Given the vital role that clippers play for professional groomers, not to mention their considerable cost, it is important to keep up with routine maintenance.
Clippers are among the most valuable and frequently used tools in a groomer’s kit. Whether the majority of the work in the salon is done by clippers (with or without snap-on combs) or they are used mainly for feet and tummy while the rest of a dog is hand-scissored, these important tools must be kept in tip-top shape.
Clippers can also be one of the more costly investments in tools for our craft, so it is worth making sure their life is extended as long as possible. It can cause a bit of sticker shock to spend $100 to $250 on a single clipper, but spreading that expense over a long life of service in the salon makes it a lot less painful. If $120 is spent on a clipper and it lasts a year—most come with a one-year warranty, so they are expected to last at least that long—that works out to only $10 a month. Most of us spend more than that on coffee or other beverages in a week.
Still, a good clipper can cost significantly more, and many groomers keep a few different clippers on hand to accomplish different tasks, so it is an appreciable expense. So, what can be done to keep that cost as low as possible? Regular maintenance can extend the life of your clipper to an amazing degree; and it only takes a few moments each day.
The maintenance that should be done on clippers is relatively simple: Take care of the blades, keep the clipper clean and follow manufacturer’s instructions for replacing parts—most often the blade drive mechanism and the hinge.
If the blades are dull, a clipper will have to work harder, causing more wear and tear. When the cutter on the blade moves across the larger (comb) part of the blade, friction is caused by the metal-on-metal contact. Even if a cutter uses ceramic blades, there will still be friction, although not as much. Friction causes blades to dull, clippers to work harder and blades to heat up faster than they should.
Oiling the blades often will go a long way in reducing the impact of friction. This should be done at least after every dog, but a few drops may need to be put on during the grooming process, too. Andis recommends cleaning hair and debris from the blade first (I use an old toothbrush) and using a five-point oiling system—three drops across the teeth of the blade and one drop on each back rail. After oiling, turn the clipper on and let run for five to 10 seconds to disperse the oil. Turn it off and wipe off any excess oil. The idea is to get oil between the cutter and the comb, where the cutter moves back and forth. Use oil marketed specifically as clipper blade oil, as other oils may be too light or too heavy for this purpose.
Hair, dirt and other debris are unavoidable, even if a clipper never touches anything but clean, dry dogs. Static causes tiny little pieces of clipped hair to adhere to the plastic housing, and then it can move down into the working parts of the clipper and cause all sorts of damage. Clipper repair specialists often find an astounding amount of hair that has worked itself right down into the motor, preventing free airflow.
According to Jeff Andrews, owner of Northern Tails Sharpening (and clipper repair) in Mobile, Ala., “Hair is the enemy of any clipper, because it causes problems in the cutting system when it’s not cleaned away. A big problem with hair affecting the performance of an Andis clipper, for example, is when it’s impacted around the drive bearing where it fits into the back of the blade drive. This can shorten the back-and-forth stroke of the blade considerably, which may cause performance problems in really thick coat or with a comb on.
“When you change your blade drive and you see hair impacted like this, dig it out with something. Get it all out from around the drive bearing and clear down behind the hinge. If there is hair impacted behind the hinge blade won’t lock on tight and you get problems in the cut, like drag when you lay the blade on the coat.”
That characteristic clipper track—known variously as clipper marks, cornrows or corduroy—can occur when the blade drive is not performing up to par, whether it’s from wear or from hair buildup preventing a full sweep back and forth. It may be that the blade is dull, but if it happens on more than one blade, replacing the drive is the next thing to consider.
Caring for the Drive
A blade drive is one of several types of mechanisms that cause the cutter to move back and forth and cut the hair. Oster A5 clippers have a three-part mechanism consisting of a link, lever and gear that transmits the power from the armature.
Many clippers have one replaceable part. Andis clippers, for example, have a blade drive assembly that easily screws onto the clipper. In order to move back and forth readily, these parts need to have some give to them. This means they are softer than the metal they are pushing against to move the cutter, so they will inevitably wear, causing them to no longer make the full sweep from side to side.
Wahl has made changing the drive as simple as possible. Many of its professional clippers do not have to be taken apart at all in order to do it, as there is a simple drive tip to replace.
Whatever the mechanism, it will wear and must be replaced. How often depends on what brand and model you are using and how much use it gets. The parts are inexpensive, and it can’t hurt to replace them on a schedule, whether the clipper is showing signs of the drive failing or not. Most manufacturers recommend replacing on a monthly to quarterly schedule.
Replacing Worn Parts
The blade drive discussed above is the most crucial clipper part to replace regularly, but it is wise to replace other worn parts as needed or on a schedule, as well.
Another clipper part that is often overlooked and may have an effect on performance is the hinge. The hinge is the part that sticks up from the clipper and you slot your blade onto. Since it moves up and down as you take blades on and off, it too will wear. The screws that hold it onto the clipper can become loose and require replacing, too. A worn hinge will not hold blades steady and may cause blades to chatter or vibrate, leaving those dreaded clipper tracks.
So, if you find yourself wondering if your clippers are losing power, or if your blades are all going dull at once, check to see when you last performed routine maintenance on your clippers. Replacing a part or two or just getting into the habit of removing hair and oiling blades more frequently can pay off in a big way in terms of better performance, less frustration for you and increased longevity for your clipper.