Tools of the Trade: An In-Depth Look at Pet Grooming Tools
By Jonathan David
We’ve all heard the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But when it comes to the world of pet grooming tools, that saying couldn’t be further from the truth!
We work in an industry that is ever evolving and the tools of our trade need to also evolve to keep up with those changes. Over time, grooming styles of some breeds change, sparking new ideas for tools. These ideas coupled with advancements in technology bring us new products and equipment to make our jobs easier and more efficient—and that allows us to better serve our furry, four–legged clients.
We’re not reinventing the wheel; there will always be the tried and true staple items that groomers use everyday like brushes and combs and scissors, but even within those groups, there is a wide variety of choices designed for various tasks. So let’s start by taking a look at the basics and you’ll soon realize that you can teach an old dog new tricks!
Brushes are one of the tools we use every day, but there are many types of brushes for different coats and different tasks. Slicker brushes are one of the most common brushes. They’re made up of multiple rows of dense, bent, small metal pins with a rubber backing of varying tensions, providing the pins with a flexible base to help ease the pins through the coat and over the skin. Slicker brushes are great for de–matting knotted hair, removing undercoat, stretching and straightening the coat as you blow dry, and achieving a great “fluff” on a coat in preparation for trimming.
Pin brushes are oval, square or oblong brushes with metal or wood pins that are thicker and longer than slicker brushes and the pins are distributed with more spacing between them, and are usually more flexible. Pin brushes are much more gentle on the hair and are ideal for coats that are brushed frequently and aren’t allowed to get matted. They’re great for distributing anti–static or conditioning products along the hair shafts, but are less ideal for removing undercoat or matting.
Boar hair brushes have dense bristles made from natural boar hair, sometimes combined with nylon pins. These brushes are designed for use on short, smooth coats and coarse terrier hair. The nylon pins help stimulate the oil glands in the skin and the boar hair is an excellent natural material to distribute the oils through the coat to bring out the shine and bring the oils to the ends of coarse terrier hair that tend to become dry and broken.
Pet grooming combs come in a variety of lengths, number of spokes and coarseness, and are made of various metals and sometimes have a ceramic or painted coating. Combs are used for detangling, parting and taming the coat, fluffing up hair for scissoring, or removing undercoat. The coarseness of the comb refers to the spacing between the spokes, with ‘fine’ meaning close spacing and ‘coarse’ referring to wide spacing between the spokes.
Combs can be completely metal or they can have wood or plastic handles and can have thin or wide spines that hold the spokes, and they can be thin or thick gauge, depending on the intended use. There are also a variety of shapes of the comb, such as half moon shape with longer spokes towards the center and tapered edges or even a bowed design to aid in creating circular shapes such as a rounded head.
Hand Stripping & Carding Tools
Some breeds require specialty tools for working their coats. Terriers that are hand–stripped require specialized tools such as stripping knives, carding tools and stripping stones to remove the coat from the root, causing the hair to regenerate and grow from the hair follicle to maintain the natural coarse texture for protection of the skin.
Sporting breeds also require carding tools, stripping stones and rakes to remove the dead coat and regenerate hair growth from the follicle to keep the skin and coat healthy and provide protection to the dog’s skin. Stripping knives and carding tools have wooden, metal or plastic handles with a rounded or squared off metal piece at the end.
For carding tools, the metal piece is equipped with fine to coarse teeth that grip the under coat and dead hair as you ease it through the coat and gently removes the hair from the skin and surrounding coat, leaving the healthy guard hairs in place.
With stripping knives, the metal teeth are used for gripping the coat as the groomer uses short, repetitive motions to pluck the dead coat from the skin and regenerate the hair.
The stones are another tool used on the coat to remove soft undercoat by easing the rough surface of the stone along the dog’s coat as it grips and removes the soft undercoat, allowing the skin to breathe and the coat to lay flat.
Another specialty tool is a coat rake. Rakes have varying sized and spaced, hooked teeth to aid in removing thick undercoat and for thinning a dog’s furnishings. Rubber finger caps can also be used on your finger tips to aid in gripping coat to strategically pluck individual hairs.
Another category of specialty tools are de–matting tools. De–matting tools range from types of rakes with long metal pins to reach down through packed coat to help detangle the hair, to tools with a series of curved or bent blades that are used to slice through matted hair. Mat splitters can be very useful, but they need to be used with caution. These blades are very sharp and skill and care is needed as you put these tools through the coat to avoid cutting the hair off, or more importantly, to avoid cutting the skin. Sometimes when the coat is too severely matted, the best and most humane option is shave the coat.
When it comes to shaving the coat, there are several types of electric clippers to choose from. When you’re dealing with matted coats, a corded clipper with a lot of power can cut time and clip through the coat with ease. Various length blades can be snapped on the clipper to achieve a close shave under the mats, or a longer length when matting is not a problem. Snap–on guard combs can be added on top to set longer lengths on the dog’s coat, from close styles to fuller layered trim styles.
Cordless clippers are rechargeable, battery operated clippers and can range from the standard size of the corded clippers to smaller sizes for detail work, such as clean feet and face to poodle patterns or fun and creative carving of the coat.
Now that we’ve covered the tools needed to brush, comb, pluck and shave, let’s talk about our most prized possessions—our shears! I feel that there are no more personal and precious tools that we use than our shears. A good quality shear is an investment in your career and yourself. They’re an extension of your hand and the conduit of your talent so choosing the right shears is key to achieving a great groom.
So what’s the difference between a scissor and a shear? Well, they’re one in the same, but generally a scissor is six inches or less in length and anything over six inches is referred to as a shear. Grooming shears range from four to ten inches in length, have a variety of features, and come in both right and left handed options.
There are two ways of manufacturing shears: those that are cast and those that are forged. Cast shears are made from liquid metal poured into a mold and forged shears are cut from sheets of metal, welded together and made by hand. Cast shears are made from lower quality metals and are much lower in cost. They will have a basic cutting edge and don’t generally hold a sharp edge for long, requiring frequent sharpening which will grind down the edge quickly, requiring frequent replacing.
Forged shears are made from high quality stainless steel and have several advantages. First, they can have different degrees of hardness, which will affect the length of time the shear will hold the sharp edge, and the harder metal shears can be sharpened to a finer, sharper edge. The second advantage to this process is that these shears are able to be manipulated for maintenance. This means that if you were to drop your shears, a sharpening professional can manipulate the blades and realign and balance the shear, which could save you from the expense of replacement costs. Another advantage of forged shears is that the high quality metal needs very little grinding to regain the sharp edge, therefore extending the life of the shear and saving on costs in the long run.
There are three cutting edges: bevel edge, semi–convex edge and convex edge. Bevel edges are a sharp cutting edge and most common, with semi–convex being a finer, sharper edge, and convex being the sharpest edge that is a true point. Semi–convex edges are designed to be multi–functional as a carving and finishing shear, and convex edge shears are usually reserved for finish work or achieving a clean, smooth finish.
The handles of shears have some variety, too. Even–handled shears have finger and thumb holes which are evenly set with the blade in the center, while offset handles have the thumb hole set lower and off to the side of the finger holes. There’s no advantage to either style other than comfort. Different hands require different positioning, so it’s up to each stylist to choose which is most suitable. The third handle style is called a swivel handle. The swivel handle has a thumbhole that is similar to the offset but the thumbhole has the ability to slide up and down on a track as well as swivel around, leaving the user the option to move the shear around your thumb or you can lock the thumbhole in a specific position, therefore customizing the fit. Shears can be straight or curved, and some are reversible to flip the shear to achieve contours in either direction.
Thinning shears are my favorite! Thinning shears have a variety of sizes and types of teeth. These shears are used for thinning, blending and softening the crisp finish that a straight or curved shear will leave, and are far more forgiving than a straight shear. The rule of thumb is, a lot of fine teeth closer together will result in minimal hair removal and seamless blending with no lines in the coat. When you want a more aggressive thinner that will take off more coat, the teeth should have wider spacing and more aggressive teeth, which would be beneficial for layering or creating rounded faces and trimmed lines.
A blender or chunker is another type of thinning shear. They have bigger teeth that are set wider apart and the teeth are very aggressive. They will give you the most bulk removal but can leave marks on softer coats.
Finally, there are double sided thinning shears. These shears will have teeth on both sides rather than teeth on one side and a straight edge opposite of that. Double sided thinners offer the least amount of hair removal and the most seamless cuts, leaving no lines in the coat. This is a great option for soft coats that show scissor marks or for creating soft, natural finishes.
So, as you can see, there are so many tools at your disposal and so many tools to help you achieve the best possible groom you can. It may be time to teach that old dog some new tricks and try stepping outside your comfort zone with some new tools. Good luck and happy grooming!