Friday, May 24, 2013

Oster Fast Feed and Classic 76 Review

Cutting hair is an expensive endeavor and one commonly outsourced to barbers. For the stereotypical guy, a haircut usually involves matching a hair clipper blade number with a side of the head. “Number 2 on top, number 3 on the sides” is the typical line. Mothers, wives, lady friends, and bored hands usually attempt to perform this simple task in the kitchen or in the tub – all to save some time and money. Once you get some practice in, it really isn’t that hard. The main goal is really to keep it even and you could probably save at least $10 per cut, not to mention the trip to the barber and the wait. Worst case scenario, go to the barber to have it fixed or just shave it all off if you’re a guy.

Unfortunately, the “department stores” of today (i.e. big box, Wal-Mart style) know about this desired convenience and money-saving measure. They peddle you hair cutting kits with a hair clipper, “how to” videos, additional accessories, numerous blade sizes – all for the low price of about $25 usually. I’ve tried at least two in the past and have a few sets of accessories. The cheapest I paid was $15 and I definitely got what I paid for.

Being a baldy, I shave my head twice a week with hair clippers. The first two times I did the full shave, I went to the barber at $15 per visit and let it grow back out. When I finally said “screw it” and started keeping it shaved, I did it with a set from a "drugstore brand". Unfortunately, I let it grow out too long since my last full head shave (like half an inch?) and it did not go well: my hair got pulled repeatedly and it was very uneven. A lot of the blame definitely came about due to my inexperience and poor technique at the time. However, a significant chunk of blame was attributed to the poor quality of the clipper. This went on until I did some research and finally decided to get my first barber-ish grade clipper.

Oster Classic 76 and Oster Fast Feed
My Hair Clippers
Oster Professional Fast Feed Clipper
Oster Classic 76 Professional Hair Clipper

Power Consumption of Fast Feed and Classic 76
Oster Fast Feed Hair Clipper Overview
Andis BGRC Hair Clipper Overview


Both of my workhorse hair clippers are from Oster, which produces barber grade tools used in salons. I didn’t pay attention for about 20 years when I went to the barber regularly, but thinking back now, I definitely remember seeing dark red/maroon coloured hair clipper bodies. As far as I know, Oster is the only well known company that manufactures multiple models of clippers in that colour.

The Fast Feed is a cheaper unit. Starting at “only” $50 in the United States and $60 in Canada (I paid $90 before started carrying it), it’s half the price of the Classic 76 that starts around $115 in the U.S. By cheap, I mean that it’s lower in price and not as powerful of a machine. Mr. Google suggests that many people use the Fast Feed as a primary unit, including Barbers, but many also relegate it to fine tuning and other specific applications. It has a pivot motor and a single adjustable blade (see black lever in photos) that goes as close as a #000 (0.5mm) blade. The kit comes with blade lubrication oil, a brush, and a couple larger plastic, snap-in blades.

The Classic 76 is a model that has been around for a while; at least a decade or more from what I recall. Its rotary motor is stronger and the design uses steel snap-in blades that cut to a single size only. Included in the kit are grease the motor, blade lubrication oil, a brush, a #000 blade, and a #1 blade. Apart from being more expensive, the Classic 76 is also a machine that requires significantly more maintenance than the Fast Feed and probably most other clippers.

Oster Classic 76
These are in fact tools used to perform very detailed and fine tasks. How they feel in the hand day in and day out, or even just a single cut is very important. Lucky for me, I don’t need to use these things day in and day out: just twice a week for 10 minutes each time. Even so, I've been shaving my head for over two years now, so that’s about 52 weeks multiplied by 2 cuts a week multiplied by 2 years. I've seen things.

But before I get down to it, let me fill you in on how I use these clippers. I purchased the Fast Feed set first, used them for a year to shave my own head, and then bought the Classic 76 and stopped using the Fast Feed for a while. A few weeks of trial and error later, I settled on using the Classic 76 as my starter and primary for the first run through. Afterwards, I do a second run with the Fast Feeds cutting in the opposite direction with a focus on the top and back. For both clippers, I set the blade size to #000.

Oster Fast Feed
In using the Fast Feed, I noticed that it cuts smoother and stronger than cheaper clippers. Whether this has anything to do with the use of a pivot motor is lost on my non-mechanically inclined mind. Cheaper hair clippers use magnet motors, so there’s a good chance the motor design or quality plays a role. Smoother and stronger means the blade glides across my scalp with more ease, and I can glide it at a relatively quick speed (compared to cheaper models) without pulling hair. I haven’t tested the maximum speed because my experience with a cheap clipper has taught me how painful pulling is.

One pass is usually sufficient to cut most hair with the Fast Feed. There are definitely a noticeable number of strays though. Having to make a second or third pass is very common. Note that at least some of the blame is laid on my technique and how I hold the clipper. Cheaper blades are even worse, so keep that in mind. The vibration on this unit is pretty strong, but again, nowhere near as bad as with cheaper magnetic clippers. I’ve done marathon cutting sessions with the Fast Feed and a cheaper "drugstore brand" set: my hand felt numb with the latter, but only buzzed with the former.

If the Fast Feed is comparable to a hot knife through butter, then the Classic 76 is a band-saw with the blade heated with a blow torch. Okay, not that good, but significantly smoother and stronger than the Fast Feed. It glides across my scalp very smoothly, cuts the majority of hair in a single pass, and it feels like I can glide it across my scalp without pulling anything even quicker. The rotary motor also seems to dampen the vibration slightly compared to the Fast Feed.

One complaint is that the snap-in blade on the Classic 76 causes the blade to vibrate and move around a noticeable amount; that is, I can’t seem to glide the Classic 76 across my skin in a perfectly straight line. The Fast Feed is better at this task because the blade that touches your skin is screwed into the unit’s body. Cheaper units have a screwed in blade too, but the excessive vibration of the motor just makes everything more difficult.

Body Design: Handling

Oster Fast Feed clippers use a rectangular body while the Classic 76 clippers use a round body. A round body allows for ease of rotation and smooth handling – when you can see what you’re doing. For barbers and people cutting the hair of others, this is a major advantage. For self-cutters who rely almost entirely on feel, this may be a nightmare. As a head shaver, I rely on the edges of the body to help me orient the clipper properly when doing all cutting, but especially cutting on the back and sides. This is why I still like to use my older Fast Feed unit and the more expensive, newer Classic 76 unit. So, it really comes down to what you’re using it for and maybe just personal preference. Round and rectangular bodies each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Close-up of Oster Classic 76 Blade
Body Design: Nitpicking
I don’t really have any major complaints concerning the Fast Feed’s body other than the steel plate on the front. It is there for cosmetic purposes only, if I recall correctly, but I managed to crack the plastic body when screwing the plate back into the unit after taking it off my first time for cleaning. My fault, but still?
The Classic 76 is also reasonably well designed aside from the cooling fan’s exhaust vents. These are the two rectangular holes you see on the 76’s body about ¾ of the way up. The fan is pretty strong, so it blows hair around and you get a nice whiff of ozone due to the use of carbon brushes to provide power to the unit. Also, the power switch at the bottom can only be handled with a second hand – I can use my thumb to turn the Fast Feed off in contrast.


As far as I know, the Fast Feed just needs to have its blades lubricated before every cut and regularly when using it for long periods of time. Taking the blade off and cleaning the bits of hair, dust, and pooled blade lubrication oil is also recommended.

A more elaborate maintenance regimen is required for the Classic 76. From what I've heard and read, it's necessary to lubricate the blade and lubricate the internal machinery regularly by putting a drop of blade lube into the silver button beside an air vent. About every 6 months to a year, the unit has to be opened up by taking the name plate off, cleaning out the motor grease, and adding in new grease. The carbon brushes can also wear out requiring replacement, and the air filters at the bottom need some dusting off once in a while.

A few years back, I knew nothing about cutting hair and all I wanted was the best hair clipper on the market – okay, something really good but still affordable. I’ve more than made my money back from the cost of buying these clippers by cutting my own hair over the past few years. Both are excellent tools, but like all tools, some are better than others at doing particular things. There is no exception when it comes to hair clippers.

If you can afford it, the Oster Classic 76 is definitely a great hair clipper and well worth the price for its quality and performance in my view. At half the price is the Oster Fast feed, and while it is of lower quality than the Classic 76, it is still miles ahead of you’re the hair clipper you get with the $25 hair cutting kit at your local department store.

For the purposes of head shaving, I would get one, the other, or the both. I complained about how the round body of the Classic 76 didn’t lend itself to cutting by feel, but I have gotten used to it after a year, and it handles almost as well as the square bodied Fast Feed.

P.S. I went and bought another cheap "drugstore brand" clipper kit more recently for when I need it -- terrible machine.

Head Shaving: How I do it

How much power does a laptop use?
Shaving My Own Head with Clippers