A Brief History of Barber Tools - The Emporium Barber

A Brief History of Barber Tools

Barbers today employ a range of specialty tools designed to keep your mane perfectly trimmed and your face ultra smooth. But it wasn’t always this way. 

Let’s have a quick wander through history to find out how barbers kept us looking our best in the past.

Early Beginnings

From as early as 3000 BC, barber services were performed in ancient Egypt, where people shaved their heads and faces regularly. But, if you sat down for a tidy up back then, you’d have been worked on with a series of crude instruments usually formed from sharpened flint, stone, or oyster shells. Let’s assume that those guys sat very, very still when having a shave. 

By the time of the Roman Empire, crude early razors were used as well as scissors, combs and creams to keep instruments and hair in good shape. 

Early razors were designed like a half-moon at first, and the handle was flat and made with material such as wood, bone, or ivory for the cashed up elite. 

Eventually toolmakers started experimenting with bronze, copper and iron tools. By 1740, Benjamin Huntsman was making straight razors complete with decorated handles and hollow-ground blades made from cast steel. 

Shaving brushes often had handles made from ivory, gold, silver, tortoise shell, crystal, or porcelain. The more expensive brushes used badger hair, with cheaper options being boar or horse’s hair and having your own shaving kit was quite the status symbol.

Tools in the 1800s and 1900s

Let’s face it, some historic beards and hairstyles have been pretty elaborate. From perfectly waved manes to curled or pointy moustaches. Just how did barbers achieve such shapes without a handy wax or pomade that we might use today? 

You can see from this picture the variety of tools that were required to tame men’s hair to suit the popular trends over the 1800s and early 1900s. 

The tools at the top were used to curl and wave ringlets into the hair and beard. They were heated over hot coals for a few seconds, cleaned with a cloth, and then used to force the hair into shape. 

The small scissors were used for nose and ear hairs, while the double comb (the one slightly curved on both sides) was for combing lice out of hair. 

The fork-like tools were used to keep long hair in place, and the clamp-shaped scissor at the bottom was used to dip cloth in hot water before applying it to the face in preparation of shaving. 

Before electricity came along, hair clippers were manually operated – a far cry from the smooth and precise nature of electric clippers today. They were designed with a pair of handles that barbers had to squeeze together and release to cut tufts of hair, which they did one section at a time.

Modern Instruments of Manly Grooming

In 1921 Leo Wahl created and patented the first electric clipper. With the resurgence of the clean cut look due to World War I & II, the clipper has been a staple of barber shops around the world ever since. Combine it with at least two pairs of good barbering scissors, a comb, a shaving brush and straight razor, and you’ve got your basic barber’s tool kit. 

Although many improvements have been made on the tools in order to produce better results, the staple ingredients of a kit remain mostly the same. 

These tools belonged to an itinerant barber in Puerto Rico in the 1930s and 1940s.

The straight razor experienced a decline in popularity after King Camp Gillette invented the disposable double-edged safety razor (first rolled out in 1903). 

However, the traditional barbershop experience, including the ‘cut throat’ shave has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, as men re-embrace their enjoyment of high-quality grooming. 

Trent Pridmore
Trent Pridmore


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