Smooth Clipper Work in Three Passes or Less

Achieve a perfect finish on short, low-maintenance trims by following these simple suggestions.




Short, low-maintenance trims are common in most grooming salons. These no-nonsense haircuts make up the bulk of our everyday work. Do you struggle to get a smooth finish in a timely manner on this type of trim?


This is my Golden Rule for all clipper work. Three passes and you are done. The results should be super smooth. No rough spots. No sticky-outies.


Fast. Clean. Simple.



These tips should get your clipper work tidy in no time:

1. For maximum freedom of movement and improved efficiency, hold the clipper like a large pencil between the thumb and fingers. Concentrate on positioning yourself so that the clipper is pulled toward you and held comfortably. There are rare times when holding the clippers in your palm will improve dexterity, but this applies to very few moves.

2. To create the least amount of stress on your fingers and wrist, grasp the clipper at the balance point, so the weight is equally distributed between each end.

3. Allow the weight of the clippers to do the work; your hand and wrist are simply its guide. As you move from the top of the pet to the lower areas, simulate the same pressure gravity provides on the topside.

4. Your hand and wrist will act as a shock absorber during clipping, leveling out the bumps and dents to obtain a satin-smooth finish.

5. No matter what blade you use, it is important to maintain a consistent degree of “tip” to the blade. Imagine a pencil being held right under the blade as you guide it over the body. The closer the pencil is to the teeth, the higher the tip angle; the farther back you keep the imaginary pencil, the lesser the angle. The closer the blade cuts, the higher you need to tip the blade for it to be effective.


Clean coats are key

Top-quality stylists know the importance of a clean pet. It is impossible to obtain a satin-smooth finish on a pet with a dirty or filmy coat. On most pets, two baths with an effective shampoo is normally adequate to produce a squeaky-clean coat. Rinsing the pet thoroughly is critical—shampoo residue left in a coat looks oily and stringy once the coat is dry.


Setting the coat up is important in producing the finest clipper work. Here are some ideas to use in the drying process and once it’s complete:


The Drying Process: On most dogs the goal is to dry the coat while getting it as straight as possible. The natural coat type—whether curly, wavy or straight—will determine which drying process will achieve the desired result—air-dried, high velocity-dried, or fluff-dried.


Correctly working with a high velocity dryer will prepare most coats for finishing. The mild heat will set the coat straight. With very curly coats, hand stretch drying or hand fluff drying using a stand type with warm air may be necessary.


Back Brushing: Back brushing is done with a slicker brush while brushing the coat against the grain. The pressure on the brush should be very light and the entire pad of the brush should contact the skin and coat. Keep the pressure light on the brush so the skin is not scraped, which could cause a potential brush burn.


When most of the coat has been removed, repeat the process a second time to get a smoother finish. On the third back brush pass, look only for high spots or uneven areas. Minimize the number of passes with the clipper; otherwise the set-up coat will be crushed.


Body Roll: On drop-coated breeds with fuller trims using guard combs, a body roll is more effective than back brushing. What is a body roll?  It’s a move simulating the natural shake of a dog. It sets the coat up in its most natural position.


A body roll can be mimicked by standing behind the dog and grasping a small amount of coat low on either side of the rib cage. Alternate a light tugging motion, making the skin roll back and forth as it would in a natural shake. Most pets do not find this movement unbearable if it's done quickly and gently.


Personally, I don’t consider clipper work finished until there is no more coat being clipped off when the coat is properly set up. If the clipper has been used effectively, there should be a minimum of thinning shear work remaining to make the pet appear smooth and polished in just three passes.


The finished pet should have a clean outline when viewed from all angles. The coat should be of a consistent length without any clipper marks.


High-quality trims combined with a compassionate groomer brings customers back. In the pet service grooming arena, repeat business equals a successful business. Isn’t that what we all want? PB


Melissa Verplank has over 35 years of experience in the pet industry. Her mastery of grooming has won numerous awards on a national and international level.  She runs multiple businesses including: The Paragon School of Pet Grooming and, an online educational video library for pet grooming.  She wrote the award-winning books: Notes from the Grooming Table and Theory of 5. She also owns Whiskers Resort & Pet Spa, a luxury pet facility servicing over 250 pets daily. She was a member of GroomTeam USA, later the team coordinator, and currently sits on the Board of Directors. Verplank is an industry speaker, author and contest grooming judge.


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