Beard Trimmers Guide For Beginners and Pros
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more
Even if you go to your favorite barbershop once-in-a-while to get a nice shape on your beard, it is a great advantage to be able to maintain your beard trim at home. Here we show you what is the difference between professional machines and those you find in the local store. This guide will help both beginners and pros.
Beard Trimmer vs Hair Clipper
For beard trimming there are two types of machines that have two different tasks:
- Clipper: Clippers cutting a given length. Use it to set the shape of the beard. Usually a clipper is big and powerful.
- Trimmer: Trimmers cut very short. Use it to define lines and detail work. Compared to a clipper, a trimmer is small and light.
The clipper is usually used first to set the length of different parts of the beard. You put on a nozzle (usually called “comb” or “foot”) with the distance you want, and then the machine automatically cuts down to this length. Lengths over 25 mm can be manually set by lifting the beard with a beard comb and trim over the comb.
Important Characteristics of Hair Clippers
Beard hair is far thicker than hair on the head and each hair is almost as strong as a copper wire. A beard-cutting machine must therefore be much stronger than one for hair. Machines that are not strong enough will get stuck, wear out the blade prematurely and the motor gets hot. In other words: Do not use hair clippers on your beard!
The best beard clippers have a pivoting engine (also called “pivot motor”). A pivot motor is up to 4 times stronger than the magnetic motors found in conventional hair clippers. It also runs half as fast, which gives less accuracy but also drastically reduces the chance of overheating. Fortunately, the beard trimmer has a lower demand on precision than what the “fade” and other graded, ultra-short haircuts do. Corded beard trimmers are often stronger than cordless models.
In a pivot motor, the cutting blade is attached to a piston with a magnet on the end, flanked by a copper spool on each side. When an electric surge is transmitted through the machine, the coil on one side is positively charged and pulls the piston toward itself, while the coil on the opposite side becomes correspondingly negatively charged and disengages the rocker arm. Alternating current changes polarity 50 times per second (European utility frequency is 50 Hz); thereby the machine cuts 50×60 = 3000 times per minute.
This is half as fast as the magnetic motor in a hair clipper and provides a cooler running. Since the coils pull and push (as opposed to a hair clipper, where the coil only pulls), the machine becomes much stronger. (As an example, the Andis Trend Set beard clipper is 4 times stronger than comparable hair clippers.)
Clippers usually have an adjustable cutting head. A small lever in the front adjusts the length. We recommend running the machine completely closed, i.e. with the lever fully backward, until you get used to it. The blade will keep some distance to the skin to protect it from redness and irritation. By opening the cutting head (lever forward) the machine goes down to 0.5 mm and you can use it more like a trimmer. Professional machines can be adjusted to “zero-gap” (taken apart and adjusted) to go down to 0 mm, but then you have no safety against cuts.
The beard trimmer is used to define the edges of the beard – along the neck, cheeks, around the mouth and so on. Professional barbers also use trimmers to create guidelines to follow and to do detail work. If you only need to maintain a short beard, you will be just fine by just using a trimmer.
Important Features For Beard Trimmers
Since trimmers do not have to go through as much beard volume as clippers, they do not need equally strong motors. The best beard trimmers often have a rotary motor. Rotary motors are often twice as fast as the pivot motors, but still, they are stronger than magnetic motors. (The versatility of the motor makes the Andis Slimline Pro Li equally suitable for trimming beard as well as hair on the head.)
Same type of motor as in R/C cars, fans, etc. A copper coil encircles a shaft with magnets on. When current is transmitted through the coil, the shaft goes around. The rotating shaft is connected to a cam that pulls the cutting blade back and forth.
The advantage of the rotary motor is that they are compact, easy to operate with a battery and very reliable. They are faster than pivoting motors and stronger than magnetic motors.
Trimmers have a much smaller head than clippers. The best ones have a so-called T blade that protrudes slightly on the sides (like the head of a hammer shark) to improve visibility and maneuverability. Professional barbers focus on battery time, that the machine is charging quickly and that the trimmer is balanced properly to not wear out the wrist.
Unlike clippers, you cannot set the length of the cutting blade on beard trimmers. However, it often comes with combs or guards that allow you to set a fixed length so that you can use the trimmer as a primitive hair cutter.
Tips & Tricks
- Lubricate the machine frequently. This is even more important with professional machines since the steel alloy in the blades is hard and the tolerance between them is very close.
- Clean the machine frequently. Loose hair ends up in the cutting head where they collect bacteria and heat. Good machines allow you to easily disassemble the blades to get better access with a brush or compressed air.
- Replace the blades on the machine when you notice that it is pulling or not cutting as before.
- To a certain extent, you can use clippers and trimmers for the same purpose. You can set the clipper short to use it as a trimmer, and you can put combs or guards on the trimmer to use it as a clipper. However, they are not the perfect substitutes for each other.
- Start gradually. Take a little bit of the length until you get established how you want the beard. Do not start the tip of your chin, as this is the maximum length the rest of your beard can have (if you have a full beard).
- A cutter that is completely open with a comb cuts about the same length as a cutter that is completely closed – without a comb. This gives a smoother glide and safety when you are close to the skin.
- Hair that is fully trimmed (with a trimmer or tightly adjusted cutter) is easy to shave with a traditional razor. Shaving smooth all the way to the edge for a clear, defined line or leave it unshaven for a more natural look.
- Invest in a good quality beard comb to maintain a long beard. With the comb, you can straighten the beard before trimming and can set the cutting length manually.
- Trim each side of the mustache separately for a smooth result. Cut against the hairs to lift it.