The Foundations of Hair Cutting: Part 1

The art of cutting hair requires a masterful fluidity between the stylist’s fingers and their tools. Quick and precise, every snip is intentional and carefully planned to create the desired effect. But there’s more to the hair cutting process than simply hacking away with a pair of shears. In fact, between the different tools involved in the trade and the multitude of techniques used to sculpt the final product, the cosmetology field is intricate and strategic. For this reason, those wishing to make a career as a hairstylist must first understand the basics of the craft before they can fully hone their skills.


In this first installment of the foundations of hair cutting, we will cover the core theory of the process and how each element contributes to a quality look. These are the factors that stylists must keep in mind before, during, and after an appointment.


Elevation is the cutting technique that deals with the upward and downward movement of the hair when styling. As each section is moved up, the stylist is provided with more opportunity to use different lengths and create the appearance of weight in specific areas. Regardless of what section of hair you’re working with, the vertical angle at which you hold the hair will affect the overall volume and shape of the finished product. So, by holding the strands higher, you can create more density along the top of the head. Keeping the hair lower, on the other hand, provides the maximum amount of weight toward the ends because all the hairs are the same length.

Essentially, elevation allows the stylist to better control the silhouette of the client’s hair when finished. Putting more weight in certain areas makes it possible to better frame the subject’s face and generate a more rounded structure for those who have flatter, thinner hair. Additionally, this technique opens up a variety of different doors to experiment with new balances that could be the perfect way to complement your client’s facial traits.


On the other hand, over-direction is the technique of moving the hair forward and backward along the head. Like elevation, this helps the stylist achieve different results by varying the length and giving certain sections different weights. Rather than distributing these features along the vertical axis as elevations does, over-direction makes it easier to control shape from the front to the back of the head. Rotating sections toward the forehead will create more density in the back, whereas moving a forward section closer to the rear will generate the same effect in the front.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that you don’t need to incorporate movement at all if you don’t feel it would benefit the overall look. Cutting the hair as it falls is a great way to maintain consistency across the entire head and create an even silhouette. It all depends on the style your client has in mind.

Finger Angle

In order to establish depth in the haircut and make the shapes flow seamlessly together, you need to have an understanding of different finger angles. When cutting hair, stylists often establish the angle at which they’re going to make a cut long before they even pick up their shears. The angle that they ultimately choose will directly influence how much depth is generated along various sections of the head. For a vertical section, the angle dictates whether the thickness will be added higher or lower along the style. Meanwhile, the angle of a horizontal section will create depth closer to the back or front.

The finger angle you cut at provides additional flexibility in both the shape and form of the haircut. As elevation and over-direction help form the basic shape of the style, the smaller angles you cut into each section will become the details that blend everything together. This is how you create a complementary style that’s still balanced in different ways.


Another essential foundation of hair cutting to be aware of is the principle of tension between the stylist’s fingers and the client’s hair. It’s industry practice for professional stylists to pinch the section of hair they’re going to cut between their index and pointer fingers. This provides the sturdiest grasp on that section and helps the stylist make cleaner angles. However, certain areas of the finger are more secure than others. For instance, if you hold the hair closer to your palm, you could actually be losing tension. As a general rule, you want to either hold most of the hair toward the middle of your fingers or cross your fingers to maximize the precision of the cut.

Layering Hair: Horizontal vs. Vertical

Hair layering is another classic way to add depth and visual texture to an individual’s hair. In cutting layers of varying lengths, you can create a different appearance to the eye. Though stylists use many different layering techniques, the primary ones we’ll cover in this section are horizontal and vertical layering techniques.

Horizontal layering is when the stylist cuts across a horizontal-moving section of hair. This creates a layered effect from the front to the back of the head, depending on the angle and pattern they choose to cut. Vertical layering performs the same function but instead adds length, rather than texture. Vertical layers land on top of one another and show varying lengths when viewed from the front of the face. This makes the hair look fuller and longer when finished.

As previously stated, the hair cutting industry is filled with complex theory and raw skill. To properly frame a person’s features and give them a look that brings out all their best assets, hairdressers must be truly skilled. This is why, at Sensei Shear Systems, we seek to provide these incredibly talented individuals with the tools they need to bring out their full potential. From professional texturizing shears to our ergonomic handle models, we can help make every cut fluid and comfortable for you. With our products, you can truly produce results that leave no hair out of place.