How to Cut Your Own Hair

How often do you cut your hair? With today’s shorter and tightly trimmed styles with fades and tapers, the need to keep your cut looking fresh and just groomed requires frequent visits to your favorite, trustworthy barber. The costs can add up. Depending on how important looking great is to you, a hop into the barber’s chair can be as regular as every two weeks. Some even go once a week! More than that and you’re talking about a serious investment of time and money suitable perhaps only for professional models and actors.

Cutting Your Own Hair at Home

A lot of guys have had success cutting their own hair at home. Some say that going to the barber every two weeks is too expensive. Others say that the barber never gets it the way they like it. Whatever your reason for wanting to try, rest assured that the challenge is possible. You’ll need some tools and most importantly, some instruction. We can help you with the teaching part—we’ll talk about the tools later.

A man cutting his own hair and a boy getting his haircut.
Cut your own hair or cut the kids’ hair. It’s possible.

What about cutting your kids hair? That’s a little easier than cutting your own. The problem comes when they hit their teen years. Suddenly, attempts by mom or dad just won’t cut it anymore. Too many peers to impress and well, it’s just not cool. But you can save a lot of money in those early years if you can convince them to sit still long enough to get it even on all sides. Technique is key and to better understand it, we asked a resident expert to share some theory and tips on cutting hair for men. 

Expert Advice on Cutting Your Own Hair

Dennis Colpitts has done it all when it comes to cutting hair. And much more than just “cutting” hair, Dennis is an internationally recognized, 4th generation “clipper specialist” who uses his background in carpentry to break down a blueprint for building haircuts and hair tattoos. He has shared his unique artistry and advanced techniques on the platform and classroom in over 500 cities in more than 20 countries around the world on 5 different continents. From New York and LA to London, Italy, Brazil, Australia and South Africa, Dennis has taught hundreds of professional stylists the finer points of clipper technique for the creation of intricate styles and tattoo designs. He is currently the Director of Professional Barbering for the BaBylissPRO® division of Conair® LLC.

Dennis Colpitts, Director of Professional Barbering for Conair's BaByliss division.
Dennis Colpitts, Director of Professional Barbering for the BaBylissPRO® division of Conair® LLC

How to Cut Your Own Hair – For Men

So, if you want to give it a go, we suggest you read on, all the way to the end. We’ll tell you what equipment you need, and we’ll give you some professional haircutting theory—a big step up from the directions you would find folded up in a simple home barbering kit. The instructions that follow are for the serious home barber who has the time and patience to learn the proper techniques and apply them slowly. Dennis Colpitts says, “If you really want to look your absolute best, I do not recommend cutting your own hair. It can be difficult using the clipper on yourself with a mirror. Your hands are just not in the best position for being precise. Nothing beats a professional barber cut. But, cutting your own hair can be done with some practice. You might not want to make your first attempt right before a big date or an important job interview, but over time, you can develop the skills to keep your hair in pretty good shape.” So, with that in mind, let’s begin. Start by taking a look at this video that shows you the steps you'll be taking to cut your own hair correctly.

What You Need to Cut Your Own Hair

It doesn’t cost a fortune, but you will need some basic tools to get started. First, being able to see yourself clearly is critical. A good mirror in a well-lit space, coupled with a smaller handheld mirror will give you the ability to see the back and sides of your head. The best way to do it is to stand with your back to the large, main mirror and use the handheld mirror to see the reflection of your back. By turning your head left and right, you can see each side.

A good option is to get a multi-panel mirror, as shown in the image below, that has a main center panel with angled side panels on the right and left that let you see the sides of your head. You can also get a pretty good view of the back if you adjust the side panels appropriately. The Illuminations Sleek Vanity Mirror from Conair is a good example of a lighted 3-panel mirror. Even with the multi-panel mirror, it’s always good to have a hand mirror handy to get views from different angles.

The Illuminations Sleek Vanity Mirror and the Conair Barbershop Series Ultimate-Grip Clipper

Left: The Illuminations Sleek Vanity Mirror  /  Right: Conair® Barbershop Series Ultimate-Grip™ Clipper

The next item on the list of haircutting necessities is a high-quality hair clipper with attachments to control the length of the cut. One clipper we recommend is the Conair Barbershop Series Ultimate-Grip Clipper, also known as the HC2000. This clipper features a No-Slip Grip™ for clean and easy cuts and trims. It comes equipped with all the accessories needed for top-quality barbering at home, almost everything on Dennis’s list of things you’ll need to cut your own hair.

Dennis’s List of Haircutting Essentials

Hair Clipper
Clipper Guard-Comb Attachments
Barber Shears
Barber Comb
Barber Cape

The clipper you select should have a full selection of clipper guard-comb attachments. The HC2000 comes with a set of 9 guide combs (1/8", 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8", 3/4", 7/8", left and right ear combs), barber shears, barber comb, barber cape, lubricating oil and a storage case.

There’s one more item that Dennis recommends if you want very fine detail along the hairline around the temples, sideburns and neckline. A trimmer or edger is specially designed for the detail work that many of today’s styles require. It is used to create strong lines and “outline” the haircut.

Cutting Your Own Hair – Step by Step

Once you have everything you need, you’re ready to take the first step. Make sure you are comfortable standing or sitting in front of your mirror within easy reach of all your tools. Use of the barber cape is optional, but it can help keep itchy hair clippings from getting under your shirt and imbedded in your clothes.

Dennis’s 3 Simple Rules

The men’s haircutting method that Dennis Colpitts teaches focuses on 3 simple rules for a standard, contemporary man’s haircut. Specialty and designer styles, such as hair tattoos have a different set of rules that would not be applied easily by someone attempting to cut their own hair. But, for a clean, professional look, these are concepts to keep in mind.

  1. The Square Silhouette: The overall shape of a standard man’s standard haircut should suggest the form of a square. That is not to say boxy with straight lines and sharp corners—the human head is predominantly round with many variations of shape and contour. In cutting the hair, the goal is to make the sides vertical. The top, regardless of length, should be evenly horizontal, rather than angled. Cutting with the square silhouette as a guide helps fulfill the second rule.

  2. Symmetry: This refers to proportion and balance. Everything you do on the right side of the head, should be done the same of the left side. The top should match as closely as possible the contours of the jawline. Symmetry is pleasing to the eye. It suggests a peaceful, balanced demeanor and a secure attitude of well-being. Attainment of symmetry can be assisted by the third rule.

  3. Eyes Centered Vertically: Looking straight at the face, the eyes should be located vertically at the center point from the top of the hair to the bottom of the jaw. The distance from the top of the haircut to the eyes should be the same as the distance from the eyes to the bottom of the jaw. This is a primary checkpoint to help you achieve symmetry.

If you keep these 3 simple rules in mind, you will significantly increase your chances of success when cutting your own hair or cutting the hair of someone else. So, let’s continue with Dennis’s step-by-step instructions:

Step 1. Remove the Bulk on Sides and Back

Removing the excess hair and establishing the basic length of your cut is the first step. For a softer, gentler, corporate-length cut, you start with a clipper guide comb ranging from the #3 to #5 attachment (the higher the number, the longer the length of hair left after the cut). For a shorter cut with tightly cropped fades and tapers, start with guide-combs ranging from #1 to #3. As a rule, it’s always a good idea to start with the longer guide comb and then switch to the shorter ones until you achieve your preferred length. See the quick chart of guide-comb lengths below. These specifications can vary slightly for different kinds of clippers.

Hair Clipper Attachment Size Chart
Clipper Attachment Size Chart

Technique: Start with the clipper positioned below the hairline and glide the clipper using an upward stroke following the contours of the head, until you reach the point where the shape of the head begins to round off. Then, sweep the clipper straight up, vertically separating from the head surface. That point is usually close to the part of the skull known as the parietal ridge. See image A below. It is where the parietal bone (the top part of the head), meets the occipital bone (the lower/back part of the head). Follow the line created by the parietal ridge around both sides of the head above the ears, and clip the bulk of the hair using the same upward motion.

Locate the parietal ridge 		/	      C-scoop or crescent motion for blending
Left: Locate the parietal ridge. / Right: C-scoop or crescent motion for blending.

What you are trying to create is a square silhouette head shape. As much as possible, the top shape of the head should be symmetrical with the shape of the jaw. Looking straight at your face, the distance from the eye to the bottom of the jaw should be the same as the distance from the eye to the top of the hair.

Step 2. Create a Fade or Taper

Fades and tapers can vary according to ethnic and regional preferences. Except among the most highly trained professionals, the two terms are often used interchangeably. The techniques to create them are quite similar.

The Fade: A fade is a transition in hair length from light to dark that appears around the sides and back of the head. You can have a low, mid or high fade depending on your preference. Start by choosing your fade line. This is the point where the fade begins, where the hair is shortest. Select the first guide comb and be conservative to start. Choosing a #0 or #1 attachment will trim very close to the skin, with #0 leaving the skin bald. Dennis suggests starting with a #3 or #4 for your first attempt. You can always go shorter later, but you’ll have to wait for weeks for hair to grow back if you cut too short at the start.

High Fade, Mid Fade, Low Fade, Taper
Left to Right: High Fade, Mid Fade, Low Fade, Taper

The Taper: A taper (or tape-up) is like a fade, but it sits lower on the head, closer to the ears and low on the nape of the neck. (See image F.) It is usually done on the temple and sideburn areas, proceeding low above the ear, and around to the back of the head, but it can continue around the perimeter of the head if so desired. Choose longer guide combs for a taper than you would for a fade—#4 or #5 is a good start. If you are unsure, go with a #6 and use the C-scoop or crescent-shape motion as shown in Image B. The taper is considered a more conservative look for men in the corporate workplace. It is layered much like a fade and the technique to create it is much the same with minor differences.

Low, Mid or High Fade: Where you stop fading is up to you. You can create a low, mid or high fade. The low fade (Image E), which is essentially the same as a taper and the most conservative style, stops at the temple, continues just above the ear and proceeds to the back across the lower occipital bone below the parietal ridge. It will usually stay within an inch or 2 of the lower neckline. (See diagram) A mid fade (Image D.) can stop at the temple or take it up a little higher. It proceeds higher above the ear and aims for the parietal ridge, approximately 2 to 3 inches above the low hairline. A high fade (Image C.) lands above the temple, dips slightly as it proceeds to the back of the head, above the parietal ridge. You can go even higher if you want to create that high and tight, U.S. Marine look. These specifications are general guidelines. You can create a fade or taper any place on the head and use any degree of steepness you desire. Cutting hair is an art form! The key is to get the look you want.

Technique: Start at the bottom of the hairline and use short, upward strokes, trimming as evenly as possible across the back hairline and around to each side, over the ears and sideburns. The length of the stroke will determine how steep or gradual the fade will be, depending on the look you want. Just keep your strokes proportional. Start with quarter-inch to half-inch strokes using a gentle scrubbing motion, working square to the head surface at this point. Then, switch to the next longer guide-comb and trim around the hairline again, blending in with your first trim layer. To achieve better blending with the first layer, keep using the C-scoop motion with the clipper, gently bending the wrist to pull the clipper away from the head as you move upward.

Step 3. Shape and Blend the Neckline

Now you’ll want to blend the perimeter of the neckline and trim the edges up toward the ear and around to the sideburns (Image G). If you have a trimmer specially designed for this type of fine detail work, use it, but be very careful to go slow and be precise. One slip of the trimmer and you have a flaw that might not be so easy to fix. Your clipper with no attachment or a #0 guide-comb can work here as well. The neckline at the back should line up with the jaw in a profile view of your head. This is where the handheld and angled multi-panel mirrors can really help. Lastly, trim the lower edge of the sideburns at an angle you prefer.

Step 4. Cut the Top

How long the hair is on top is strictly up to you. You will want to use barber shears for this step. First section off a one-inch-wide partition of hair at the top center of your head, from your forehead to the back. This is known as the Mohawk section or strip. Starting at the front, lift a small part of the partition with your comb, with the comb positioned front to back in a direction perpendicular to the Mohawk partition. Pinch the hair between your fingers to hold it away from the scalp. Trim off from one-half to 1 inch of the hair, according to preference (Image H). Continue to pinch and trim off partitions moving toward the back of the head. Remember, always start with shorter clips. You can always trim off more later.

Images demonstrating different haircut steps

Step 5. Blend the Sides with the Top Section and the Fade

Now, the top hair to the left and right sides of the center Mohawk section should be blended in with both the center section and the fade/taper. You want to connect the top to the fade smoothly. To do this, you will grab sections of hair with the comb perpendicular to the center section, lifting it with your fingers, as you did with the center section, out and away from the scalp. Trim off the same amount you trimmed off of the center section. Angle your scissors so the hair is shorter at the bottom of the cut than at the top (Image I). A good way to determine the angle for the cut is to match the shape of the jawline. This will maintain that symmetry we talked about earlier in Dennis’s 3 Simple Rules. The goal is to blend it in with the hair above and below to create a smooth contour from the top crest of your head to the side edges and the neckline in back. This process of blending improves over time with practice and experimentation.

Step 6. The Finish

To wrap it up, apply a little gel, mousse or spray to hold hair in place and comb to your liking. Then, take an assessment of your work. How does it look? Learn from your mistakes and remember what you can do differently to eliminate any imperfections.

After cleaning up your work area, you might want to consider a shower to wash away all the loose hair. Plus, things always look even better after a shampoo. As mentioned earlier, with practice, your skills will improve. Eventually, you’ll be able to get your look just the way you want it.

Take a look at the complete line of Conairman grooming products on the Conair website. Stop by for a visit. We have a lot to show you.