Cuts like a knife – Scissor care from a sharpening professional

Some of you might have seen me post on Facebook about my outing on Monday.  I finally took my favorite but very abused Gingher scissors in for repair and sharpening.   I’m a little embarrassed to say that in the few years I’ve had them, they’ve had a very hard life.

They’ve been dropped on their points, bent and even done a little bungee jumping.

GingherG7z2

These were my first “good” scissors and none of the abuse was ever intended – it just happened.   Somehow, I have a knack for storing scissors on the ground, usually from sewing table height.  I don’t think I ever did that when all I had were my craptastic scissors.   Figures, right?  Of course, at least 2 times they hit the floor they landed points down.

Now some of you will be thinking “but Gingher has a reconditioning service”,… and it’s true.  Here’s the rub:  I’m in Canada and the Canadian dollar is worth about 6 cents on the US dollar at the moment.  (Well, It’s a little better than that but it doesn’t feel like it.)  This has the effect of making any cross border expenditures a lot more expensive than it used to be.  International service for my scissors costs $30USD – or more than $40 Canadian once exchange and fees for currency exchange are paid and that doesn’t include the cost to ship them there.   I paid less than $20 Canadian for these scissors including shipping.  As much as I really dislike our throwaway society, it’s false economy to send them back.  I’d be dollars ahead to find another pair on clearance like these ones were 2.5 years ago.

Well, it’s been on my list for a while and Ryan had even given me the name of a place that would sharpen my scissors,… months ago.  On Monday, I finally decided to take them in when we went into town.   Thinking I’d be leaving them there, I prepared to part with them – removed the scissor keeper and the tether,… wait.  What tether?

Yeah, I’m serious.  I dropped them so much – I tethered them to the desk!

GingherTether

In fact there’s sort of a funny story about that.  Almost 2 years ago, when I sold the Juki and B-Line frame to make room for Lucey, the gal who came to pick it all up brought 2 friends with her.

One of the gals noticed my tethered scissors and asked if I thought someone was going to swipe them. I told her to drop them. All three ladies looked at me in horror!  I said “Seriously – It’s OK – drop them.” She did, tentatively, and they stopped about 2″ from the ground. No damage.

If I’d learned that before they’d bounced off the ground twice, you probably wouldn’t be reading this post today.

See?  My scissors are experienced bungee jumpers.

Somewhere along the line, the handles on my scissors got bent as well.  I don’t know how it happened* and Joe – the scissor sharpening guy – said it shouldn’t be possible to do by dropping them.  (Clearly he doesn’t know me that well!)  He thought it was possible they’d even come from the factory or the warehouse like this – damaged before I got them – and I hadn’t noticed.  This is possible, I only had a look at them once I noticed they were bent.  This bend had the effect of almost turning from a fairly neutral handling scissor into an aggressively right handed pair of scissors.   Luckily, I’m right handed!

Gingher1

*thinking more on this, there’s a chance I “caught” my scissors one day when they were falling by slamming my hand against them pinning them to the desk before they landed on the floor.  Depending on how they were pinned, I think there’s a chance this could have done the damage.

It was actually that bend and the fact that they just didn’t seem to be cutting as well that made me take them in.  They’re a Knife Edge with a serrated blade model and I didn’t think I should be sharpening them like I do the kitchen or the cheap paper scissors in the studio.

It turns out, I was right but not for the reasons you might think.

Here’s what I learned on Monday:
  1. Myth: all scissors are the same, they all cut anything you put between the blades.  Fact: What differentiates hair scissors from fabric scissors from paper scissors, etc is the angle of the blades.   These fabric scissors have blades that are about 25 degrees and 45 degrees.  A professional hair scissor  may be far more aggressive – 45 degrees on both or more.   Paper scissors typically have a fairly blunt edge – 20 degrees or less.  This explains a little of why a paper scissors will often curl the fabric around the blades instead of cutting it.
  2. Myth: Cutting paper with my fabric scissors will ruin them.   Fact:  Cutting paper with fabric scissors or fabric with hair scissors, etc will dull them more quickly but not forever.   This is because it’s causing a little more pressure on a narrower blade than the fabric that the blades were strictly designed to cut would. It’s also not an immediate thing like a light switch.  Your scissors aren’t “done” because you cut an inch of loose leaf paper.
    • Months ago I asked this question on the Quilting Board  (Note: A serrated edge is not the same as a Knife Edge.  I made that mistake when I posted to the QB but I’ve since learned more about these scissors.) and didn’t really get a definitive answer to this.  I learned that there are many misconceptions about scissors that have been propagated for years.  Many people over the years have told me that when a family member used their good fabric scissors to cut paper or something else, they never cut the same again or they made that person go out and buy them a new pair of scissors either as a lesson or because they genuinely thought that the scissors were ruined.   They’re not.  Cutting paper with fabric scissors will dull the blades faster but it does NOT ruin the scissors.  They will just need to be properly sharpened and possibly adjusted sooner.
    • The thing to note is that like any other profession, there will be good and bad sharpening professionals.  If you don’t like the job they did, try someone else or try sending your scissors to the manufacturer for reconditioning.
  3. Myth: Cutting paper will nick your sewing scissor blades.  Fact:  Unlikely.  It’s more likely to happen from a drop and the blades slamming together after a misalignment from the drop or of course accidentally trying to cut through a pin.  Small ones can be removed with sharpening.   Obviously, cutting through a staple in the paper or similar is likely to damage the blades though.  These scissors had a small nick in them – probably from a drop – that came out with the sharpening.
  4. Myth: Scissor sharpeners (not a sharpening stone) work for all scissors.  Fact:  As with anything “all purpose” – it likely does most things “OK” but won’t excel at anything.   With the different angle on our scissors, there is a chance that a generic sharpener could very possibly perfectly un-sharpen your scissors.   I use one of these sharpeners for my cheap scissors in the studio and around the house but it doesn’t go near my good scissors.
  5. Myth: Professionals sharpen both blades every time your scissors are sharpened.  Fact: When your scissors are professionally sharpened, they will sharpen only the one blade if the other blade is still in good enough shape.  This prolongs the life of the scissors.  Sharpening both blades every time will wear the scissors out that much faster.  Technically too, the top blade (the Knife Edge on some Gingher scissors) will do more of the cutting thus wearing faster, just like on a serger…. Hmmm.  I should ask him if he does serger blades….  This also means that a lot of the scissor sharpeners on the market will wear your blades out faster.
Serrated EdgeGingherKE

With a serrated edge, when that particular blade needs to be sharpened, it’s recommended that it be done with a rough wheel.  This helps keep / recut that profile.

What’s the serrated edge for?  That edge on your scissors holds the fabric in place so it doesn’t slide.  This is another difference with hair scissors vs fabric scissors.  Usually a hair scissor blade is highly polished because stylists want the hair to slide over the scissors.  We want the scissors to grip the fabric and hold it in place, thus a serrated edge is considered desirable.  Joe – the scissor sharpener guy – also told me that we don’t polish the blades of fabric scissor for the same reason – we want it to hold where we put it so we can cut accurately rather than have the fabric slip around.   I finally know why I seem to cut better with these scissors than my other scissors!

Home maintenance
Scissors
  • Wipe them clean of anything that gets on them.  I have been known to use a little isopropyl alcohol if I get something sticky on my scissors, or if they’re a little gummy from old oil – truthfully, this is more likely to be a pair of scissors I found in a drawer of a sewing machine I buy – because the alcohol will evaporate and I don’t have to worry about moisture causing rust on the un-plated sides of my scissor blades.
  • Put a small drop of oil on the pivot point of your scissors and “work it in” periodically.  This will help them open and close better and make less work for your hands.  I have a pair of pinking shears that were always a lot of work to use and a drop of oil worked into the pivot made them a completely different pair of scissors.
  • If you’re storing your scissors – or if you live in a humid environment – you can use a light coating of non-staining sewing machine oil to protect the un-plated parts of the blades from rust.
  • Don’t cut things you shouldn’t with your scissors to maximize the time between sharpenings and to prolong the life of your scissors.
  • Take them in when they need to be sharpened.   Don’t just keep trying to put up with them and hack away at your fabric.  This is how accidents happen.  Maintaining your tools is worth it not just to prolong their reliability but also because I find on average, I get hurt more often with a tool that’s dull or otherwise misbehaving than with a tool that’s well kept and sharp.
How do I know when my scissors need to be sharpened?

Besides the obvious “they don’t cut”, the fabric will start to fold over the blade before it cuts, or it may fold over and fail to be cut.

  • If you have to take more than one run at it, they need sharpening.
  • If there are spots where it’s not cutting, it’s not necessarily bent or nicked blades.   My scissors had bent handles, a small nick and the blades were out of adjustment.  The only thing that’s not been fixed on them is one bent handle.  Joe didn’t want to do it because he said they often bend the first time then break when you try to bend them back, so if I could live with them it was better to leave them as was.
In closing:

If you do drop your scissors – and especially if they land points first  – watch the blades for the next few times you cut with them.  If they’re rubbing differently than they were- you can tell from the wear marks on the inside edges of the blades or not cutting as well as they were – they may have come out of adjustment – that’s something someone who knows what they’re doing should take care of.

If the blades are bent, there’s a chance they can’t be fixed but I thought my blades were bent and they were just out of alignment.  It’s worth it to ask.   Seriously.  It cost me $8Cdn to bring my scissors back to their original functionality, if not their original shape.  He did correct some of what I thought was a bend at the handle end though just by adjusting the scissors.  Now I have only one side that looks bent instead of both.

ScissorsBanner

Today’s post title inspired by Bryan Adams (another Canadian, or former Canadian) – Cuts Like a Knife

6 thoughts on “Cuts like a knife – Scissor care from a sharpening professional”

  1. You should learn to sharpen – to quote my daughter – how difficult can it be, men do it every day!!! This is the method I use;
    http://www.vieltools.com/vid.php?c=MjU=&s=OQ==&l=ZW4=
    click in the top right to change the language. I also have their knife sharpener, simple but effective. The holder in the video I bought from Elite tools and the belt sander from Lee Valley and added my own motor. Remember the famous words “gee hon, think of all the stuff I can sharpen if I buy this tool.”

    1. Ha! I watched one of the guys at the sewing shop that just closed down do it and it didn’t look too hard but I don’t know that I have enough stuff to sharpen here! In theory, I could do serger blades but – other than the wait for a shipment to arrive which is a pain sometimes – they’re usually under $10 per blade for new. Then scissors but I don’t do many. What about chisels? I often buy new if it’s important but I suppose I should learn to sharpen those too. I’m already guilty of the “think of the statement” for the wheel I’m saving up for. I probably shouldn’t push my luck right now. 😉

  2. I agree with you on the various sharpening angles for scissors and if you google it everybody has different answers. I use a 1 X 42 inch belt sander (Lee Valley) and added my own motor with a reversing switch, I have a scissor holder from Viel tools with adjustable angles, I mark the blade with a black marker. turn the belt by hand and adjust the angle until the whole surface is covered. I go from 600 grit to 1200 grit and reverse the motor and strop the bottom blade only. When my wife cuts threads the bottom blade usually cuts without having to close the scissors, If she does close them the slight microscopic roughness in the top blade holds the threads to cut. Once when sharpening a good pair of small embroidery scissors I was so intent on the base of the blade that I didn’t watch the point which wound up 1/4 inch shorter–not good. Years later she found them ideal for cutting small felt pieces, the scissors don’.t fall out of the cut when you cut to the point. To replace her good embroidery scissors I bought her a pair of fly tying scissors, tiny curved blades with one serrated made by Dr. Slick (yes really) She won’t let me touch them.
    For oiling the scissors rub your finger on the side of your nose (outside) and then on the scissors. This was taught to me by an old tailor. Sorry this is so lengthy.
    Robin
    mapleleafminiatures.ca

    1. Wow. I never thought to look for scissors at the fishing shop. They’re actually really reasonably priced too!

      I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to try sharpening some of my good scissors. I figure for the $8, I’m willing to pay someone and save myself the stress of messing them up. 😉 I’ve wondered if the class at the Bosch center in Edmonton would teach me enough to get over it but for the number of times I’ve had scissors sharpened (once so far) – it’s not a huge issue for me. 😉

      The oil on your nose is actually quite useful. It also works for filling small scratches on a film negative so they don’t show when printing the neg. Yeah, weird trivia but I do have a wet darkroom I should post about one day.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I think I might be developing a scissor addiction. I just ordered a pair that I really just didn’t need…

      I’m amazed at how much this post has resonated with people! It’s gotten way more Facebook uh… face time than any other post I’ve done. 🙂

      I hope you’re doing well.

Pssst! I'd love to hear what you think about this!