When the hoof nippers are closed and pressure on the handles is released, you should see a thin line of light between the blades. Adding pressure should close the blades completely.
When the time comes to buy hoof nippers and you are inexperienced or have only used hand-me-down tools, here is what you should look for in quality tools. Many farriers we spoke with are fans of some of the higher-end models. That isn't to disparage any of the more cost-effective tools, but these shoers feel there is an improved quality that comes with the higher price for hoof nippers.
"The real key is buying the good ones, because whether or not you take care of them, they'll last," says Jack Roth, an equine vet, operator of the Oklahoma Horseshoeing School and owner of MFC Horseshoeing Tools in Purcell, Okla. "The sorry ones just won't last."
He believes the steel used plays another important role in separating the quality of tools. "The steel which is the best for the blade doesn't make the best body of the tool," explains Roth. "There is a tremendous amount of stress at the joint. Likewise, the best body steel makes poor cutting steel.
"In the end, all you have to work with is your experience and what feels good in your hands."
Think about the job the nipper is used for. Danny Ward, operator of the Danny
Ward Horseshoeing School and representative with Diamond Tools/Cooper, says if your nippers aren't properly made, they will always underperform and become dull much more quickly than quality models.
"It's actually easy to tell a good pair of nippers," advises the Hall Of Famer.
"Close the nippers until the stops hit, then look toward the blades as you hold them up to a light."
In a good set of nippers, you should see the blades running parallel and parted enough so you can see a razor-thin ray of light between the blades.
He says if you squeeze the handles, the blades should come together, eliminating that hairline crack.
The Martinsville, Va., horseshoer identifies heat treatment as another telltale sign of a good set of hoof nippers.
"Look carefully at the top of the tool," says Ward. "You should be able to see where the heat treatment has changed the look of the metal on each blade."
You want nippers that open and close smoothly, without any side play or drag.
Don't only rely on a tool's rating or whether it passed the above tests, but get to a supply store and check how the tool feels in your hands. Never underestimate the importance of how the nippers feel while you use them.
"We as farriers are using out tools continuously, so it is important that they feel good in our hands," says Ward. "Let that tool talk to you."
Lansdowne, Ontario, farrier George Graves prefers high-end nippers because of their durability. He says you shouldn't overthink it, because "they are only nippers." Although he doesn't sharpen, oil or follow any of the common advice for increasing longevity of the tool, he is careful not to drop them or get the nippers wet.
Graves does replace them after 2 years. At that point, he'll sell the old nippers to one of his clients.
Grand Valley, Ontario, shoer Brian Hull says you can get a lot of life out of a middle-of-the-road set of nippers, but it is all about care and maintenance. He says that if you are careless with your nippers and don't take care of them, even "buying top-of-the-line nippers is no guarantee they will last any longer than medium-priced nippers, if you fail to care for them."