DIY Haircut, clippers, shaving head
(Photo by Will Dabbs)

DIY Haircut: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures in the Apocalypse

The “zombie apocalypse” came upon us unexpectedly. The end of the world is frequently like that. We felt the COVID-19 crisis brewing, but we were preoccupied with important stuff. How’s the survival stash? Check the food stocks, fuel, and obligatory toilet paper. There wasn’t time for much else. Our emergency stash of toilet paper is nearly 20 years old. It still works just fine in case you’re wondering. If anything that stuff gets even better with age.

Then it all stopped. The president and the governor made their proclamations, and everybody stayed home. I still went to work at the clinic every day and grew more and more acquainted with the Information Age version of the Black Death, but everything else pretty much ground to a halt; that, unfortunately, included Mrs. Mae, my long-suffering barber.

I had needed to scoot in for a couple weeks now. My perceived age is dependent upon my haircut. I haven’t been mistaken for a young man in some decades now, but I can get Mrs. Mae to shave the sides and back of my head and take 20 years off of my personal odometer. Conversely, let that interval grow too generous and the young lady at the restaurant, back when that was a thing, would offer me the senior citizen’s discount with nary a spoken word. I glanced in the mirror and what stared back was just some sad shaggy old man. It was time for a DIY haircut.

The DIY Haircut

Cutting your own hair is an undeniably ballsy undertaking. Before you get started you need to come to grips with some things. If the finished product sucks, you have to embrace said suck and just shave your head. What’s the real difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut? About three weeks. This too shall pass.

Hair itself is little more than the physical manifestation of vanity anyway. Excepting a single two-year interlude right after I left the Army wherein I grew a killer ponytail, I have maintained an Airborne high and tight ever since I was 18. Now, at age 54, hair is little more than an encumbrance.

I’m a doctor. Men experiencing male-pattern baldness come to see me on occasion asking me for hair. I wish I could give them mine. Today I would put that timeless platitude to the test.

Mission-Essential Equipment

For you DIY haircut, you need a set of clippers. Amazon is your buddy. They’re dirt cheap and come with sundry attachments all in an attractive plastic box. My wife used to cut my hair every 10 days back when I was a soldier. I did so look forward to that. Nowadays for reasons I still do not fully comprehend she adamantly refuses to heft the clippers yet again, even if the alternative is sharing her personal space with an old homeless-looking guy. Admittedly, our time in the service was likely not as positive for her as it was for me. Perhaps crafting my coif brings back sordid memories.

You’ll need a brush or a comb to help keep things organized and a decent mirror. I used an old survival mirror from my days as an Army aviator. I used to shave by that thing in the field back in the day. Yep, apparently I stole it. I don’t recall the details.

DIY Haircut, clippers, side
(Photo by Will Dabbs)

I needed a buddy to help hold the mirror and opted for the Big Rubber Man. The Big Rubber Man is what we call our lifelike 3D target by Rubber Dummies. I left that thing in the house one time and my wife bumped into it in the dark. It scared her witless. Now the Big Rubber Man lives on the back porch. He’s never once complained.

Geriatric Homeless Guy to Hot Euro Terrorist in 10 Minutes Flat

I just wanted the shag off my ears, so my hairstyling goals were fairly modest. Your mileage may vary. I started my DIY haircut by drawing an imaginary line around the top of my scalp. I started at the bottom with the raw clippers sans attachment. This took me down to bare scalp. Start at the bottom and work up after pulling the top bit to the side with a brush or comb. I did this to both sides as far back as I could see and reach.

Now affix the angled attachment to your clippers. There’s one for the right and another for the left. Pull the top bit aside again and run front to back parallel to the ground. Work up slowly until you taper the bare sides into the top bit. Keep in mind it is easy to take off and tougher to put back. Up to this point visibility was good and the results satisfactory.

The back foments its own unique challenges. I tried two mirrors, but that is a great way to amputate one’s own ear. Vincent Van Gogh was a great artist but a sucky role model. I cut a killer mohawk for starters, but figured that might not inspire confidence among my more genteel geriatric patients. Also, there is a fine line between mohawk and mullet; that was a line I’d sooner not cross.

No guts no glory, so I just started cutting the back blind from bottom to top. I did the best I could and then gave my wife my most refined set of puppy dog eyes. She descended to tidy up the back inch or two that I couldn’t see, and I was appropriately grateful.


I have no idea what to do about the top. I could of course put a spacer on the clippers and just zip over the whole thing. In the end, I just left it long. I think it looks kind of cool. If this COVID thing persists another month or two I suppose I’ll just braid it or invite in a family of squirrels.

This whole exercise is way easier when it’s warm out. Doing this in your bathroom will contaminate the space like a New York ER. You’ll be picking tiny hairs out of your toothbrush until the sun burns out. Cutting your hair shirtless on the back porch makes cleanup a snap.

razor, clippers, floor
(Photo by Will Dabbs)

On that subject, once I had swept up the trimmings, I had a generous pile of black/gray hair. It looked like I’d attacked a skunk with an anti-tank grenade. I saved the trimmings and scattered them among my wife’s garden. They say that’ll help keep the deer away. I fear it might have the same effect on my bride.

The Finished Product

I have read that when Clint Eastwood prepared for his role as aging gunfighter William Munny in the gritty 1992 Western “Unforgiven,” he cut his own hair with primitive implements. Munny was a conflicted anti-hero loner. Taking a bowie knife to his locks would have been the only way to keep from wandering about the badlands looking like Moses. I thought it a great effect.

shave, finished product, razor
(Photo by Will Dabbs)

In the end, the success of a DIY haircut during the zombie apocalypse turns on having reasonable expectations. Expect to look like you just stepped out of a Paul Mitchell salon and you are destined for disappointment. Let Clint Eastwood’s William Munny be both your inspiration and goal and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised. If things go truly sideways you can always just wear a hat.

I showed a picture of my freshly shorn scalp to my brothers. One has been bald for decades and didn’t see what all the fuss was about. The other decreed that the new do should be titled “The Pandemic.” Now I can truthfully declare that I have successfully survived the same.

Plan on giving yourself your own DIY haircut? Take pictures and please tag us on Instagram @SkillsetMag. We want to see whatever disasters you create atop that head of yours.

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