15 Oct 2008, 2:07pm
Scissors Sewing



I once worked at a place where I used scissors rather a lot. When I went to work there, they gave me some gloves. Nice people wanting to protect my hands. Not so, what happened is I used those scissors until I developed blisters. Then I used them some more until the blisters broke. And some more until my hands were bleeding. That was what the gloves were for, to keep my blood off the product. So I kind of consider myself something of an expert about scissors. At least enough of one to know that those were not simply scissors, but heavy duty industrial bent trimmers, heavy duty fabric shears in other words. Industrial shears like that would be called tailors shears in a less intense job, and would have had a highly polished chrome rather than nickel and paint finish. Next down the line are industrial bent trimmers. Those are less fancy versions of your dressmaker shears. Then there are the straight trimmers, they are a heavy duty version of what are called sewing scissors.

OK, we have mentioned scissors and shears. There are also snips. What the heck is the difference? Well, it is not exactly what I read on the web. Shears have two characteristics that scissors do not: One, they are asymmetrical, one blade and handle is different than the other. Usually the bottom blade is heavier and may be sharpened at a different angle that the top blade. The top blade usually has a finger ring while the bottom usually has a thumb ring, however that is not always true never mind what the web gurus claim. Two, they are heavier duty than scissors. While scissors typically have two same size finger rings, and symmetrical blades (Unless they are designed for some special purpose, then the blades can be very different). Snips tend to have short, high leverage blades.

Basically scissors (Using the term generically here, confusing, huh?) have one of three different bevels to their edges. The sharpest is the so-called knife edge. The knife edged blades are beveled at approximately a 45 degree angle. Scissor edged (Boy, we are sure getting a lot of use out of that word, aren’t we?) are something like 60 degrees. And finally the last which I never heard a definitive name for is near 90 degrees. You see that one children’s safety scissors, pinking shears, and on some real heavy duty stuff. To understand what that means you have to know how scissors cut.

If you look at a pair of good scissors you will see that they are somewhat bowlegged. Hold them up to the light with the blades closed and look at them edge on. You will see that they make contact at the tip and maybe the hinge, but that there is open space between them just like between the bowlegged guy’s knees. When you open them up you will se that the blades are making contact at the base near the hinges. Then as you slowly close them the contact point moves up the blades towards the tip. Scissors cut by shearing action right there at the contact point, the reason they cut so easily is because all the pressure of the sharp edges is on that tiny point, like just a couple of thread in your fabric, which moves up the blade and thus down the material. Now look closely at the beveled edge of the blade. You will notices that it is ground crosswise leaving tiny crosswise ridges that make the contact point with the material have a micro saw tooth edge. That edge grabs the material and prevents its slipping so the shearing action can work on it. If the edge is too smooth the scissors push the material along ahead of it instead of cutting. The slippier the material the rougher the edge needs to be. Think about that the next time some self appointed expert tells you to sharpen your scissors by running a stone along the length of the blades. There is a way of using scissors with very smooth very sharp edges; that is call slip cutting where you keep the scissor blades in one position and push them along the material. In that case they are not shearing the material they are cutting it like a knife, only from both sides at once.

Scissors dull in two ways. First, the edge folds over, leaving a narrow wire edges just like on a knife. Then that wire edge breaks off leaving the edge rounded. Once the edge is rounded the scissors need to be resharpened. You can delay that by occasionally stropping the edge to remove the wire edge before it breaks off. My favorite strop for scissors, and knifes, is the card board on the back of legal pads. It has just the right texture and hardness to remove a wire edge without damaging the bevel. You do not want to press hard; you are polishing, not honing the blades. Honing, resharpening, can be done by hand, but if you do not know quite a bit about putting new edges on tools you are probably better off having it done by a pro (Yes, I know, not everyone who claims to be one is one; but often you can send the scissors into the distributor for resharpening. I know that Gingher offers that service for $7.50 including return postage as of the time I am writing this).

That brings up brands. In the USA as of now there are three major vendors of forged scissors (If you are not buying forged ones, just toss them and buy new when they get dull it costs about the same): Wiss, they are an old American brand, but sold out to Cooper Tools who has them made, I guess, by the lowest bidder. They are still a decent scissor, but they are not pushing the retail market seemingly preferring to go for the industrial trade. Gingher was a German company. They were bought by Fiskars, and are made in various places around the world just as are Wiss. The ladies love them, probably because they are sold at JoAnn Fabrics. The third is Mundial. Mundial scissors are made in Brazil, but they have been made there for a long time. I understand that they started out as a German company but moved the whole kit and kaboodle to Brazil about 50 years ago. They seem to make the widest range of patterns of the big three. All three make hot drop forged high carbon scissors, that kind holds its edge better than stainless steal does so stay sharp longer. There are some Chinese, and Pakistani made forged stainless steel scissors at pretty nice prices out there, but I am not sure of the quality.

The next tier down are the flat, stamped stainless steel scissors, the top brands seem to be the Japanese Kai, and the American Wolff, Fiskars also makes this type of scissor. They seem to be a good value, but as I said, I would not bother having them resharpened.

There are also some small makers out there that make extremely fine scissors, at extremely dear prices. I do not know much about them, I go into convulsions at the thought of spending $350 for a pair of scissors.

The only other maintenance scissor need is an occasional drop of oil on the pivots, and a wipe with a very lightly oiled cloth. Your sewing machine oil is fine for this. The way I do it is to wipe the excess oil from oiling the pivot off with a soft cloth and then use the cloth to wipe the blades. Usually just the right amount of oil. If it looks oily, wipe again with an oil free area of the cloth. The purpose is to prevent rust, and insure smooth cutting.

Your Comments and Corrections are always welcome.

Good post Tom.

From you, Kathleen, that is high praise indeed.

Question: I have a pair of Compton U-Set Pat’d 1941 5″ tailor’s scissors, stamped 3IJU-5. The outer edges of the blades on both sides have ridges on them. Wondering if you know why they have ridges? Thanks!

Not quite sure from your description. If you mean the beveled side of the cutting edge, that was supposed to keep them sharp longer. Sort of a predecessor to modern serrated edges. No idea how well that actually worked.

If you mean the backside of the blades, I have no idea at all.


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