DIY Beard Trim

By Steve Watson
February 27, 2021

With barbershops being closed due to COVID restrictions your beard may well be in need of some attention. But what to do about keeping it looking tidy and presentable without causing irreparable damage?

So, you’ve taken the opportunity during the current COVID restrictions to grow your beard, and you’re about 3 months in. It’s highly probable that your beard will be in urgent need of some work to tidy it up and put some shape into it. The problem: the barber’s is closed for the foreseeable future, you’ve endured 3 months of scruffiness and ridicule, and the last thing you want is to shave it off. If this is you then you may very well identify with this message I recently received.

"I know you've covered the actual growing of a beard. But there are many out there just starting to grow one, and those first 2 or 3 months are where your guidance could be key.... and I'd appreciate the input. I'm thinking more about that stage of around 2" length - it puffs up like a poodle after washing and you look like a hobo. Do you trim it? Don't you trim it, what do you do? Straighten it? Dry it? Shape it, blah blah? That awkward phase everyone must go through?"
"See, I made what I consider a big mistake...the Internet. The usual bombarding of information overload. And 4 types of oil, 3 balms, 2 brushes, a comb, scissors, and believe it or not a heated beard straightening brush still looks like shite. The biggest issue is that the internet is the first place anyone will look in the absence of an expert’s input. However, it’s full of extremes - perfect beards or complete abominations. And people immediately steer more towards perfection and end up spending too much, ruining their beard and feeling deflated, looking in the mirror and seeing nothing but a wayward bush strapped to their fizog."
"I can understand why people get to this stage and just decide to revert back to what they had. It's a frustrating time, and no matter what you try, it all seems to be pointless."

Ah, yes, the internet. The cyber space of utopian fantasy, where everything good exists in unfettered perfection. Of everything expressed in the text above I would say that the details about consulting the internet is most relevant. Beards are much like people - each one is unique and we take them as they come. No two beards are the same anymore than two people are the same. A YouTube video of the man telling you how to trim your own beard is like him introducing his friend, Dave, as an example of how to befriend men called Dave.

Mr Model-Beard very likely started his beard advice YouTube channel because he has a model beard. It’s full, dense and even throughout. He has something quite remarkable to work with; something that he can use to promote products and make money, and good on him.

Unlike Mr Model-Beard, your beard might be patchy, have less coverage, grow in different directions, be curlier, be more straight, wilder etc. There is some good content on the internet but it can be difficult to separate the good from the bad and, as mentioned in the text above, can often leave you feeling deflated. 

I would, however, recommend Dan C Bearded YouTube channel, which offers in-depth and realistic advice.

So what advice would I offer? Because every beard is unique it’s unlikely you’ll be able to apply exactly the same methods used by Mr Model-Beard to your own beard. To men coming into my shop lamenting their beard struggle I always say they should grow what you’ve got and work with what you’ve grown. Isn’t this the scourge of social media, and its potential to cause dissatisfaction with our lot? 

When someone comes to me for a beard trim I generally ask what their long term goal is and what shape they have in mind. This determines what I trim away and what I leave on. If the customer is aiming for the longest beard he can achieve I remove very little, clipping away only the parts that make the beard look woolly or straggly. “Well, that’s obvious”, you might retort, but you’d be surprised how many men carve away swathes of beard essential for maintaining fullness and structure. 

You might find one of these three scenarios describes your situation.

I’ve grown my beard for 3 months and want to cut it back to, say, 2 months. 

You might think, “Ah, 2 months growth is about ½”, so I’ll run a No 4 over it.”

Do you remember what your beard looked like after 2 months? Were you happy with it? Is that the look you want? If the answer is yes then clipping it back to grade 4 (½”) is a viable option. If the answer is no then you’re in unchartered territory and your ship, crew and cargo could be lost. Approach with caution. My advice: follow the advice for maintaining its current length (below) until we sort it out for you. 

I’ve grown my beard for 3 months, I like the length but it looks like roadkill. 

By now you’ll have established some kind of beard care routine. If you haven’t, follow the simple routine at the bottom of this page before taking any tools to your beard.

Once your beard is dry have a good look at it in the mirror and commit to memory the parts you want to change. Then walk away and leave it until the next day. Do this for 2 or 3 days because each day will highlight something different due to factors beyond our knowledge. It’s like a bad hair day for beards.

When your beard is clean, oil or balm has been applied, and you’re ready to risk everything, comb through with a coarse toothed comb and look at the parts you have identified over the last few days and want to address. Using scissors - not clippers - remove the stragglers and the parts that grow outside of its general shape. Why not use a clipper? Clippers are unforgiving. Remember, you’re only keeping things in order until you’re next visit to us, so avoid being too enthusiastic and cutting lumps off.

Cut the neckline in using a trimmer, starting at the front just above the Adam’s apple. Cut the line across to both sides. This is where everything can go very wrong so take note here: When you raise your chin to cut the neckline you will distort the way in which your skin sits over the back of the jaw. If you shape the neckline in such a way that it looks right when your chin is raised it will look terrible when your head is in a natural position. To avoid looking like George Lucas, cut the neckline straight across, not an arc. You’re better off with a neckline that’s too low than one that rises above the jaw. 

George Lucas with super high neck line.

Depending on the density of your beard under the jaw you might need to remove some of the weight. Again, use scissors and don’t get too enthusiastic. 

Trim your moustache with scissors just above the lip and trim off the stragglers. 

It’s easy to be drawn in to attempt perfection but such endeavour can easily end in misery. Aim at achieving a better looking beard over a few days by a simple clean up on the first day. Your beard will look different after you've showered or washed it and will reveal something else that might not have been visible yesterday. Be patient, take your time. and trim away small amounts. DIY beard trims are notoriously perilous because you don’t have the necessary angles of perspective. Remember, you’re only keeping things in order until you’re next visit to us.

I’ve grown my beard from very short and I want a Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) Beard. 

Billy Gibbons - ZZ Top

If this is your goal then, unless you’re fortunate to possess all the right genes, you’ll need patience to get through a) months of untidiness and b) a couple of years to achieve the length. Frequently trimming the sides and the neck will eventually lead to a narrow and empty looking beard - a sort of über long goatee. You’ll get to where you want to be in terms of length but very likely dissatisfied with the overall appearance. For long beards, you’ve got to just let it grow and flow, taking off only the parts that grow wild. 

In summary, most men destroy their beard by undertaking the DIY approach, so it's not something I recommend. I don't trim my own beard because I don't think it's worth the risk - and I'm a barber. If trimming your own beard is something you just have to do, whether to satisfy a curiosity or in response to your employment policy etc, then be realistic about what you can achieve and go steady using scissors, not a clipper.

Simple Beard Care Routine

1) Wash your beard each day in a mild shampoo or soap.

2) Towel dry and apply beard oil. Work the oil throughout your beard and into your skin.

3) Comb it through with a coarse toothed comb and let the oil absorb for at least 5 minutes.

4) If you use balm, apply the balm after the oil.

4) Let it dry naturally or with a hairdryer set to cool. 

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Steve Watson
Author and founder of Watson's barber's
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