The Best Beard Trimmer
If you’ve got a beard and want to keep that mess you call a face well-groomed and looking presentable, I’d invest in the corded Wahl Professional Peanut Trimmer.
The Peanut is a versatile $35 corded electric beard trimmer that’ll provide you with years of use and an amount of beard and moustache grooming power that a battery-powered trimmer simply can’t match. (But if you’d prefer a cordless trimmer, I have a recommendation for that, too.)
Why Go Electric?
For hundreds of years, men proved more than capable of keeping their facial hair neatly coiffed with nothing more than a pair of scissors. So why bother investing in a trimmer if you can get the same results from the pair of shears you’ve very likely already have stashed away in your kitchen or bathroom? Because, according to Craig the Barber, celebrity barber and editor in chief of The Men’s Room, while a pair of scissors or an electric trimmer will both trim your facial hair, they provide very different results.
“Typically,” says Craig, “when you’re trimming a beard with trimmers, it gets you more of a clean look than if you’re just trimming with shears, because you’re cutting all of the hair to a very specific length. When you’re using shears, shears will typically give it a softer appearance, so it doesn’t look as deliberate as what you’d end up with using a trimmer. I use shears a lot with gentlemen that have really big, full-looking beards. What it does is gives a nice shape and a nice, softer look.”
But using shears well takes practice, and since most of us can’t afford to hide our faces until we figure out the best method for manually shaping our beards with them, trimmers are typically the way to go. Aside from the time I lost half of my moustache after being too stupid to move my trimmer away from my face while I sneezed, I’ve never had a bad experience with an electric trimmer in close to 20 years of using them. I can’t say the same thing for the shears that now inhabit the back of my drawer in the bathroom.
Why Grow a Beard?
Lee Kynaston is one of the UK’s best known male grooming experts. He spent eight years as the grooming editor for Men’s Health and currently serves as the Lifestyle and Grooming Editor for Niven & Joshua while having a regular column in Harrods Magazine and being routinely asked to act as a grooming expert on TV and radio. During a recent chat on the phone, I asked Lee why anyone who hasn’t grown a beard should consider doing so.
According to a recent study by the University of Southern Queensland, having a beard can block between 90% to 95% of the UV rays that’d normally mess with your face while you’re out and about. That means that your skin’ll appear younger and be less prone to skin cancer. A beard will keep your face warm in the winter and protect you from windburn all year long. And for anyone with allergies or asthma, a thick beard is a boon: instead of getting sucked up your nose or into your mouth, pollen will get stuck in your facial hair. If that’s not enough for you, there’s also the fact that shaving is typically the cause for those ingrown hairs we all get on our face and neck from time to time.
Craig the Barber agrees that beards are a definite plus for some men and in some cases can provide more than a simple fashion statement. “If you’re a person that struggles with sensitivity of the skin,” Craig says, “growing a beard, if you can grow one, definitely helps in not having to worry about shaving nicks and the woes associated with shaving in general. That’s a major advantage. Another advantage to having a beard is that there are men in this world who do struggle with having a small chin or a face shape that isn’t necessarily flattering. With a beard, you can actually shape your face.”
What to Look For
When you’re shopping for a beard trimmer there’s a few things you should keep in mind.
First, the trimmer should be versatile. Faces don’t come in one shape, and as the years wear on you might want to change the shape and style of the fur on your chin. Your trimmer should be up to the challenge. Having a variety of beard guides (a plastic comb that snaps into place over the trimmer’s blade) is a plus. Using a beard guide allows you to keep a consistent trimming length all over your face with a minimal amount of effort and training.
You’ll want it to have a short blade length. While it might be tempting to get a trimmer with a large blade area that can cut through large areas of your facial hair in one pass, such as a set of barber’s clippers that are designed to cut hair, it’s not a great way to go if you’re trying to trim or detail the small areas around your mouth or if you want to maintain anything smaller than a full beard—say a Van Dyke or moustache. To ensure that you’ll be able to get the results you’re after, aim for a small blade surface of no more than 1-1½ inches in length.
It should be well designed. A beard trimmer should be comfortable to hold and easy to maneuver. You’ll need to turn it and twist it in different directions in order to get the results that you’re after.
Your trimmer should have a cord. I arrived at this conclusion after discovering that my pair of experts didn’t agree on whether a corded or cordless trimmers were a better value. One felt that a battery-powered trimmer was more than adequate for daily grooming, especially with the pairing of long-lasting batteries with low-drain trimmers that many popular brands like Remington and Philips-Norelco are coming up with. The other was positive that a high-quality corded trimmer provided more consistent performance, was typically cheaper than a cordless trimmer, and could last for years longer than their battery-powered counterparts (no battery wear to worry about). To break the tie, I ended up speaking to two barbers and a razor/small motor repair technician.
I was told by Mark at BC Shaver and Hobbies in Victoria, British Columbia that no doubt about it, I should be looking to buy a model that’s powered with a cord instead of a battery.
“If you look at the two,” explains Mark, “you can see the difference in the weight, you can see the difference in the blades, and you can feel the difference in the power when you turn it on. Most of the trimmers that come with a rechargeable battery are light-duty. They’re all around the same price, like 40 or 50 bucks. They’re OK for a quick trim, but they can’t match the power or longevity of one of the heavy-duty corded ones. They’re typically professional grade.”
And the barbers?
They both agreed that corded was better, due to the fact that you don’t have to worry about running out of power midway through grooming your facial hair and the fact that a corded trimmer will provide far more torque than anything with a battery.
Do You Need a Professional-Grade Trimmer?
No. You can get away with trimming your facial hair with a consumer-grade trimmer that runs off of a battery. Lots of guys do.
But after doing some research, I found that the price difference between many corded, professional-grade trimmers and their battery-powered consumer-grade counterparts is minimal. This, along with the fact that the majority of the experts I spoke to favoured corded hardware for additional torque, superior build quality, longer service life and the fact that you never need to worry about whether or not you remembered to charge before you use it makes it seem kind of crazy for most people to buy something powered by a battery. Additionally, The Sweethome’s Joel Johnson noted while we were talking about this story that it’s rare that most men would find themselves in a situation where they would be forced to trim their beard without access to an electrical socket. There’s also the fact that according to Craig, the lifespan of a set of trimmer blades is typically three to five years if you’re careful to only use the trimmer for what it’s intended for and clean and oil your blades after every use. The average lifespan of a rechargeable lithium-ion battery? About two to three years before they start to lose their ability to hold a full charge. This means that your trimmer wouldn’t be living up to its full potential. That’s throwing money away, which sucks.
So unless you travel a lot on trains, want to stay looking your best while you’re camping or can foresee any other usage scenarios where you wouldn’t have anywhere to plug your beard trimmer in when you decide it’s time to get grooming, I can’t think of any reason why you’d want to go with battery-powered hardware.
What You Don’t Need
Accessories. Not all of them are less than useful, but a lot of them are. While beard guides, cleaning brushes and perhaps additional blade sizes can make for a better experience, a lot of trimmers also come with an abundance of accessory heads that’ll let the hardware do double duty as a shaver, nose hair trimmer, or tackle hair cuts. That’s all fine, but in my experience with these kind of attachments, they never work as well as a dedicated piece of hardware does. Lee agrees with me.
“I kind of think in a funny way that with beard trimmers,” Lee told me. “The more fancy they try to make them, the less the performance in a way. The more you over complicate things, the worse it gets. I think the simplest are the best, really.”
Additionally, Craig the Barber told me while you can use your beard trimmer to groom the rest of your body, you likely shouldn’t as doing so lessens the integrity and lifespan of the blade, as our bodies tend to produce more oil than our faces do.
How Did You Pick What to Test?
In order to figure out what to test, I was able to fall back on a few sources, but not as many as I’d have liked.
A lot of the gear I review for The Wirecutter and The Sweethome isn’t glamorous, so there aren’t as many editorial reviews out there for it as there would be for, say, a new MacBook Air or a set of sweet headphones.
So, in order to find out what hardware I should consider ordering to test, I started by asking Lee and Craig the Barber what hardware they felt was great based on the balance of performance, price and power. As they held different opinions on whether corded or battery-powered gear was better, I started off with recommendations for hardware made by Wahl, Philips-Norelco, Andis, and Remington.
Next, armed with the information I learned from my experts on what makes a beard trimmer great, I started trawling the Internet and magazines for hardware roundups. There were a few of those to be found, but none of them were terribly useful.
Men’s Journal, for example, talked about six different trimmers made by Braun, Remington, Norelco, Conair, Wahl and Panasonic. But the roundup focused heavily on features while ignoring the hardware’s performance.
Best Beard Ever talked about the performance and the features of their hardware, but they only picked out two trimmers to profile. That didn’t really leave me with a feel of how how highly they thought of other hardware or if they felt other pieces of gear they’d gotten their hands on sucked. And I dropped in on the beard trimmer thread at Badger and Blade, but there were so many opinions on what was great (and no depth of discussion about why it was great) that the information there wasn’t of much use to me. But the time I spent doing this kind of research wasn’t a total wash. I got a good feel for what was popular and which brands performed well. Armed with this information, I hit Amazon and looked at trimmers from Andis, Remington, Conair, Braun, Wahl, and Forfex.
I started off with a list of 36 different trimmers that I thought might be worth testing. This list was whittled down to seven. Anything that cost over $40, was reported to have a questionable build quality, or failed to meet any of the criteria I talked about earlier in this piece were kicked to the curb. Likewise, anything that was only available as a refurb (refurbs in some cases are a great option, but with the amount of stress that the hardware inside of a trimmer is put under as part of its regular operation, I don’t think it’s a good idea) or that was no longer available from the manufacturer was also removed from the running. After a short peer review with The Sweethome’s editorial team, the field was narrowed even further: In the end, I was left with four pieces of hardware to test from Wahl, Andis and Remington.
How Did you Test?
With my face.
My beard grows freakishly fast, and the hair that covers my face is both coarse and dense. Ask anyone who knows me: I typically have a beard of one sort or another in effect and I’m not afraid to change it up on a regular basis. When I was asked to revisit our pick for Best Beard Trimmer, my mug was rocking a horseshoe moustache and a whole lotta stubble. But in the five-week lead up to testing out the hardware, I grew the rest of my face out, giving me about a quarter of beard coverage reaching from midway down my throat to the area below my temples. It’s the perfect test facility!
When I set out to test each trimmer, I looked at the following:
Torque Versus Beard Density: How much beard hair could each trimmer remove in a single pass? How many passes did it take to remove all of the hair in the test area?
Overall Results: How close would each trimmer trim? Was I able to trim the difficult bit under my nose easily? How clean were the lines the trimmer made? Did the trimmer’s blades catch more hairs than they cut? Could you use the trimmer to approximate a shave in a pinch?
Customization: How many attachments does the trimmer come with? Are the attachments useful?
Ease of Use: If it has interchangeable heads, how easy are they to swap out? Is the blade long enough to get a long, well-defined trimmed edge to my beard? Is it short enough to detail my moustache and under my lip? Can I easily get a single stray hair with it?
Ergonomics: Simply put, is it comfortable to use and hold?
Ease of Maintenance: How far do you need to strip it down to clean it? Does it require oil? Do you need tools to break it down?
Each of these tests was given a score out of ten possible points, making for a total possible score of sixty possible points. Of the four pieces of hardware I tested, the best overall score was a 48, awarded to the Wahl Professional 8685 Peanut Classic Clipper/Trimmer.
The Beard Trimmer You Want
Priced at $35, The Wahl Professional 8685 Peanut Classic Clipper/Trimmer is a small, corded trimmer that gets it’s name from—you guessed it—being shaped kind of like a peanut.
It’s well designed. Weighing in at four ounces and small at only four inches in length, the Peanut is easy to hold and maneuver around your face. Its seven-foot-long cord is built into the Peanut and can’t be removed. That the cord is fused with the trimmer’s body means that the hardware isn’t bogged down by the added bulk and weight of an internal cable adaptor or a female-ended cord to plug into the Peanut’s body.
I decided to take it along with me on a recent trip to New York City, and didn’t have any trouble fitting the hardware into my dopp bag along with the rest of my toiletries, which, as a guy that loves a traditional wet shave, are substantial. Additionally, the cutting surface of the blade is only about one inch in length, making it the perfect size for trimming and detailing in tight areas like under your lip and along the moustache line. It’s been my experience both in the years that I’ve had a beard and while making observations for this piece that the longer the cutting surface of the blade, the less sure you become of yourself as you attempt to tidy up and shape your facial hair. With a shorter blade length, maneuvering in to get the cut you want without the worry of accidentally paring down another chunk of your face in the process is a whole lot easier.
It’s powerful. Underneath the Peanut’s shell (sorry) is a powerful single-speed rotary motor that, when paired with the trimmer’s stainless steel blades, can cut through any hair you might be willing to throw at it. Of the four trimmers I tested, the Peanut did the best job of removing the largest amount of beard hair in one pass, leaving an immeasurably small amount of stubble in its wake that I’d compare to a day’s growth for me—the sort of thing I’d expect to find on my ugly mug just before I went to bed if I’d bothered to shave first thing in the morning on the same day. This earned the Peanut a score of nine out of 10 in the category, a score only matched only by the Andis T-Outliner (another corded trimmer). The only way it could have gotten a higher marker is if it had shaved as close as a razor blade.
It’s simple. Because of the fact that it’s not powered by a battery, the Peanut is always ready to use. Just plug it in, flick it on with your thumb and you’re in business. Unlike many of the trimmers on the market today, including a number of those made by Wahl, the Peanut isn’t designed to moonlight as an electric razor or nose hair trimmer and it doesn’t come with multiple blade sizes. When you buy the Peanut, you get a trimmer, a blade guard, a cleaning brush, a bottle of blade oil and four plastic cutting guides that range from ⅛” to ½” in length: nothing fancy, but everything you need to get the job done. And if you need to trim your nose hair, the Peanut’s blade is small enough that you can ease a corner of it into your nostril to get the job done.
It’s easy to maintain. Unlike many other professional-grade trimmers and clippers, the Peanut requires no tools in order to remove its blade for cleaning and oiling. After you use the trimmer, just pop the blade off with your thumb, brush any hair out of the base where the motor mates with the blade, run the blade under water, dry it off and then apply blade oil to the whole works. By doing so, your trimmer will last you for years to come. The Peanut is covered by a one-year warranty. And, should you happen to break any of the trimmer’s accessories or require a new blade outside of warranty, there’s no end of replacement parts to be found for it online from Amazon or a number of barber and salon-specific sites.
Like I said earlier, trimmers aren’t a glamorous hardware category, so it’s difficult to find a lot of dependable editorial reviews for them. But both Lee and Craig were enthusiastic about the Peanut’s performance, and there were a lot positive user feedback for it online.
An Epinions user by the name of Aurelio said he was pleased with the Peanut’s performance, stating, “the clipper cuts efficiently and cleanly, even at the tightest trim level. Because the blades are barely 1.5-inches wide, they do an excellent job of following irregular head contours.”
Over at Amazon, the black version of the Peanut garnered a 4.5 star rating from people that purchased it, with 110 of the 159 reviews for the trimmer awarding the hardware five stars. A slightly older, white iteration of the hardware was reviewed by 289 people and received a 4.5 star overall rating as well, with 207 of those being five-star ratings. That’s a very respectable chunk of love.
Perhaps the most useful review of the Peanut out there was posted by an Amazon shopper who goes by the name of Todd23. Like me, he shaves his whole head. But where I prefer using a straight razor to get the job done, he opted to go with the Peanut. In Todd23’s initial review of the trimmer back in 2007, he said that “shaving my head every day with a blade takes a lot of time and a lot of Mach 3 razors—Additionally, I am prone to ingrown hairs on the back of my head. Because of these reasons, I thought I would try the peanut. WOW!!!!! What a great product. It does not shave as close as a blade but it is darn close and it shaves much closer than any other clipper out there.” Todd23 came back to Amazon to update his review of the Peanut in 2009 and said “It cuts just as good as the day I bought it in 2007. No pulled hairs, the white blade guards still snap on firmly and I am still on the original blade! A drop of mineral oil every now and then is the only maintenance I’ve done.”
Six years after buying the Peanut, Todd23 reported back in again and stated that the trimmer was still going strong, and while the blade may have dulled over time, it still worked “within an acceptable envelope of performance.” It’s hard to argue with that level of dependability, especially in a piece of hardware that only costs $35. That’s like just a little under six bucks per year for a trimmer you can rely on every day. Crazy.
But It’s Not Perfect
For starters, the very thing that makes the Peanut so powerful is also its Achilles heel: You’ve got to plug it in to use it. This could be a deal breaker for some people, but before you give the Peanut a pass, stop and think about it for a moment: When was the last time you trimmed your facial hair anywhere that there wasn’t an electrical outlet? Seriously. I did a touch up with the Peanut in a San Francisco International Airport bathroom in between flights and didn’t have any more trouble using it than I would have had with a battery-powered trimmer. And just for fun, I tried the trimmer out by plugging it into a Goal Zero Sherpa 50 battery pack and power inverter. It worked just fine. So, your weekend camping trip/postapocalyptic grooming needs are in the bag with this thing, despite its cord.
Some Amazon users complained about the cost of replacement blades for the Peanut, but I honestly don’t feel that this is a huge issue. Todd23 claims that he was still using the Peanut’s original blade after six years of service. That’s in line with the longevity of a blade used only for trimming your facial hair, according to what Craig the Barber told me. Assuming that you’ll likely get five or six years of service out of the trimmer’s original blade and the fact that the cost of a replacement blade on Amazon is around $12, you’re looking at roughly two bucks per year to replace a blade. If you can find it within yourself to get angry about that, I don’t know what to tell you.
If you’re planning on using the Peanut to trim your head and body hair, it’s got more than enough power to get the job done, but because of its small blade surface, it could take longer than other full-sized clippers and trimmers. Additionally, because it’s so small, people with larger hands might have a difficult time using the Peanut.
A Battery Powered Option
But there’s a few reasons why it’s no longer our main pick. First, it’s not nearly as powerful as the Wahl Peanut, which is only six bucks more. The All-In-One will trim your beard, but it can’t glide through dense facial hair like the Peanut can. And if you you decide you want to use it on your head to touch up your fade? Forget about it. The All-In-One just doesn’t have the torque for that sort of thing, and in all honestly, if I had hair to cut (which I don’t) I’m not sure I’d want to rely on the trimmer’s battery to provide enough power to get me through a haircut. Having to wait for your trimmer to recharge so you can finish cutting the rest of your hair would be all kinds of awful.
There’s also the fact that I found the All-In-One’s various heads and blades difficult to remove for cleaning or to switch back and forth between. I have to exert a lot of pressure on the hardware if I want to take the trimmer’s blade off to clean and oil it. That’s not the case with the Peanut. Additionally, the various attachments that come with the All-In-One simply aren’t that useful. I think the smart money’s on getting a trimmer that’s powerful enough to do everything you need it to and to run for as long as it’s required to get the job done.
What About the Competition?
I tested four trimmers, and I’ve talked about a pair of them so far. Let’s discuss the other two.
The Andis T-Outliner came very highly recommended by our experts, and has a real online following with haircut, grooming and barbershop aficionados online. It costs $45, and, admittedly, it feels a lot more solidly constructed than the Peanut does.
I felt that it was just as powerful as the Peanut, but in the end, I can’t recommend it as a beard trimmer for a number of reasons. First, while it’s powerful, it’s a lot less easy to use than the Peanut, due to its poor ergonomics. Everything about the T-Outliner is awkward—at least if you’re using it on yourself. It weighs 1.2 pounds and is 5.2 inches in length. That weight might not seem a lot, but when you’re holding it to your face and trying to make a precise cut, it can make a difference. It’s not shaped to fit as nicely into the hand as the Peanut is either. I found myself having to switch positions with it on a regular basis, and needed two hands to do so. So that sucks.
I was also able to find a battery-powered version of the Wahl Peanut locally here in Victoria, and then on Amazon. But I don’t think it’s a good buy. While it has the same basic design as the corded Peanut, it’s not nearly as powerful, thanks to the fact that it runs off of a single rechargeable NiMH battery (although a regular AA battery will work in it as well.) As we discussed earlier, battery powered hardware can’t match a corded trimmer for the amount of torque generated. What’s more, the barry powered Peanut doesn’t come with the Wahl Lithium-Ion’s sweet quick charge feature, and as it uses a NiMH battery instead of a lithium ion battery, it won’t last as long in between charges. Plus it costs more than the Wahl Lithium-Ion All-In-One Trimmer does. So yeah, skip it.
I also didn’t like the fact that in order to fully clean and oil the T-Outliner’s blades, you need to remove a pair of screws. That’s a pain in the ass, and life’s annoying enough as it is already without have to mess around with that kind of nonsense on a regular basis. Given that the Peanut is cheaper, just as powerful and easier to maintain, I had to take a pass on the T-Outliner.
There was also the Remington MB-200 Titanium Beard & Moustache Trimmer, a $30 rechargeable trimmer that had earned a four-star rating on Amazon after being reviewed by 904 different customers (with 485 five-star ratings). It was by far the most reviewed trimmer on Amazon at the time that this piece was written. Unfortunately, it performed the worst out of all of the hardware I tested. Its battery, which I left to charge overnight (and which I believe uses Ni-Cad technology) only provided the trimmer with 32 minutes of runtime, and unlike the Wahl Lithium All-In-One, it doesn’t have a quick charge option. So if you forget to plug it in the night before, you’re hosed for the next morning.
Upon first blush, I also liked the idea of the MB-200 having a built-in hair guide that could be adjusted to trim longer or shorter just by turning a knob. Unfortunately, the built-in beard guide turned out to be bulky, which made it impossible to neatly trim the hair underneath of my nose.
Wrapping it Up
After looking at 36 trimmers, conducting close to 20 hours of research, speaking to two grooming experts, a number of barbers and a shaver/trimmer repair expert, I can tell you that the $35 Wahl Peanut Trimmer is the best beard trimmer out there. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything that can match its power, ease of use and durability for the price.
A Cheap and Convenient Illusion of Youth, Epinions, May 26, 2011,"The longer cord plus the smaller size makes it easier to maneuver the Peanut all around the head. The increasing heat from the plastic may cause some alarm, but the instructions reassure users that this is perfectly normal."
The Peanut Gets it Done!---Update, Amazon.com, October 14, 2007 - February 2013,"the Peanut continues to amaze. It cuts just as good as the day I bought it in 2007. No pulled hairs, the white blade guards still snap on firmly and I am still on the original blade! A drop of mineral oil every now and then is the only maintenance I've done. Finally a quality product that works and lasts. Bravo Wahl Bravo!!!!"
Wahl: Peanut Trimmers, The Men's Room,"The WAHL Peanut may not look like much, but it packs a whole lot of power in it’s tiny frame. Picture the strength of professional barber trimmers at half the size. It comes with 4 comb guards for easy trimming, oil and a small brush. The blade design allows for a variety of choices ranging from a close shave to hard line detailing. And the best part, it takes up very little room when traveling or storing at home. The WAHL Peanut w/ cord performed the best for me, and it will last you forever!"
Love My Peanuts, Amazon.com, January 22, 2008,"I am a professional hairstylist and I have been using the Peanut clippers for quite a few years now and love them! I used to use a standard size clipper for the hair and these little guys for edging and trimming, beards & mustaches.....but when my reg clippers gave out I had no choice but to use these little guys for a whole haircut...the rest is history. Because of the fact that they are so small, they take up little to no room at my station which is small and tight for space, also....they get a close precise cut...as long as your blade is sharp. While I agree that the cost of the raplacement blades is a little expensive, I will say that I can use the same blade for 6 months to a year depending on how many cuts I do, without having to replace one.....thats what the oil is for. All in all I LOVE these little guys and this is one of the best prices I have found....that incldes my beauty supply places!"