Introduction: Sharpen a Nail Clipper

Picture of Sharpen a Nail Clipper

Many years ago when this nail clipper was new I needed to cut a couple of fine copper wires. I had nothing else at the time and I used my nail clipper. The wires made nicks in the cutting edges of the clipper. Eventually I learned a way to sharpen the clipper's cutting edges evenly and did so. (Ignore the surface rust that has appeared in the years since.)

Step 1: Remove the Actuating Lever

Picture of Remove the Actuating Lever

The jaws will need to be held in position for sharpening. You need some precision difficult to obtain by using the actuating lever alone. Remove it by squeezing the jaws together with your thumbs or thumb and first finger, or with a pair of pliers as shown here. The lever falls out of the pin. Remove the pin.

Step 2: Bring the Jaws Together

Picture of Bring the Jaws Together

Insert a screw into the hole for the pin and put a nut onto the threads. Tighten the screw and nut to pull the cutting edges on the jaws lightly together or nearly so. They could be even closer together than shown here.

Step 3: Sharpen

Picture of Sharpen

The nail clipper has a flat face at the cutting edges on the front of the jaws. Grinding this flat surface will sharpen the cutting edges equally.

This clipper has a mildly convex surface, so it is easy to grind on a flat sharpening stone. Some clippers are rather sharply concave on the front of the jaws. Light passes with a very fine grinding stone in a Dremel tool will work nicely. Continue grinding lightly until all nicks in the cutting edges disappear. You may need to tighten the screw and nut a little as you go to keep the cutting edges close to one another while you grind. When you are finished, you will have two factory new cutting surfaces and your clippers will work great once again. When finished grinding remove the screw and nut. Insert the pin. Squeeze the jaws together a bit and attach the actuating lever. Wash the clipper to remove any grit from grinding the cutting edges.


PoisonDWARFnz (author)2017-09-27

Thank you for the tutorial, worked very well.

Phil B (author)PoisonDWARFnz2017-09-27

Thanks. I am glad it was helpful.

Old Toad (author)2016-01-14

Thanks for the tutorial! I stumbled on this while searching for an affordable decent nail clippers. In the 80's I remember buying USA made nail clippers for under $1. Eventually I lost them all and tried buying new ones made in China, but was not happy with the way they cut (hacked) my nails leaving them rough. I gave up buying new ones and bought a (new) USA made one at a train show for $4. It came in a leather key chain case and it and the case were engraved or stamped with the Illinois Central logo. I keep them hidden from the wife and kids, so they have not been lost. I no longer keep any in the cars or my desk at work as I haven't found decent ones for a reasonable price. You can pay as much as $45 for a pair, made in USA, I saw online today. I think your tutorial will help me to hone cheap, new clippers that are stamped out of poor quality steel with worn out dies and factory ground with course grind stones. I have seen, besides the $2 bulk ones at the cas register that don't cut well, $10 ones in the beauty section, but who wants to pay that much for clippers for the cars or that may be lost, when the online reviews of those brands are not so favorable either? Life used to be more simple when quality products were produced domestically at a reasonable price. Anyway.... Thanks!

Phil B (author)Old Toad2017-09-27

somehow I missed your comment. Thanks.

PeggyS31 (author)2016-05-09

Check out Harperton clippers on Amazon. Wicked sharp and made in the USA.

mikeasaurus (author)2008-12-07

new nail clipper = $2.00 (or less, choose your currency)

I like renewing just about anything (even tools), however you have to wonder if the time spent is worth it. I mean I don't re-bend my used staples. I guess my question is: why bother?

Old Toad (author)mikeasaurus2016-01-14

I find new clippers (China) cut worse than my old USA made ones. There is a USA made one available online for $45...perhaps I will try this method to sharpen cheap NEW clippers! The days of functional USA made clippers for a buck (or any reasonable price) are over. I stopped buying the new ones as the cut my nails so roughly! I think it is worth it.

mikeasaurus (author)mikeasaurus2010-08-11

Re-reading my comment, seems more abrasive than I intended. Selective editing would have helped. Also, apparently there's a larger community of people who have an affinity with nail clippers than I thought. To be clear, I don’t think that re-sharpening clippers is a bad idea, though I think the die has been cast on that from my previous comment. Your approach to the problem of dull clippers is very clever. DIY sharpening is a skill I wish I had. Kudos, Phil!

Phil B (author)mikeasaurus2010-08-11

Thank you, Mike. There is probably nothing that can be written in the English language that cannot be misunderstood by someone. I remember hearing and reading that 58% of our communication is non-verbal (body language, facial expressions). 35% is voice tone. The remaining 7% is the words we speak. Both of the first two are missing in Internet posts, opening the door for a lot of miscommunication.

AlphaRomeo (author)Phil B2012-09-27

Thanks for this information, Phil. Do you thing (or anyone for that matter) with more people using internet, over a period of time we may improve the writing communication skills?

BTW - I will be sharpening my nail clipper this week end.

Phil B (author)AlphaRomeo2012-09-28

I expect communication skills to slide downward. Clear writing requires clear thinking. Good grammar and good spelling are very important, too. Texting and quick posts in comment sections allow anyone to shoot off whatever comes into their gray matter without any attempt at analysis or clear communication. Look at what has been happening to spelling due to texting. Soon anyone who can forge a proper sentence will either be totally despised or a scholar-king.

Thank you for looking at this. I do not know why it is suddenly gathering so much attention. It got linked somewhere after plodding along for a couple of years and now is drawing all manner of attention. Enjoy your newly sharpened clippers.

Jehu_McSpooran (author)Phil B2012-09-29

I'm not sure if someone else has said so yet but it was featured in the latest Instructables email newsletter. Grats on being featured.

Phil B (author)Jehu_McSpooran2012-09-29

The appearance of this in the Instructables newsletter surprised no one more than it surprised me. I posted this a couple of years ago and it plodded along. Very recently, someone somewhere noticed it and put it into some sort of spotlight. Since that time it has drawn lots of attention. I am happy if it is just useful to someone. Thank you for looking and for commenting.

AlphaRomeo (author)Phil B2012-09-29

Good thinking - but may be it will be like formal dress code - at teens and a bit teen kids wear what they want - dress however they like but once in the open world we all dress nearly alike. Well time will tell.

As for my clippers, those need sharpening - the cutting edges are gagged and I have to first grind the cutting edges so they meet evenly with each other.

carmstrong2 (author)mikeasaurus2012-09-27

Take a look at the American Malaise and then at the Gigantic trash flow of good, useable merchandise flooding foreign land fills where you pay to have it trucked and shipped! You still don't get the picture? Sorry, I tried . . .

Phil B (author)mikeasaurus2008-12-07

This nail clipper was a gift from my father when I went away to college. At the time I felt an obligation to value his gift and restore it to its original condition. He died about ten years ago and now it is a remembrance of him worth more to me than the cost of replacement. I really do not like to waste things by disposing of them when they can be restored or repaired fairly simply. Although I did not mention it, the principle involved in sharpening a nail clipper as I did is the very same approach one would use to sharpen a set of pinking shears like my wife uses for her sewing projects, which I have sharpened for her a number of times. Those are more costly to replace. In the end it is your call. But, $2 here and $2 there begins to add up after a while. A penny saved....

girlcousin (author)Phil B2012-09-27

Ok the pinking shears completely threw me. Got an instructable, because I am really not forming a mental picture.

Phil B (author)girlcousin2012-09-27

This is not original with me, but comes from a paperback book on sharpening published by Popular Science magazine back in the 1970s. Everyone assumes the hills and valleys in a pinking shears need to be ground for the shears to be sharpened. But, someone at home can simply grind the flat face of the shears edges slowly on an oil stone until the hills and valleys have a new, crisp edge where the two sections of the shears meet to cut cloth. I hope you can picture what I am trying to describe. (I did once describe this and someone told me one never ever does that, but I have found it to work quite well.)

girlcousin (author)Phil B2012-09-28

Thanks! I DO get what you're saying!!

Phil B (author)girlcousin2012-09-28

Thank you for letting me know. Your grasp of the concept probably has more to do with your powers to perceive and understand than it does with my ability to explain. I had my fingers crossed that my explanation would be adequate.

Molo (author)Phil B2008-12-09

I used to work in a well equipped aerospace machine shop and a coworker asked us machinists to sharpen his nail clippers. Well, using expensive equipment at high cost labor hours was out of the question. So, some simple stoning did the job. Well done, Phil. Good article.

Phil B (author)Molo2008-12-10

Thank you. Simple methods are always good. Your story about the aerospace machine shop reminds me of a story about Charles Steinmetz during his time working under Thomas Edison. Edison asked Steinmetz to calculate the volume of a the glass envelope for a very large light bulb. Steinmetz calculated as best he could, noting that part of it was conical and part was a sphere. He did what he could to calculate the area where the two joined and took his approximations to Edison. Edison looked at him and asked why he did not just fill the thing with water and then measure the water it held.

Kev13 (author)Phil B2012-09-27

LOL - good story, but Edison's bad - he said "calculate" not "measure". Even without the internet, people communicate poorly!

After learning the reality of his battles with Tesla, I lost a lot of the respect for him that was apparently sheer propaganda anyway.... Determined, but not so bright. Pun not intended,but hey... Anyway, barring poor quality clippers, this is a good thing to do - thanks!

esmith37 (author)Kev132012-09-28

Hey, Edison still deserves respect. Sure on paper Tesla had a good chance of being a better scientist, but Edison had business sense, and Tesla was a little bit on the "crazy crazy crazy, gonna build me a planet cracker, and maybe a death ray" side of the fence.

AlphaRomeo (author)Kev132012-09-27

I suppose Edison might have said - 'find' and not 'calculate' or 'measure' the volume. This is just a guess.

pocketlama (author)Phil B2008-12-07

Sure you value them 'cause they were your dad's but damn it, you don't need a reason to learn something interesting. So what if they only cost $2.00? You learned something, did something, and taught something. Life is good. Thanks muchly!

The sharpening takes less time than a trip to the store, so it is time saved, not time spent. I didn't even do the screw trick, I just held the clippers closed while I rubbed them on the sharpening stone. Took about 1 minute. So now I have half an hour to waste on instead of going to the store.

Phil B (author)electric_piano_5k2012-09-28

New items from the store may be sharpened by machine to an acceptable standard, but I remember the days before carbide tipped sawblades when people with high standards sharpened new sawblades before using them. Just because something is from a store does not mean it is ready to meet a high standard.

Well money can BUY but the fun is DIY

Phil B (author)electric_piano_5k2010-08-11

Good man! Thank you for your comment.

Lt.Greg (author)Phil B2012-09-27

Yeah. Mike - I was pretty surprised by your original comment. I thought --- :"He doesn't understand the whole point of this site!". (Now, of course you do -- but my goodness man - you had me wondering!) The whole point (at least for me, at any rate ) is that you CAN fix, modify or improve something by yourself, and that you DON'T need to go buy it new!

As a former Public HS science Dept. employee I can tell you this - probably two thirds of the kids in school today can't even light a match, and think that a two- week old cell phone is an ancient relic! Hand them a box of matches to light a Bunsen burner and they whine - "Where's my cigarette lighter?" as they tentatively strike the match and wince! This site proves that there are still plenty of the under-30 crowd who "get it", and who could probably survive on their own, were TEOTWAWKI ever to arrive.

One final thing - If the pin which holds the lever has a hole through it which a small pin holds the lever on, and this little pin ever breaks, you can fix it by using a section of paper clip cut to the appropriate length, and held in place by bending back the tips of the paper clip. I have also made a temporary repair to a pair of eyeglasses this way when I lost the tiny screw, by passing a paper clip through the lined-up hinges and using a very small pair of needle nose pliers to bend the tips so the clip won't fall out. (This worked so well, I once left it in place for a year!)

girlcousin (author)Phil B2012-09-27

Thanks! I tried cutting sand paper to sharpen them, but it didn't seem to help much. It never occurred to me to do it like this.

This is actually a really good idea and something I would show my dad. He has a pair of nail clippers that he got when he was in Vietnam (for the war, not just to visit) so he held onto them and still tries to use them for sentimental reasons I guess. So despite buying new ones, he still likes his nam ones....

Eddie_T (author)2012-09-29

I have another reason for resharpening. I found an old clipper in a box of trinkets, so old that it were made in the US. It is more substantial than the newer China version and more comfortable to use. It was dull so I resharpened it several years ago holding it partially closed by hand. After reading the instructable I decided to try a clamp rather than the bolt. I used a Grip-It clamp (with the handle on the clipper in the closed position) to get the right angle for sharpening. It was so easy that I plan to keep these quality "made in the USA" clippers forever. Thanks for a great Instructable.

Old Toad (author)Eddie_T2016-01-14

I find even the new Made in China clippers are dull or cut roughly when new. I will try this method to hone my new clippers since the days of a good USA made clipper for under a buck are over!

Phil B (author)Eddie_T2012-09-29

Thank you for looking.

WalkGood (author)2013-02-18

What if you have a curved nail clipper?

Phil B (author)WalkGood2013-02-18

Several who also commented offered a couple of approaches to that problem.

david547 (author)2012-10-16

Thank you, Phil. I now have the courage to cut wire with my nail clippers (if necessary). ;-)


Phil B (author)david5472012-10-16

I think you wrote that tongue in cheek. At the time I cut wire with my nail clipper, I was a college student living in a dormitory. I had no access to tools, but needed to cut some fairly thin copper wire. I would not advise cutting wire with nail clippers then or now.

david547 (author)Phil B2012-10-17

Quite right ! Thanks to our industrious friends in China I have several appropriate wire clippers and strippers. There are many parts of the world where your instruction will be extremely valuable. You have enriched humanity by sharing your insight. Thank you.


tdc2202 (author)2012-09-30

Thank you Phil for this informative instructable. I have a pair of clippers I loved and couldn't find another like them, but they were so dull I couldn't cut with them anymore. I kept them however, hoping someone would put up an instructable just like this!! Now I can use them again. YAY!

Phil B (author)tdc22022012-09-30

Thank you for looking and for your comment. In addition to the things you mention, I enjoy the look on someone's face when he or she says, "Where did you get that?" and I say, "I made it from some scrap in my garage."

bobcat1947 (author)2012-09-28

As you put it so well, I, too " appreciate Instructables from others that are practical and address real problems with useful solutions." I was unsuccessful with sharpening nail clippers in the manner I was using. thanks for a straight-forward approach.

Phil B (author)bobcat19472012-09-30

Thank you.

Keithr606 (author)2012-09-28

I like seeing instructables that save folks money. We all don't have a couple of bucks. Savings of any kind is ok by me.

Phil B (author)Keithr6062012-09-30

Thank you.

Eddie_T (author)2012-09-28

I have touched up edges that aren't nicked with a round ceramic rod knife sharpener. The use of the bolt is clever.

Phil B (author)Eddie_T2012-09-30

Thank you.

Eddie_T (author)2012-09-29

BTW, as stated in an earlier post I used a ceramic rod about 5/8" diameter for sharpening.

About This Instructable




Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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