Tools on Tuesday: Scissors

If you're like me, you own a bunch of different scissors purchased for different reasons, ranging from their intended use to their cost (see representative photo, above). Perhaps you've done so without really understanding what their different features meant for their performance. Perhaps that's why you have so many of them!

Clearly, things like the length of the blade and whether the scissor is bent or straight matters for how well scissors perform the job you put them to. But what about the other characteristics manufacturers and suppliers include in their descriptions, for example, "drop-forged" and "double-ground?" What do those things refer to, and what difference does it make for how well a scissor will perform for you?

Maybe I'm a geek (yup), but I wanted to know. So, I'm devoting today's "Tools" post to briefly presenting what I learned. Most of it is general information, but where it might not be, assume it pertains to scissors for sewing and general crafts.

What's the Difference?
Obviously, what matters most about scissors is their ability to cut. This depends on their strength and their sharpness. Strength and sharpness, in turn, depend on the raw materials and manufacturing processes with which the scissors are made.

Most scissors are made of steel. Carbon steel is used to make scissors in which the blade and the handle consist of one continuous piece. Stainless steel is used to make scissors with plastic handles. Carbon steel scissors have the advantages of being strong and staying sharp. Stainless steel scissors have the advantages of being lightweight and rustproof (although carbon steel scissors are typically either nickel- or chromium-plated to prevent rusting).

Scissors are made by either cold-stamping or drop-forging. Both use a die to shape steel into scissor blades (called blanks until they're sharpened). In cold-stamping, the die is stamped into unheated steel to create the blank. In drop-forging, the die is pounded into red-hot steel. In addition to creating the blank, the pounding action of drop-forging strengthens the steel. Drop-forged scissors are therefore generally higher-quality and more expensive than cold-stamped scissors.

Scissor blanks are ground into blades and then attached to each other with either a rivet or a screw. Rivets don't allow for adjusting the tension of the blades and so are used mainly in lower-quality scissors. Being able to adjust the tension allows for greater control and thus, more precise cutting.

Some manufacturers (for example, Gingher) distinguish between single-ground and double-ground blades and attribute double-ground blades with the ability to cut through tougher materials.

Similarly, in "knife-edge" scissors, the top blade is sharpened to exquisite sharpness so that the scissor cuts more like a knife than a typical scissor (which doesn't "chop," exactly, but something like it as compared to a knife). Like double-ground blades, knife-edge scissor blades are better able to cut through tougher materials such as multiple pieces of fabric.

One final distinction you may find among scissor blades is serration, or little teeth. As in knife-edge scissors, only one of the blades has this feature, which is supposed to enable the scissor to grip the material, lending to greater cutting control.

And there you go -- some of the more opaque yet potentially important differences among scissors. I hope it helps, or at least delights your inner geek!

Until next time --