In the last couple of weeks I have had to cut a number of fades. The most surprising thing about this to me was how many were cut on Caucasians. African Americans get more than half of the fades I cut but Caucasians were about 20%. The Caucasians called them "high and tight" or a "Marine haircut. " African Americans called them skin fades, temp fades (below the temple or about an inch above the ear), or just fades.
Video on fading
I use the Ivan Zoot method of cutting a fade: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7r040HaxXkY&feature=related
If you have not seen this you might want to look at this and all the other Ivan Zoot videos. You can search You Tube for Ivan Zoot or for Clipper Guy. He has very useful information for cutting hair and he presents the material very clearly.
Back to fading.
Clippers held sideways and pointed back
His method is to use the clippers on the side of the head going side ways. This means the teeth of the clipper are vertical between the ceiling and the floor. The openings in the blade are pointed back. He starts at the front of the head and pushes the clipper from the front hairline to the back of the head.
Get a clear mental picture of where the fade will be
First you pick where you want the fade to be. This is done in consultation and every person has a specific preference of how high or low the bald area of the fade should be. The fade line is the area where the shortest hair begins.
Once you know where the fade line is going to start you want to have a pretty clear idea of where it will go. Ivan Zoot in this example goes from the widest part of the parietal ridge and gently slopes down as it comes toward the occipital bone in the back. From there it slopes up again to reach a stopping point that is the same height as the starting point on the opposite side of the head. In my experience, I have done better cutting the fade line on the right side of the head to the occipital bone or above and then starting on the left side in the front and going back to meet the first line. This lets me check that both sides of the fade line are at the same height.
I have cut fades with this downward slope toward the occipital bone and with the fade line essentially all at the same level with no downward sloping. With the fade line staying at the widest part of the head and therefore sloping down to the occipital bone, some weight is added uniformly above the widest part of the head to make the head shape more uniform creating a more ideal head shape.
In more recent fades or Marine cuts, I have made the fade line more horizontal with the floor. To me the overall shape is improved. Your mileage may vary.
How to place the blade on the scalp
To begin cutting place the clipper blade at the front hairline with the bottom of the blade pressed gently into the skin. For me this means that only the bottom 4 teeth of the blade are cutting.
This is the place the shortest hair will be cut thus creating the fade line. By pressing on the bottom of the clipper blade the top of the blade will be made to tilt away from the head slightly. This will give a vertical cut in the hair above the fade line. If the top of the blade is tipped further away from the head a slightly graduated line will be cut above the fade line. This is not appealing and will give you more problems with blending the fade line. It is important to use only the bottom of the blade to cut the fade line. As you cut, go slowly enough to see that the line is straight. Also check that you do not let the top of the blade waver and cut an irregular shape above the fade line.
Look at inconsistencies in the cut line
In my experience it takes some practice to get the line of the fade to be smooth and not bumpy. In the cuts I have made, I frequently have to blend out the bumps in the fade line. Bumps in the fade line can be from inconsistent pressure on the blade of the clipper or by waving the top of the clipper blade in and out.
Blending seems to take care of most problems here. Be careful here so that the fade line does not creep up the side of the head.
Blades used for cutting and blending
For cutting the initial fade line I use the 00000 or the 50 blade. These both cut at .2 mm. It is the closest cutting blade I have. (The 50 blade is the Andis animal designation for a blade that cuts at .2 mm and the 00000 is the human designation for the same length. Recently I dropped the clipper with the 00000 blade and broke a corner tooth off. My local supplier only had a 50 so I have used this for the last month without any problem. )
Buy time to plan for adjustments
My next step is to cut all the hair off the head below the fade line. This is a relatively easy thing to do. I use vertical strokes cutting into the grain of the hair. I stop before reaching the original fade line. This is a delaying action in which I can think about whether or not I like the looks of the fade line and how much adjusting I have to do.
In making adjustments to the fade line I switch to the 0A blade which cuts a length of 1.2 mm a full millimeter longer that the shortest area of the fade line. I use the clipper in vertical strokes and make light brushing strokes to carefully blend without taking off a lot of hair. It is very useful to put the heel of the clipper blade on the scalp in the balded area for this work. Resting the heel on the scalp gives good stability and makes the blending more uniform. If a line persists and/or the bumps have not been blended, I will brush the area again with the 0A blade with a little more pressure. I have had good results with this method. I cannot think of any reason that a number of different blades could not be used for this blending. At times the 0A does not smooth the blend enough so I will use a 000 blade.
In blending the fade line, only a few millimeters of hair are cut in the vertical direction. Be careful not to go to high and change the fade line.
In the video, Ivan Zoot uses a guard on his clipper to do the blending and he also uses a vertical stroke. I could not tell from the video which guard number he was using.
Clarify decisions about cutting top hair
Once the client can see the fade line and the cleaned out area, he will have a clearer idea of what to do with the hair on top of his head. This has been talked about before the haircut so we know what he thought to start and he now has a chance to modify the original choices.
There are lots of ways to finish the top of the head depending on client preferences.
As an example I have one Caucasian client who likes the fade because it removes a lot of his gray hair in the low temple area. He then wants to cut his hair on top with some over direction back in the recession area to give him more coverage there. With this client the connection from the side to the top is made with side to side sections on top of the head pulled to a vertical line parallel with the wall and cut from the length above the fade line straight up. It gives him a squared off look he likes.
A client who wants to have a high fade line and short hair on top. This client wants to have the fade line so it is at the level of the middle part of the recession area. He then prefers the top to be cut in 1/2 to 3/4" range on top. This can usually be one with one blade to get the length he wants. The connection from this length to the fade line is then cut using shorter blades (or guards) to smooth from the fade line in vertical sections. As this blending takes place the hair just above the fade line is shortened. When the shape in the connection is right a final buffing of the fade line is done in very short vertical brushings with an 0A or 000. It is important to keep these strokes very short so the faded area does not creep up the side of the head.
It is important to keep the blending of the fade line very short in vertical length. If the initial fade line is blended with a long vertical stroke instead of a short one, the faded area will creep up the head. Using a short stroke to blend up is used to blend only a small distance up from the balded area. A different blade or guard can then be used to blend the newly blended area up a bit higher.
The other way to cut a fade involves cutting a line around the head at the top of the area to be balded. The hair below this line is completely removed and the line is then blended as in the above example with short blending strokes. This may be an easier way to begin cutting fades because the line is more clearly defined early on. The method described above may be more suited for those with some clipper skills already in place. Try these for what suits you best.