel strain in any part of your body. Keep your scissors in a comfortable, secure grip using a smooth up and down thumb motion. Keep your wrist as straight as possible to maintain good circulation in your hand.
Once you’ve gotten the basics down, try some of these tips to improve your comfort and technique:
Tip #1: Safety First
Always remember to scissor with the growth pattern of the coat when trimming close to the dog’s skin. If you scissor against the grain, the coat will feed the scissor into the ear.
Tip #2: Keep it Straight
You can use a bowling or carpal tunnel wristband while working if you have trouble keeping your wrist straight. You don’t want it too tight, but just as a gentle reminder.
Tip #3: Look Where You’re Going
Always look ahead of your shears—like driving a car.
Tip #4: Work Smarter, Not Harder
Use your whole body to push the shears, not just your arm. Also, do not overreach. When your arm is extended, you have a lot less control of the shear and it will tend to bounce.
Tip #5: Don’t Get in Over Your Head
Remember to keep your shoulders in a normal position. Avoid raising your arms over your head for long periods. Scissoring can cause injury to your shoulders too. Having a hydraulic table is helpful in minimizing this issue.
Tip #6: Breathe Easy
When scissoring, remember that a mask will help keep you from inhaling the trimmed hair.
Tip #7: Clip First
Use a guide comb attachment on your clipper to outline your dog first. This will minimize your scissoring time and effort.
Tip #8: Comb Correctly
When scissoring, your comb is as important as your shears. You want your comb to lift the coat, not over manipulate it. The longer and thicker the coat, the wider apart and longer the teeth of your comb should be.
Tip #9: Smooth Strokes, No Picking
For the best scissor finish, use a long, smooth stroke and glide through the coat when combing. Give it a shake and start scissoring. Don’t pick with your comb.
Tip #10: Let it Lay
Scissoring with the lay of the coat is more forgiving. You will make fewer scissor marks if you always point your scissors with the lay of coat.
Tip #11: Need Speed?
Following these steps is sure to speed up your grooming: First, comb the coat up and clip over the area with a guide comb attachment. Then comb up and scissor. Finally, comb up and go over the area with a blending shear.
Tip #12: Everything in Its Place
Never lay your shears down open. If shears are open and they get bumped, it increases the chance of nicking them. It is best to have some type of scissor holder to place them in at all times. When traveling with your shears, always place a rubber band around the handle to prevent them from opening.
Tip #13: Be Blunt
For added safety, use blunt ended shears around the eyes.
Tip #14: Paw Practice
Use German or beveled-edge shears around the feet. They tend to be less sharp and less likely to nick or dull if you hit a toenail or debris in the coat.
Tip #15: Flawless & Fast
To accomplish the best finish quickly, use a Japanese or convex-edge shear. They are very sharp and produce a flawless finish.
Tip #16: The Soft Approach
Use a 26-tooth blending shear over your scissor work on a difficult soft coat. It works a lot like a scissor on the outside of the coat but leaves a softer finish and fewer scissor marks.
Tip #17: For Hard-to-Reach Places
In those hard-to-reach areas close to the skin where you want a natural look, grab a 45-tooth or more blending shear. These are great for blending close to the skin of the pet. They are best used to soften clipper or transition lines between different blade lengths close to the skin.
Tip #18: Build an Arsenal
Having a selection of different length shears will help your efficiency. I like to keep five-, seven-, eight- and 10-inch straights on hand. This gives me the flexibility to work on any size dog and in any area of the dog.
Tip #19: Handling Curves
Using a curve shear to finish a very round area can give you a better finish faster.
Tip #20: Call in the Big Guns
Having a heavier weighted and wider blade shear in your lineup is great for those super-thick Standard Poodle and Bichon coats.
Tip #21: A Well-Oiled Tool
Using shear oil daily to clean your blades can extend the life of the edges and make the shears a little easier to operate. Remember, never use anything with solvents because they can dissolve the washer in your shears.
Tip #22: Keep Them Grounded
When scissoring a dog’s legs, always keep the feet on the ground. Cutting in your outline this way will allow you to keep a consistent profile and prevent you from following a fault in the dog’s structure.
Tip #23: The Right Way to Recover
If your hands are sore and swollen after a hard day of scissoring, you can soak them in ice water to lessen the inflammation. For sore muscles, heat can also be nice.
Tip #24: Limber Up
Stretching should be the first thing you do each day. There are several hand stretches that will help minimize the long-term damage of repetitive motion. Google “simple hand stretches” for suggestions.
Tip #25: Practice Makes Perfect
Scissoring techniques take time to develop. First, learn what is under the coat. Knowing the structure of a well-made dog will give you the confidence that comes with knowing why you are doing what you are doing. This makes it easier to dive in with those shears.
Christina Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. She is currently the National Training Manager for Oster Professional Products and produces grooming DVDs through her website GroomerWorks.com.