Cutting: Learn the best barber skills & techniques

The barbering industry is booming and cutting, no doubt, is the main part of the job. Keeping your skills and techniques up to date will ensure you have a good client base, thereby securing a job for life.

Cutting tools and their uses

Used for a variety of cutting techniques such as club cutting, slicing, texturising or thinning. Prices for scissors can vary considerably. In general, barbers use longer scissors than hairdressers to enable them to use all barbering cutting techniques.

Thinning Scissors:
Thinning scissors are used to remove bulk – not length – and must only be used on dry hair.

Clippers come with different sized attachments which are numbered 0.5-8 depending on what length you want the hair. In general, each grade increases length by 3mm. Clippers usually have a lever or extra blade to enable you to increase the length by half a grade.

Trimmers are used for tapering and outlining as they cut hair much closer and finer. They are particularly good for removing hair outside of the hairline.

Most often used for hair tattooing, shaping up and creating sharper hairlines. Detailers cut more closely than trimmers which enable you to create sharper, crisper lines.

Andis Foil Shaver
Andis Foil Shaver

Foil Shaver:
These are great to use for finishing skin fades. They’re covered by gold-titanium hypo-allergenic foil ensuring an irritation free shave with a perfect smooth finish similar to that you would get from an open razor.

Razors can be used when cutting the hair to remove bulk and thin out the ends. They are particularly good for creating textured looks. The razor must only be used on wet hair.

Open Razor:
Mainly used for shaving facial hair and neck hair although they are currently commonly used to shape up and create bald fades.


There are many different combs available in various sizes and for different purposes. They also come in different colours which can help with certain hair colours – using a white comb when cutting dark hair and a black comb with blonder hair will help you to see the hair better and ensure a perfect finish.

• Cutting Combs – These have finer teeth on one side which enable you to keep good tension when cutting and wider teeth on the other for detangling and sectioning.

• Taper Combs – Taper combs are thinner than general cutting combs and narrow at one end. This allows you to get closer to the scalp when creating tapered looks.

• Clipper Combs – These are wide combs designed for blending, tapering, clipper-over-comb and flat top cutting techniques.

• Pro Edge Comb – This comb has a ledge on it that helps support the scissors or clippers whilst you are performing the clipper or scissor over comb technique.

• Flat Top Comb – This comb includes a bubble level designed to ensure a quick, easy and accurate cut.

Military Brush & Club Brush:

 The Bluebeards Revenge Military Brush
The Bluebeards Revenge Military Brush

These are designed to gently massage the scalp, making it ideal to use when cutting shorter hairstyles and fine or thinning hair. These brushes are great to use for fades as they remove dirt and dust from the hair whilst spreading the natural oils, helping to make any hairs that have missed your clipper blades stand up on end.

Cutting techniques

Holding and Palming Scissors

A professional barber will hold their scissors using their thumb and third finger. This helps to maintain maximum control with the scissors. Although initially this can take some getting used to, it will become natural over time.

During a haircut you should never need to put your scissors or comb down. Instead, when you are not using your scissors you ‘palm’ them. To do this you remove your thumb from the scissors and hold them in your palm. Some barbers prefer to turn the blade around to point towards their wrist when they palm. Either is fine so try both and see what you feel more comfortable with. Again, this technique may take a little while to get used to.

You need to be comfortable with both of these techniques before you start cutting on your head block so ensure that you spend time practicing this.

hair cutting techniques

• Club Cutting – This technique is when the hair is cut bluntly, straight across. It is used to remove length but retain bulk and can be done on wet or dry hair.

• Point Cutting – This technique is used to texturise the hair and remove bulk. The amount of weight you remove depends on the angle you cut in at. This can be done on wet or dry hair.

• Thinning – Using the thinning scissors will remove bulk without removing any length. They are ideal for use on medium to thick hair to remove weight and texture the ends. This should only be used on the mid lengths and ends of the hair and you must be careful not to over use as this can cause wispy ends. Only use on dry hair.

• Freehand Cutting – For this technique, the hair is combed into place and cut freehand – without any tension. Ideal to use on fringes and hair lines as it leaves the hair to sit naturally, therefore not causing the hair to ‘jump up’ when the tension is released or the hair is dried.

• Razor Cutting – This technique is used to remove bulk and create a softer look. It should not be used on fine hair and should only be used on wet hair.

Clipper Over Comb

clipper over comb

Clipper over comb is used in a wide range of barbershops. This technique removes bulk and is perfect for blending in a haircut or creating a short taper. This is achieved by holding the comb in your less dominant hand and the clippers in your dominant hand; bring the comb out from the hair to the desired length and cut the hair that is left in front of the comb’s teeth.

Over Comb Technique
Barbers perfect their short hair work by using a clipper or scissor over comb technique. Some barbers say you should only use clipper over comb and some say you should only use scissor over comb. In truth, to be a great barber you should use both techniques depending on the desired style.

Tip: when using clipper over comb technique, ensure you only use the base of the teeth in the comb to make sure you don’t miss the comb and create a bald patch.

The results from clipper over comb appear to be a lot sharper then scissor over comb. Also, when mastered, clipper over comb will take you less time to perform than scissor over comb. This technique is mainly used on shorter hair styles to blend the hair from the shorter back and sides into the length on top. More confident barbers may use this technique for a whole cut. Best used on dry hair.

Scissor Over Comb

Scissor Over Comb

Scissor over comb is used for short graduation. This is achieved by holding your comb in your less dominant hand and your scissors in your dominant hand. The comb is used to lift the hair up and the scissors follow the comb. Cut the hair to the desired length by cutting the hair that is left in front of the comb’s teeth. This needs to be done relatively quickly to avoid getting lines. This is something that is not easy to master and takes many hours of practice and patience to perfect.

This technique is usually used on shorter hair styles to taper the hair at the nape and sides. This will produce a softer finished look than using clippers and generally lasts a bit longer before the next haircut is due. It is best used on dry hair.

Layer Over Comb
Traditional barbers use this technique to layer hair. This is performed by placing your closed scissors in to lift your section and then place the comb in and bring out to the desired length and cut. Carry on repeating this technique in 1cm sections. This technique can be done all over the sides and back of the head in panels and is even sometimes done on the top lengths of the hair if the hair is short enough.

Pro Edge Comb
This is a great invention for people just starting their journey into the hair or barbering industry. The comb has a ledge on it that helps support the scissors or clippers whilst you are performing the clipper or scissor over comb technique.

A guideline is used to determine the length that the rest if the hair needs to be cut.

A guideline is created by cutting the initial section at the required length. As you progress to the next section, you would use a small sub-section from the guideline to help you determine the length of the new section. This then becomes your new guideline. By matching each new section to the previously cut section you will ensure that you are following the original guideline. A guideline can be cut vertically or horizontally depending on the haircut.

Following guidelines is vital to ensure you work methodically and create an accurate, balanced haircut.

Cross-checking is a technique used to check for mistakes. It is vital that this is done on every cut to check length and balance. When cross checking, look at the hair the opposite way to how you cut, for example, if you took vertical sections then cross check taking horizontal sections and vice versa.

andis clippers

What techniques to use when?

It is important to be aware that barbers will use different techniques or a combination of techniques to achieve a similar finished result.

Using the Clippers to Blend with the Head Shape
Head shape is so important when cutting short men’s hairstyles. A common problem barbers have is knowing how far to go up the head with the clippers. This can be made a lot easier by using the clients head shape to determine how high up you should go. When using the clippers, take the clipper up and out. Never curve the clipper in around the head when the head shape changes. If you get this right it will give you a great guide to achieving a perfect cut for your client which will suit his head shape. You will notice when you do this on the back of the head you will take the clippers up to just past the occipital bone.

When using the clippers remember to go nice and slowly. Make sure you pick up all the unwanted hair by using the clippers in different directions to ensure you achieve an even cut. The only time you would not use the clients head shape as a guide is if the client has longer hair on top. You would then need to work lower with the clippers to keep the weight. Also, occasionally your client may ask you to take the blend higher but as a general rule always use the head shape.

Any barber worth their salt will be able to cut hair using either scissors or clippers. There is no right or wrong way as both give a different finish depending on the individual. Clippers will give a sharp, blunt finish. When fading, clippers are essential to give the sharpness that hairstyle needs whereas scissors will create a softer, more natural finish. When initially training, it is important for you to learn all the techniques to enable you to make an informed decision on what you think will be best for your client and when.

“I have had learners at my academy tell me that their boss has asked them to only use scissor over comb technique as they don’t like using clippers to blend in the salon although they are able to use the clippers with a grade to cut the back and sides. I personally don’t understand the issue with using clippers to blend if you can use clippers to cut the back and sides as the sharper, blunter finish that clippers give is already on half of the cut.” Mike Taylor.

Cutting Outlines
The outlines of haircuts are especially important in barbering. You need to frame your haircuts with perfection and you cannot afford to make any mistakes when cutting outlines as they are easily noticed. You must remember:

• When creating the outline shape you should use the natural hairline where possible.

• If you are taking the hair over the ears, use the corner of your clippers or trimmers – like you are using a pen. You may need to go around a few times to ensure you have removed all of the hairs.

• When going over the ears, always check the natural hairline first. Sometimes men can have a bigger gap between their hairline and the top of their ear and it may be best to leave hair a little longer to help reduce the gap rather than follow the natural hairline.

• If your client is wearing a shirt then it is normally best to ask them to undo the top buttons so that you can make sure you have taken all the neck hair away.

Neck Lines

There are three typical neckline shapes:



In general you will find the majority of clients in the barbershop opt for a tapered hairline. It gradually transitions from the length of hair at the back of the head, fading into skin along the natural hairline and it grows out in a way that leaves the style looking neater for longer.



A squared neckline is cut straight across in a defined line and should follow the natural hairline as closely as possible. A squared hairline makes the neck appear wider which would benefit a thinner neck but wouldn’t be advised for a client with a wider neck.


A rounded neckline is cut similarly to a square neckline but the square corners are rounded off. You need to ensure you don’t ‘round’ the corners too much as this can make the haircut appear more feminine. A rounded neckline makes the neck appear thinner which would benefit a wider neck but wouldn’t be advised for a client with a thinner neck.

Shape Up
This is a technique done at the end of the haircut. Using detailers or a razor, you line up around the circumference of the haircut to enhance and sharpen the finished result. This can also be known as a Line Up or Edge Up.

Eyebrow Trim
An eyebrow trim is a traditional finishing service at the barbershop. This can be done scissor over comb or trimmer over comb and occasionally you may also need to use a freehand technique for stray hairs. You should offer this to all of your clients and they have the option to decline but you may need to reassure and advise some clients as a common myth is that it can make the eyebrows grow back thicker – which is not true!

Ear Singeing
Ear singeing has been performed for centuries. Having originated in the Middle East, it has since made it’s way across Europe now becoming a popular extra to add to a haircut or shave. Singeing involves taking a cotton swab soaked in alcohol, lighting in on fire, then gently tapping the burning cotton up against the ear to singe or burn off all the hair.

Sideburns are an important part of a man’s haircut and proper shaping of the sideburns will improve the final look. You must remember:

• There are many different sideburn shapes from the classic squared shape to more pointed or longer styles, however most men will opt for a subtle squared shape.

• When cutting sideburns, remember to take into consideration the face shape and hairstyle to help determine the best finished look.

• Avoid cutting the sideburns higher than the top of the ear as this will look unnatural.

• If you are cutting to a point, keep the hair nearest to the ear and cut the shape in by removing the hair nearest to the face.

• Never use the ears to determine the length of the sideburns. Ears are almost always uneven. Check the balance and symmetry in the mirror by standing behind your client and place your fore fingers at the base of each sideburn and visually check they are at an even level.

Basic cutting principles

In barbering, your work will always come down to four basic haircuts. Having a solid understanding of these basics will help you to create great haircuts that you can interpret to produce varied and individual looks.

One Length

One length cut is when the hair is all cut to one length. On a man, this could be a raver style or surfer style with a bob.

Long Layers

This is where the hair is all pulled up and cut at the desired length parallel to the top of the head. On a gent this could be a long, heavy metal style haircut. In barbering, we would usually cut this with square layers to make it more masculine.

Uniform Layers

This cut, in general, would be a long haircut for a gent. A uniform haircut is where the layers are brought out to a 90-degree angle from the head and cut to the desired length resulting in the hair being the same length all over the head. In barbering, this would create a funky surfer look or a brit pop/indie look.

Short Graduation

In barbering, this is 95{44647368ea155128d94cd7d0dedf9bedf567023d92af0d66be48457fdba38a27} of our work. A short graduated haircut is where the hair is left longer on top and tapered in towards the ears and neck.

A ‘Fade’ haircut is the same as a graduated cut where the back and sides are cut short and blended seamlessly up to the length at the top, however, typically a fade is known to be a shorter style. There are many different types of fades, such as the foil fade, razor fade, low/mid/high fade, bald fade etc. You can combine the fade with a range of lengths and styles on the top to create various looks which has helped this become a popular style of this era. This is possibly one of the hardest skills to master. There is no right or wrong way to complete this cut and barbers will use many different techniques – the trick is to try different techniques until you find the one that works for you.

Foil Fade
This is a technique you would use after completing your fade. Using a foil shaver will take the area it’s used on completely bald so you would achieve a similar finish to a razor fade. One thing to remember is these can only be used on very, very short hair, hence the reason you would compete the fade first. When using the foil fader, pull the skin taut with your non-dominant hand and flick the fader out, this will minimise the visible line and create a smooth finish.

Razor Fade
A razor fade will give you a similar effect as a foil fade, but instead of using clippers you use an open razor. Similarly to a foil fade, you would also complete this technique after completing the fade so that the hair is as short as possible. Apply some pre shave oil to the area you will be shaving and then lather up the area with shaving cream. Use an open razor to remove the unwanted hair then blend in with a very close bladed trimmer.

Glossary of cuts

This haircut is cut close to the scalp at the back and sides and progressively gets longer or ‘fades’ up to almost any length on top. There are many different versions of a fade, including low/mid/high fade, bald fade, razor fade.

Crew Cut
This whole haircut is done with clippers. It can either be one grade all over or with a shorter grade on the back and sides and longer grade on top.

French Crop
This can be a versatile cut as it can either be styled smart and smooth or textured and messy. Graduated on the back and sides with some length remaining on top. The term ‘French Crop’ would generally mean it’s styled forward with a fringe.

Flat Top
A hard haircut to master as the ‘follow the head shape’ rule goes out of the window. A Flat Top is where the hair is cut on top with emphasis on flatness and the sides and back are cut to give a square shape.

High Top
A similar shape to the Flat Top but with more height on top.

This cut is similar to a short back and sides with the hair kept long on top and styled with volume to create a quiff. The difference between a Pompadour and a Quiff is that for a Pompadour all of the hair on top is styled backwards.

Slick Back
This can essentially be any length of hair providing it is long enough to slick back. The term ‘Slick Back’ refers to the styling of the hair all going back and usually finished with a wet look.

A disconnected cut is where there is no blending between layers somewhere within the style. It can be done on long or short hair.

An asymmetric cut is where the hair is cut without symmetry, meaning one side is cut or appears to be longer than the other.

Bowl Cut
It’s all in the name. This shape was often created by placing a bowl on the head and cutting around it.

A popular 90’s look where hair is left longer on top and styled in a middle parting.

The hair is taken very short on the sides, leaving a strip of hair in the middle that would usually be styled spiked up.

Mop Top
A guy’s mid-length haircut. This layered cut would generally be collar length at the back with a fringe and length left over the ears.

Hair is cut shorter at the top and sides with considerable length left at the back.

Similar to the Pompadour but with the Quiff only the front section is blow-dried backwards – the rest of the top section is brushed forward. There are many variations to this style. Generally, the hair would be shorter on the back and sides with length remaining on top to style upwards and backwards from the forehead.

There are many variations of this style. The term ‘wedge’ refers to a technique that uses a weight line or tapers to create a full-bodied look. Not as severe as a step.

This is where the top is left longer and the underneath section is taken shorter resulting in an ‘overhang’ of hair.

A haircut where the different lengths don’t blend but instead there is a sharp, obvious weight line or ‘step’ in the hair.

Refers to the back hairline – also known as a squared neckline.

This refers to the neckline area only – it is NOT a fade.

Mike Taylor Education Barbering Resource Book
Mike Taylor Education Barbering Resource Book

This article has been taken from Mike Taylor’s Barbering Resource Book, which is available to buy from Salon Services. RRP £6.