John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-551-7219 (cell)
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The Shearing Handpiece

Alpaca Shearing begins with the assembly of the hand-piece. For proper operation and to enhance the life of the equipment, and to ensure the safety of both the alpaca and the shearer, the comb and cutters must be properly aligned and tensioned.

Hold the shears with the bottom facing skyward. The comb is slid under the two screws on the nose of the hand-piece, and these screws are tightened only enough to hold the comb in place. (Do not over-tighten these screw at this point in the operation.) Next, position the cutter under the fingers on the top and lightly adjust the tensioning knob on the top of the hand-piece. What we want at this point is for the comb and cutter to be held in position, but still be loose enough to easily adjust. If the screws retaining the comb, or the tensioning knob, are tightened too much this will not be possible.

The next step is to properly position the comb in relationship to the throw of the cutter. Properly positioned, the points of the outside cutter blades will align with the inner edge of the outside tooth of the comb (on both sides of the comb). What we definitely do not want is a cutter that either travels past the outside edge of the comb, or fails to reach the inner edge of the outside tooth. This is the horizontal alignment.

The vertical alignment involves positioning the tips of the cutter in relationship to the tips of the comb. The tips of the cutter should ride just back of the beginning of the ground portion of the comb (1/16-1/8 inch).

Once the proper alignment has been achieved, firmly tighten the screws holding the comb in place. You do not want the alignment of the comb to change once the shearing begins. Also note here, if in the above steps the tension was set too tight, you will run the risk of damaging the comb, cutter or hand-piece when you tighten the comb screws. The entire alignment process must be done with the various adjustment screws tightened as lightly as possible.

Now tighten the tension knob. The easiest way to set the tension is to hold the hand-piece by the tension knob so that the body of the hand-piece is horizontal. In this way, the weight of the hand-piece will provide the proper tension. (Don’t shake it or bounce it up and down.) Proper tension is firm, but not tight.

Now thoroughly oil the blades and hand-piece. Do not be afraid of using too much oil. At 3000 strokes per minute, shears create a great deal of friction, heat and wear. When shearing sheep, the lanolin in the fleece helps to lubricate the shears. Alpaca fleece does not contain lanolin. Oil liberally.


We have found 30 weight motor oil to be the best lubricant. Do not use a light weight oil such as “Cool Lube” (TM) or WD-40. Lubrication is the critical factor in maintaining blade sharpness and ensuring the life of the hand-piece, blades and cutters. Excess oil will easily wash out of the fleece. Lack of oil will quickly cost hundreds of dollars in repairs.

What will happen if the above instructions are not followed? If the comb and cutters are not properly aligned, the shearer runs the risk of injury. Cutters that run outside the edges of the comb can easily cut the alpaca, or the shearer. Just imagine that sharp blade being pounded into the pad of your thumb 50 times a second when your hand gets in the way (OUCH!). If the cutters are too far forward on the comb, or if the tension is set too light, fiber will build up between the comb and cutter, causing them to separate, at which point they will not cut. (This is like trying to cut with an old pair of scissors whose blades are bowed - it just causes frustration.) Your alpaca will not enjoy the sensation of fleece being grabbed and pulled 50 times a second, and will probably express its displeasure in a way that you can not ignore.

If the cutters are set too far back, you sacrifice efficiency. The points on a cutter are 1/2 inch or less, so positioning the cutters back just 1/8 inch too far means you have given up at least 25% of your cutting surface.

Too much tension. This is the most common error. This increases the wear on every moving part and friction surface in the shears. Blades will dull in moments. The motor will over heat and begin to bog down. Ignore these early signs and you will soon feel the excess heat in the hand-piece begin to burn your hand. Continue on and the blades will begin changing to beautiful shades of blue and purple from the excessive heat buildup, the alpaca’s fleece will begin to smolder, and copious amounts of smoke will pour from the hand-piece just before the entire machine self destructs. Not good.

If your hand-piece begins to feel hot, the motor sounds like it is laboring, or the fleece is not coming off smoothly, it is time to check your tension. If the tension seems right, oil up. If the problem persists, change the cutter.

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Anna Bowman Dodd
In and Out of Three Normady Inns
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