Hair Clippers Numbers Guide

The world of barbering can be daunting to a newcomer, whether you’re looking to cut your own hair for the first time, or you’re simply looking for a better understanding of what the guard sizes mean, I’m here to help. I'll break it all down so you can have the confidence you need to get (or give) a killer cut. If you’re looking to move past your basic “three on the top, two on the sides,” that you have said for as long as you can remember, this guide will comfortably move you past that. Next time you’re at the barber you’ll be able to knowledgeably make the call to get the perfect cut. Or, if you're looking to cut your own hair you can take a look at a set of cheap, reliable clippers for getting started (always my go-to recommendation.) man getting clipper cut

The Basics

First, let’s get the basics out of the way. Most guys tend to know that the smaller the number, the less hair (or the closer the cut), they’re going to end up with on their head. These infamous numbers actually refer to the clipper guard sizes, with the number printed on the guard itself. Most sets of clippers come with 8 guards, which dictate the amount of hair removed when clipped. The biggest brands (Oster, Wahl, and Andis) use 1/8 inch increments between guard sizes. As an example, a #1 haircut will use the #1 guard and leave 1/8 inch of hair, whereas a #3 will use the #3 guard and leave 3/8 inch of hair. The only exception to this rule is when asking for a #0, which doesn’t use a guard at all, and cuts directly with the clippers leaving about a 1/16 of hair left, looking almost shaved – a buzzcut. You’ve just learned enough to get yourself into trouble but that’s a good overview of the basics. Later I’ll include images that show each different look, and explains the differences between the manufactures, as that’s where things get complicated.

Hair Clippers Numbers Guide

First, let’s lay out all the haircut options and the clipper guard sizes just as a point of reference:
  • hair clippers numbers guide
    #0 cut (no guard) — 1/16 inch (1.5mm)
  • #1 cut — 1/8 inch (3mm)
  • #2 cut — 1/4 inch (6mm)
  • #3 cut — 3/8 inch (10mm)
  • #4 cut — 1/2 inch (13mm
  • #5 cut — 5/8 inch (16mm)
  • #6 cut — 3/4 inch (19mm)
  • #7 cut — 7/8 inch (22mm)
  • #8 cut — 1 inch (25mm)
Note: I’m rounding to the nearest significant figure for mm conversions. It’s worth mentioning that many report these as simply 3 times multiples (3, 6, 9, 12, etc.) which isn’t technically correct at higher multiples. This is because of the uneven conversions eventually rounding up entire mm lengths. That is to say, ¾ is exactly 19.05mm rather than 18mm that 3*6 would suggest. Usually to get ones desired look it will take a number of clipper guards, and using the right set of clippers for the job. This is why I strongly recommend everyone who walks into a barber has a good understanding of what they’re asking for, and what different options exist. Now we’ve covered the bare basics it’s worth getting into brand-specific information, and what the resulting cuts look like. The brand specific information is mostly geared toward those who are cutting their own hair, cut others, or are investigating the process. If you’re curious to see how clippers work, I wrote a piece on that here.

The Different Looks of Each Cut

Number 0 Haircut
Because a number 0 haircut uses no guard and cuts directly with the blade you’re getting a very close 1/16 inch (1.5mm) cut which leaves almost no hair, as shown in image pictured above.
Number 1 Haircut

number 1 haircut

A number 1 haircut uses the closest guard possible. This cut isn’t hugely different from a number 0 in terms of look or feel.

Number 2 Haircut

number 2 haircut 

A number 2 haircut is still in the buzzcut territory but leaves the scalp covered and works well for those with thicker hair.

Number 3 Haircut

number 3 haircut

A number 3 guards trim your hair down to 3/8 inch which tends to be used for a longer buzzcut (often called a burr cut). It’s also used to trim down the sides to a shorter length while retaining a longer length up top.

Number 4 Haircut

number 4 haircut

The number 4 cut leaves your hair ½ inch long. It’s about  the longest cut you can get that still vaguely resembles a buzzcut area. A number 4 starts to give a more brushed or crew cut look. These cuts work well for both long and short hair and are an easy choice for many that want short hair, but don’t want anything too short.

Number 5 Haircut

number 5

The number 5 haircut gives you a 5/8 inch look. The #5 is mostly used for tapering and styling rather than anything simpler like a buzzcut.

Number 6 Haircut

Much like the number 5, the number 6 is mostly used for layering and styling. It’s a reasonable length that rivals what many could do with a pair of scissors if they were looking for a shorter scissor cut.

Number 7 Haircut

A number 7 cut is a 7/8 inch cut which is often used for styling for men with thick hair. The #7 guard is normally used in conjunction with a smaller size guard to fade hair on the sides for a more styled look.

Number 8 Haircut

Lastly, the number 8 guard is the largest commonly included with a pair of clippers and cuts hair to an inch in length. Similar to the number 7, it’s mostly used to trim the hair on top with a smaller guard being used on the sides.

Oster Blades and Guards

Oster is the first brand I’ll cover and easily holds their own with quality. Their blades are made of carbon steel with renowned levels of quality assurance and testing. Any Oster blade should last, and stay sharp for a good while too. [table id=2 /]

Oster Clipper Guard Sizes

Oster’s clipper guards work a treat too and work with the same sizes available as standard in the first chart. Commonly people ask if they can get Oster magnetic guards which isn’t something they produce. Andis’ magnetic guards work fine with the Oster Fast Feed clippers and make the cutting way easier in my experience.

Andis Blades and Guards

With some of the most popular products in the industry, some might wonder why, and for good reason, they’re high quality. Their magnetic combs are at the top of that perch, they make cutting hair easier, they’re durable, they fit well, and as I mentioned earlier they fit other clippers (like Oster’s Fast Feed). Andis splits them into two groups, the five short guards, and the four longer ones. Below are the guards and their respective sizes.

Short Andis Magnetic Guards Set
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Long Andis Magnetic Guards Set
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Andis Blades

Like the aforementioned combs, Andis also make some incredible blades. They’re most well-known for their ceramic blades which keep cool during blade operation. They’re rated at up to 70% cooler than standard blades, I don’t know the exact number but I know from experience they’re cool. Ceramic is also incredibly durable, making them incredibly long-lasting. That said, even their traditional UltraEdge blades will still hold up in comparisons with any good blade. These detachable blades fit most of the popular Andis clippers, and even the Oster 76 clippers too making them an all-around great choice when looking for blades. Below are charts for both the CeramicEdge and UltraEdge blades and their sizes. Source:
Andis CeramicEdge blades chart
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Andis UltraEdge blades chart
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Wahl Guards and Clippers

Wahl is where I first got my start and is the brand I first got interested in. (I’m pretty impartial at this point though, I see benefits with each of the big three main competitors.) Their product line is pretty complicated with many different types of guards. Fortunately, their guards and sizes are easy to understand though. Below is a chart for their guards. [table id=6 /] Wahl offers two main types of combs, plastic (colored or your standard black) and then also a range of metal guards. The metal guards a little more pricey but offer a consistently better cut, especially for close fades. The colored combs work well if you’re cutting hair for friends and/or family and easily want to differentiate between combs. Don’t care about that? Maybe you’re cutting more professionally? Or looking for more style? For situations like these, the standard black combs are your best bet. The metal guards are even more premium. As stated before, they’re a little more pricey but with a cut that consequently fits the price. If you’re really getting into barbering, whether for yourself or others, this is what you want to invest in if you’re in the Wahl camp.

In Closing...

Drop any questions or suggestions in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you! I know this field inside and out and want to help you achieve your goals.