Horse Clippers, Which type do I need?

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Horse Clipper Buying BasicsDo a little homework, take stock of your needs and you're bound to choose clippers that will keep your horse tidy for years to come.Watts are meaningful in product-to-product comparisons only in certain circumstances, says Ken Duncan, Wahl director of sales and marketing. "The only way that you can compare clippers and say that one has higher wattage and, therefore, more power, is if all other categories are equal--if both clippers are equal in efficiency and materials in drive system and in motor type. Measuring watts isn't that cut-and-dried."

In addition, the meaning of strokes per minute (SPM) varies among products: SPM may represent the speed of the clippers without the blades attached or when the blades are not cutting through hair. What's more, companies measure stroke speed differently. Some measure one stroke when the blade moves left; other manufacturers count one stroke when the blade moves left and returns.

Nonetheless, a good rule of thumb is that the higher the SPMs, the faster the blades cut, but size and type of blade also factor into the equation. Rick Habben, an engineer for Wahl, explains, "The distance between the teeth makes a difference. The wider the distance, the easier it is to feed the hair and the faster it will cut." On the other hand, he adds, "The faster the blades go, the more friction and heat you create, and blades can get too hot to use on an animal."

Clippers that run at the highest speeds are not necessarily suited to heavy-duty jobs. "You may have a product that runs at a high rate of strokes per minute, and that sounds great to the consumer," says Duncan. "But if it doesn't have any torque, it may not be able to cut through a bridle path. For ears, on the other hand, you don't need as much torque, but you may want a faster speed so that the blades are not pinching the hair as they cut it."

Unfortunately, torque is usually not included in product claims--it is difficult to quantify, and there is no standard measurement of torque for clipper products.Torque refers to the clippers' ability to maintain speed under a load, and if anything, it is a better gauge of power than watts or stroke speed. The more torque, the more hair the clippers can cut while maintaining speed.

The Cutting Edge
Compared to the mysteries of clipper motors and power and speed, blades are fairly straightforward. Each clipper is fitted with two blades: the stationary lower blade, called the "comb," and the moving blade above, called the "cutter."

The comb feeds the hair through, setting it up for the cutter, which slices the hair with each pass, cutting it at a length determined by the thickness of the comb. "The cutting point is measured not at the tip of the blade but at the point where the top blade moves against the lower blade," says Stephanie Sexton, marketing director for Premier 1 Supplies.

Blades used to clip horses range from the fine cut of a number 40 blade, which cuts the hair to 1/100 of an inch, to a number 3 3/4 blade, which leaves 1/2 inch of hair after cutting. Blade preference depends on the purpose of the cut; an owner clipping a horse in a colder climate may leave the hair a little longer, whereas a show horse in Florida will benefit from a closer cut. In the horse industry, says Fred Koeller, vice president of marketing for Andis, the number 10 blade, which leaves hair 1/16 of an inch long, has become the most popular medium blade, and many general-use clippers come with a number 10 blade attached.

The ease of changing or adjusting blades depends on the clipper's design.

In an adjustable-blade model, a lever on the side moves the cutting blade closer to or further from the outer edge of the comb.
Detachable blades snap on and off, allowing the user to easily change blades.
Fixed blades are screwed in place, so they can be removed, but the process is a bit more labor intensive. Some fixed-blade clippers are designed to use just one blade size. Blades dull with use--more rapidly when they are not regularly cleaned or lubricated. The life span of a clipping blade largely depends on hours of use, type of hair it is used to cut--including length, condition and cleanliness--and the overall maintenance of both the blades and clippers. Manufacturers and many local appliance repair shops offer blade-sharpening services, and do-it-yourself kits are also available. However, some consumers prefer to simply replace worn blades.

Making Your Choice
You may not be able to "test-drive" new clippers before purchasing them, but you can poll friends or barnmates about which types they have used and which they prefer. When possible, borrow a few clippers so you can gauge firsthand their noise level, weight, size, and width of blade in relation to your intended use. If you do "try out" a friend's clippers, keep in mind that the performance of older, perhaps hard-used units will vary according to blade wear and the length of hair you're cutting. Nonetheless, you'll likely get a general idea of how the unit operates and whether it will suit your needs.

Parts of his article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of EQUUS magazine.
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