Tapering with Scissors

Tapering hair with the scissor-over-comb technique
Tapered cuts: scissor over comb
Most people understand the basic terms in haircutting: blunt cuts, layering, clipper cuts, but some of the terms that are particular to tapering the hair can sound deceptively simple. For instance, the term "scissor-over-comb" means exactly what it says, but it's not as easy to execute until you've had some practice. The purpose of this discussion will be to help you understand how (and why) to perform a scissor-over-comb cut.
Why scissor-over-comb?
We all know that layering the hair helps distribute the bulk of the hair, especially for coarser hair types. The majority of men’s hairstyles are layered cuts that involve tapering as the hair approaches the perimeter of the growth area. However, when cutting the hair very short, it's sometimes difficult to lift the hair from the scalp and hold it with the fingers.
Granted, most tapered men's haircuts are done using clippers. However, there may be times when you don't have access to clippers, and a stylist who is proficient with scissors might find the transition to clippers challenging. Additionally, even with clippers, you still need to use scissors to blend certain areas of the cut.
It’s in these situations that scissor-over-comb is most useful. Because you can position the comb more closely to the scalp and use it to hold the hair in a specific position, you can use the comb to substitute for your fingers and create shorter layering than you could without the technique. When using your fingers to hold the hair, the length you can achieve is limited by the thickness of your fingers.
Specific techniques for scissor-over-comb
You can use scissor-over-comb to achieve uniform layering by using the depth of the comb as a guide or by positioning the comb at a consistent distance from the scalp as you work across the head. Often, a stylist or barber will use his knuckles as an additional length guide. With practice, you can create precise layering and cuts using this method.
Scissor-over-comb haircutting technique
Photo: Alex Doubovitsky/Getty Images via Canva
The finer-toothed side of the comb is used to lift the hair to the desired height, and then the scissors are positioned over the comb to cut the hair to the desired length, typically indicated by the guide.
In some cases, a tapered cut is desired, where the layers of the hair become shorter as you move toward the lower hairlines. The steepness of the tapering is controlled using the knuckles of the hand holding the comb, so that the comb is held in the hand, a knuckle of the finger rests against the head and the end of the comb angles in to the scalp.
This creates an angled cutting line from the bottom perimeter line upward, with the shortest lengths being at the perimeter hairline. The length is then monitored by the pitch of the comb as it is held (whether flat against the scalp, on the teeth edge, or at some angle in between).

Cutting and crosschecking
Once you’re comfortable with positioning the comb, you can start practicing your cutting. It is recommended that you do this on an old manikin that has been cut too short for other standard cutting practices. You can set guide lengths by aligning the comb vertically along the head at the angle you wish to set your tapering lengths and making guide cuts on either side of the section you are cutting.
Once this is done, you can begin cutting your layers using scissor-over-comb and simply follow your guide lengths for cross checkingpurposes. A practiced stylist can cut virtually any cut using scissor-over-comb, though some cuts work better performed using different techniques. However, when it comes to creating short, tapered cuts without using clippers, scissor-over-comb is definitely the way to go.