View Full Version : Sharpening shear cutters and combs?

06-08-2013, 04:52 PM
I know there a few people with shearing experience on here, so thought I'd ask for some advice...

We've got four llamas, and this is our first time shearing them ourselves. We bought a set of Sunbeam Shearmaster's with the EW-311A head. They came with some extra cutters and combs that had been sharpened, and that was enough to get us through the first three llamas and about half of the fourth, lol. Now I'm wondering how difficult it would be to set up a sharpening rig so I don't have to wait (and pay) for the cutters to be sent out for sharpening. That fourth llama looks pretty goofy!

I've done a bit of reading, and found the Heiniger grinder setup. From the looks of it, it's not much more than a wheel, adhesive emery paper, and a "pendulum" for guiding the cutters/combs. However, it sounds like the wheel is slightly tapered or maybe crowned to create the "hollow" grind that is required for the cutters to work best. I'd definitely like to understand that better before trying to reproduce it. Is there another type of machine that may be better? Maybe a cast iron lapping wheel?

Is there any point in pursuing this, or am I just asking for frustration? :)

The Artful Bodger
06-08-2013, 05:14 PM
Yes, the combs should be ground with a slight concave otherwise the cutters will have much higher pressure at the middle of their stroke than the ends. Obviously this concave grind is more important for wider combs.

There are a couple of grinding systems I know of, the big vertical wheels date back to the dawn of mechanical sheep shears and there is another kind with a horizontal wheel that uses abrasive powder (the vertical wheel has glued on emery papers. I have only ever used the vertical ones.

I have never tried it but I might be possible to sharpen combs and cutters on a simple belt sander where you could get the concave by putting a shaped piece behind the belt for doing the combs.

If you are using the vertical wheel system be sure to have the holder on the pendulum and keep bystanders out of the line of fire!

Sharpening is important, a blunt comb and/or cutter encourages too much tension which causes heating which is not good.

Black Forest
06-08-2013, 05:42 PM
Heat is your enemy in shearing. Heat is caused by friction. Friction is caused by dirt and debris getting between the blades and the tension mechanism on the machine. When you are shearing the cutters get hair and dirt between the cutter and the comb so they then start to not cut well so you tighten up the tension which causes more heat which ruins the cutting edges. The first thing to do when you are shearing is have something to dunk your blades into while the machine is running to flush out the dirt and hair and to cool the mechanism. I use diesel fuel as it cools, cleans and lubricates the blades. Then I put a few drops of oil on the cutter.

I have one of the horizontal blade sharpeners made by Asculep a German medical instrument manufacturer. It works really well for my needs. I have also been to the Heiniger factory in Switzerland. Great place and people.

Tomorrow I will call them and ask if the vertical grinders they have are flat of if the are slightly convex. I went to the factory to learn how to sharpen my cutters and combs for my sheep shearing needs.

They showed me their paper disk grinders and how to glue and press the new paper on. Too much trouble for me. I like the one I have that uses the different grit pastes.

I bought Heinigers shearing system with the motor that hangs and a flexible cable that transmits the power to the handpiece. I really dislike the shearing machines with the motor in the handpiece. Heavy and gets hot.

06-09-2013, 02:59 PM
The firm I worked for in 1968 took over a blacksmiths business(and an employee) and he had made a comb and cutter sharpener from a disc grinder with abrasive paper stuck to the disc and a pendulum that the combs and cutters latched onto two pins if I remember correctly. This was for Lister type shearing motors and I was taught to use it. I am pretty sure that the disc was flat, and imparted a perfectly flat finish, and we never had any complaints, although each farmer would bring in many combs and cutters, and the shearers changed them regularly, and they came back for resharpening at least once during shearing time.
Phil, East Yorkshire, uk
Where there aint as many sheep as there used to be!

06-09-2013, 03:06 PM

When I was shearing sheep for money, way back in the late 70's and early 80's, I had a vertical disc grinder that used a water based glue to adhere the paper discs on. I believe the cast iron discs, I had 3 of them, where slightly convexed. I remember lightly rocking the combs and cutters as I sharpened them. It certainly doesn't take much, perhaps less than a degree of curve. And it was a pain in the back side to replace the paper. It took hot water and an hour's worth of soaking to get the stuff off. And then every tiny little trace of glue had to be carefully cleaned off before a new disc could be put on. But it was all anybody had or knew about.

Dirt and setup tension is critical to life of the cutters, oiling less so. At least for wool, as the lanolin provides sufficient lube during shearing. A couple of drops is all that is necessary. I have never sheared an Alpaca though and the hair may well be too dry and could easily require more oiling. I would never repeatedly dunk my hand-piece in diesel fuel. That would contaminate the wool/hair and get you docked on price, particularly if selling grade and yield. The odor would be very noticeable. The excess oil or diesel fuel could also cause abscesses and infections on the animal if it gets into even the smallest nick. Vet bills cost money. If your cutter is running hot, it is either dull or isn't setup correctly - fix it.

Overall, for just the few animals you have, I would inclined to just buy a couple of more cutter sets and then send them out to have sharpened. It would be the easiest and cheapest solution. And you will need to buy replacements anyway as time goes by. Added - You should have 2 cutters per comb. As generally speaking, the comb can be adjusted out a bit to run the second cutter on a less worn part of the comb.


Black Forest
06-09-2013, 03:49 PM
I was not referring to a commercial shearing operation when I said to dunk the blades. I don't sell my wool. I bury it! Do you have any experience with Diesel fuel in cuts? I don't think you do because it does not cause infections in nicks on sheep, horses, cattle, dogs and humans. I know from my own experience that it doesn't. Actually if you use kerosene for the dunk it is better.

The Artful Bodger
06-09-2013, 04:10 PM
Yes, more cutters than combs and as the cutters are sharpened the teeth get shorter so sort the cutters and use the thinnest one when a new comb goes on then when you change the cutter to a thicker one the cutter tips will be running on a sharp part of the comb. It is only the very tip of the cutter that cuts when learning or shearing slowly, a fast shearer will be using more of the cutter so that although a professional shearer may be able to shear, say, 25 sheep on one cutter that does not mean everyone can do that in fact I suggest it is more running time than number of sheep that dictates how long a cutter will last.

As already mentioned dirt and grit are bad so always shear close to the skin where there is a couple of millimeters of clean wool and plenty of lanolin. Besides, shearing sheep is hard work enough without shearing each one twice!

Use only enough tension to cut cleanly as more tension means more heat, you will know when the cutter is getting dull as the appearance of the shorn areas will change to a sort of mackerel pattern, when that happens increase the tension a little, finish that sheep then change the cutter. Try to limit the time 'cutting air' as that dulls the cutter faster than cutting clean wool (not everyone agrees with me on this point!).

We used the glued paper discs with the old animal-hoof (?) glue but we had a hit and miss engine to drive the machines and there was always gallons of boiling water on hand at the end of the day to soak those discs when the paper and glue just floated off. I wish I had one of those grinders in my workshop!

06-09-2013, 04:14 PM

Doesn't cause infections, really? Ever notice any reddening around a cut on yourself after exposure to petroleum distillates? That is an indication of infection as the body fights it off. Perhaps you've been lucky. In any case, it is your wallet, and I'm not concerned about it. You squander income if you bury your wool. Do as you wish.

In any case, if your cutter is running so hot you feel the need to cool it, something is wrong. It should never get more than warm.

And I was born and raised a farmer and farmed myself. Still own a farm, 465 acres, just rent it out now. I grew up milking cows, farrow to finish hogs, lambed and fed sheep, (all for a living), and have even kept poultry for personal use, (right now I'm raising 500 Bobwhite). So I might know a bit about animal husbandry.


The Artful Bodger
06-09-2013, 04:36 PM
500 sheep a day and that water was piping hot!


Coopers "Little Wonder" portable shearing plant, 1920? It is mounted a little low being on that trolley as they were usually used on a wooden box base reputed to have been made from the crate the machines were shipped in. My father and his brother had one of these that they carried around on a 'trucked' 1922 Buick shearing at several farms in the area. This one has a muffler fitted but they found an unrestricted exhaust was essential for good running so all the sheds they worked had a hole in the wall to poke the straight pipe out.

Black Forest
06-10-2013, 01:35 AM
You squander income if you bury your wool. Do as you wish.

The wool is not worth what it costs to shear a sheep. It is strictly a maintenance operation to shear the sheep. If I had thousands of sheep I might have to sell the wool for sure because I wouldn't want to dig such a big hole!

The Artful Bodger
06-10-2013, 02:54 AM
The wool is not worth what it costs to shear a sheep.

Times have changed! When we were kids we used to cycle around the local farms asking if we could salvage the wool from sheep that had died! Filthy job but the money was very good and rubber gloves did not cost too much.

06-10-2013, 08:43 AM
Thanks for the info guys. I'm still considering taking a crack at sharpening my cutters, I like doing things myself :).

If I end up going the vertical grinder route, I think I'll try the straight wheel first. It looks like the commercial vertical grinders use 40-60 grit emery for the combs and 80-100 grit for the cutters, can anyone confirm/recommend differently?

Black Forest, I'd be interested to see more info about your sharpening setup. That's more like what I pictured before reading up on the commercial solutions, and sounds like it may be easier to set up. I searched a bit, but couldn't find any info on the web for such a system. What type of grit is used? What's the wheel made of, cast iron? Wheel size and RPM? A pic would be helpful as well :)

Thanks again!

Black Forest
06-11-2013, 08:44 AM
Schoolie the disk on the grinders from Heiniger are not flat. They would not tell me what shape they are exactly. They didn't even want to tell me they aren't flat but finally the man did divulge at least that to me. The man I know is no longer at the company.

06-11-2013, 01:49 PM
People in the southern US have been using 'coal oil' (kerosene) on cuts for more than eighty years. Never heard of a problem. Does it help? I don't know. Doesn"t seem to hurt and makes you think it might help.
I'm not a physician so use the above info as you see fit.

Black Forest
06-11-2013, 02:02 PM
People in the southern US have been using 'coal oil' (kerosene) on cuts for more than eighty years. Never heard of a problem. Does it help? I don't know. Doesn"t seem to hurt and makes you think it might help.
I'm not a physician so use the above info as you see fit.

When we would have a bad cut on a cow or horse we would use Scarlet Oil and if none was available we would use Kerosene. Squirt either into the wound and be done. We got much less scarring than when we used antibacterial ointments. I had one horse gored really badly in the shoulder. We kept flushing the wound with Scarlet Oil and when it healed there was hardly a scar. This was a hole you could put your fist in when it happened.

Black Forest
06-14-2013, 01:09 AM
Schoolie here is a link to the Heiniger grinder and setup.


The Artful Bodger
06-14-2013, 01:20 AM
I thought he was going to grind that comb clean away!;)

Black Forest
06-14-2013, 02:30 AM
I thought he was going to grind that comb clean away!;)

Yes, I thought he was a big aggressive myself. He was Australian so that explains a lot!

The Artful Bodger
06-14-2013, 02:37 AM
He was Australian so that explains a lot!

Do you think so, he didn't really say much! ;) ;)

Black Forest
06-14-2013, 03:58 AM
Do you think so, he didn't really say much! ;) ;)

Yes he was Australian. Heiniger has these grinders manufactured in Australia so I just assume he is Australian. And he is Ugly enough to be from OZ. Not like all you good looking New Zealanders!!!!

The Artful Bodger
06-14-2013, 04:03 AM
If he is shearing sheep in Australia he may well be a Kiwi, especially as that was a Kiwi style wide comb he was grinding!

06-16-2013, 02:15 AM
What would happen if you bolted a piece of cast iron or aluminium to a face plate of your lathe and then cleaned up the face and od .You could glue a sheet of sandpaper to it and then construct a pendulem thingie from the toolpost or just use a magnet to hold the combs.For a guy who wants to sharpen his own cutters and not make a business out of it I am sure it would be good enough ,even without a concave machined into it.If you are a bad machinest like me the concave will be cut while you are trying to face it off anyway.If you have a vfd in your lathe it will be easy to find the sweet spot in terms of speed and a bit of protection on the bedways would save having to buy an expensive machine.
I sharpened my hairclippers that I use for myself with a oilstone. What a huge difference it made.I was looking to see if I could make a business out of this as in s africa not many people do this but thought it to risky with the lack of knowledge I could find on the subject