Crafting the perfect beard style is not as simple as keeping a clean-shaven face, which really only requires you to purchase the best razors money can buy, and then drag one across your mug once a day (with the grain, naturally). Perhaps surprisingly, keeping a beard is not that easy: There are decisions you need to make, and things you need to consider. For instance, how long should you keep a beard? And once you decide that, what size clipper guard do you need to use to achieve the desired length?
The answers to those questions are complicated, mainly because the companies that make clippers have all decided that they know best when it comes to standardizing what numbers correspond to what clipper size, and thus, the popular brands are all different. If, for example, you try using a #2 size clipper guard with one kind of clipper, it might be way different than the #2 of another brand.
Thankfully, there’s a relatively easy way to keep yourself from getting confused come beard-trimming time: Ignore those numbers almost completely. Honestly, they don’t really matter, at least until you’ve found a brand of clipper you like and aim to stick with it forever. And that’s because what is important is labeled separately on most, if not all, clipper guards, and it never changes: The equivalent length of hair — in inches or millimeters — each clipper guard leaves on your face or head after you use it.
Typically, that equivalent length starts at around 1/16 of an inch (1.5mm) and can go up to an inch or more. How the different guard sizes — i.e., the #1s, the #2s, and so on and so forth — correspond to those lengths is what’s different from brand to brand. Once you figure out how long you want your beard, figuring out what number guard to use on your clippers is easy: you just look at what length it says on the side of the guard.
But that’s the easy part. The hard part is then determining what length corresponds to what size beard. Well, let me make that easier for you, too: If you want a 5 o’clock shadow, use 1/16-inch guard, usually a #1 or a #0; if you want a short beard, try a ⅝-inch guard, or even a ¾, sometimes labeled as a #4. And depending on the thickness of your facial hair, if you’re planning on growing something longer than an inch on your face, it might be your best bet to ditch the clippers altogether and opt for scissors, instead. At that length, things are liable to get real itchy, so don’t forget the beard oil!
The best thing you can do, though, is try stuff out. Everyone is different, so what works for one person might not work for another. Just remember that, if you’re going to test clipper guard sizes, start on the larger side and work down. We don’t want any bald spots, do we?