Shear Perfection

Shears can be a dog groomer’s best friend, but they should have the right fit with an ergonomic design in order to make the cut.

When talking about shears, we need to begin with why you need a shear that fits your hand and how to select one. It is as important as wearing the right size shoe. There are also mechanics involved. So when shopping for shears, finding the shears that feel good and are ergonomically sound should play a big part in your selection. 

Ergonomics is the study of people, their physical characteristics and how they use tools and objects. It is meant to incorporate comfort, efficiency and safety into the design of items in the work place, helping to prevent pain or injury stemming from the overuse or strain of a particular body part. This is easier said than done when you work in an industry where repetitive motion cannot be helped. 

Repetitive stress injuries are caused by excessive and repetitive use of a particular part of the body. These injuries are particular likely when tasks are performed under difficult conditions, using awkward postures and poorly designed equipment, but they can be minimized by using proper techniques and well-designed tools. Focusing on ergonomics can help extend a groomer’s career and reduce the likelihood of stress injuries. 

So, the first step when shopping for shears is to determine what feels most comfortable for your hands, wrists and arms. Out of the many types of shears, you will have to find the one that allows you to work in the most comfortable position possible. However, with so many shears featuring different widths, weights, curves, edges, handles and lengths to choose from, how do you pick the best one? 

Feel It Out
A good starting point is to consider your anatomy and how you hold the shear. Take a look at your hand in its most comfortable state. This is usually when it is hanging by your side or resting on something. Fingers slightly curl in and the thumb is naturally pointing inward to or between your pointer and second fingers. The trick is to place the shears in your hand so as not to disturb your normal positioning and feels as natural as possible.

First, insert your ring finger into the finger ring. Then, lay the handle across your second and pointer fingers so that it is secured and cradled in your hand. The handle should stop just at your pointer finger’s first knuckle. It should fit right in the groove. (Shears lay at an angle from high on the ring finger to first knuckle of the pointer finger.) 

The pivot screw should be just past your knuckle on your pointer finger. Your tang is not important—if you cannot reach it, fine; if you can reach it, that is fine too. Meanwhile, your thumb needs to be placed between your first and second finger so that you are holding the shears as naturally as possible.

It can be difficult to find the perfect shear. For example, sometimes the bottom handle is the right length for your hand, but the thumb handle is too long, placing your thumb too far back. The weight and length of the shears are also important features to consider that can affect your use of these important tools. If you get the fit right, you will get a lot more use out of the blade of your shear. 

When shopping for shears, trade shows or dog shows can offer a prime opportunity to try out a variety of options and find the best fit. When attending a show, it is always good to feel and test as many shears as possible. The fit is important, but do not forget to consider the weight, feel and cutting performance as well. And when you watch someone working with shears and you are impressed, do not judge the performance solely by the shears. Take note of the technique, but decide on a shear based on your particular physical characteristics and needs.

Also, for those of you already shearing, look at your right and left hand. Do they look the same, or is there a difference between the two? Lumps, bumps and large calluses are indications of a hand that is working in discomfort. Small calluses are expected, but large ones are not normal. Also, how do your hands feel? It is normal to feel stronger in your shear hand, but pay attention to numbness, swelling and any aching. These could be signs that it is time for a new pair. 

There are entire shear lines developed with all-day comfort in mind. They are highly recommended for people that have had hand and wrist problems in the past. For example, the Oster Super Steels Comfort Flex shears, with its short thumb shank and a swivel thumb, is designed to be comfortable all day long. 

It should feel as natural as possible while using a pair of shears. With all fitting issues addressed, your hand and fingers support the shears, while the thumb is able to move freely and does all the work. It is also important to have your shears adjusted correctly. The convex shear should open and close with ease. A beveled-edge shear can be a little looser than a convex-edged shear. A tight shear is a major cause of hand strain and injury, second only to a poor fit.

Easy Does It
When working with shears, remember you should not feel strain in any part of your body. Keep them 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. If you have trouble remembering to keep your wrist straight, try using a bowling or carpal-tunnel wristband while working. It does not have to be tight, but merely serves as a reminder. 

Once you have proper form, you want to concentrate on always looking ahead of your shears, as if you are driving a car. Use your whole body to push the shears, not just your arm. Remember to keep the shoulder in a normal position, and do not over reach. Avoid raising your arms above your shoulder for long periods. Shearing can cause injury to your shoulder, too. Hydraulic tables are good for these issues. Your eye should always be about the same distance from the dog wherever you are shearing, and the motion should be a fluid one, working from all parts of your body. 

With this in mind, you can turn your attention to the direction in which your shears are pointing and the angle of the shear blades when cutting. If you want a straight line, shear straight up and down. If you want curves or angles, turn your shear blades to angle accordingly. Remember for every action, there is a reaction. Shearing with the lay of coat will leave fewer shear marks—not that you cannot shear against the lay of coat, but you need a steady hand and great technique. 

Now, I have gone through a lot about shearing and your needs, but don’t forget to use your clippers, blades and comb attachments before shearing. This will minimize the use of your hand and the repetitive motion from hand shearing. I do realize that there is nothing better than a beautifully sheared dog. However, if you understand sound structure and the breed’s profile, you can use other tools to achieve the same overall look and balance. Clippers and guide combs over a 30-blade can cut the coat a number of different lengths and leave a soft finish that can be sheared over if desired. You don’t have to eliminate shearing altogether, but use as many tools as possible to create the ideal image, save time and make your work even more consistent. 

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.


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