How poor scissor sharpening affects the sharp edge.

Previously, I have discussed the value to the hair stylist of having correct scissor sharpening for their hairdressing scissors. As in many trades, sharpness in the tools of the trade provide ease of use, less strain on the body while working, and of course allow for a more professional result. Hairdressing scissors differ from say woodworking chisels in that an edge formed by incorrect sharpening can cause irreparable harm to the future functional use of the tool. Why is this? The key lies in the characteristics of the sharp scissor edge, particularily higher end scissors, and it is this edge I would like to examine in further detail.
As we have seen before, there are two main types of scissors, bevel edge and convex edge. Bevel edge scissors are durable and effective cutting tools, suitable for dry hair cutting in particular. The bevel relates to the blunt angle formed at the cutting edge, on close examinaton, the bevelled edge, perhaps a millimetre across can be seen. Visually this can be seen below.

It is with convex edge scissors, however, that real problems arise with inexperienced sharpeners. Convex edge, as typically found on Japanese scissors, have a razor sharp edge suitable particularily for slide cutting. As can be see below, the edge tapers to a fine point, allowing an extremely sharp and smooth running edge.

The inexperienced sharpener can, however, encounter problems when dealing with convex edges. Because the edge is particularily fine, specialist equipment is needed to replicate it. On poorly sharpened convex scissors, it is common to see the smooth curve to the point replaced by a bevel, similar to the one on the bevel edge scissor. This has the combined effect of removing too much material from the scissor when the bevel is formed, and reducing the sharpness, as the angle ot the bevel is less than the angle of the convex edge. An additional problem arises from the typical equipment used in this incorrect scissor sharpening. Because this is usually done on a bench grinder, enormous heat is generated in the blade, which negatively affects the steel temper.
At Scissorfix, understanding how edges on scissors are formed allows us to service them correctly, and ensures that your scissors remain sharp for longer. This will benefit the stylist in getting the maximum longevity from your valuable tools.

How is a sharp edge formed on steel?

At Scissorfix, we constantly preach the merits of correctly sharpened hairdressing scissors. The value to the hairdresser is clear; correctly sharpened scissors cut hair cleanly, with less effort, resulting in greater productivity and less wrist stress. These attributes are not limited to scissors; it is the case that all edge tools, such as knives, woodworking chisels, straight razors etc, require a sharp edge to work efficiently. It may be of some benefit therefore to examine the science behind sharpening in more detail.

The key to any cutting implement is the tip which contacts the material being cut. This edge is formed by grinding away steel on the sides of the cutting implement (knife, scissors etc), with a material which is harder than the material the implement is made of. In this way, an edge is formed, an acute angle, uniform to the tip.
A vital factor in forming a sharp edge on any steel cutting device is the type of alloy the steel contains. All good ones contain higher carbon content, and have a high number (55 – upwards), on the hardness scale. The higher carbon content hardens the steel and means it will hold an edge for longer. I will explain these principles in greater detail in a later article, but for the moment, it is sufficient to note their important roles in the sharp edge. When the tool is new, the geometry of the edge is uniform, as mentioned above. Continued use rounds the tip over, evidenced by a dull cutting edge. When a sharpening stone is used to resharpen the tool, typically it is only the very tip which is worked, resulting in an edge which is now sharp again. This changes the origional  honed edge angle however, from a sharp V angle to a wider one. After a period, this needs to be restored using a grinding stone. This is a vital point of relevance to hairdressing scissors, as many of the problems the stylist encounters with poorly sharpened scissors stem from precisely this process, in that the scisssors are often grinded to the incorrect angle. In our next article, I will explain the finer points of how the sharp edge process relates specifically to scissors, details which allow Scisssorfix to correctly service your scissors.


Hairdressing health and safety basics


As professions go, using hairdressing scissors would not rank very highly on the list of most dangerous career choices. The stylist would not have to contend with the potential loss to life and limb that might occur while commercial fishing or mining for example. This is not to say that the working day of a hairdresser is not without its challenges. Working with hairdressing scissors, particularly scissors at optimal sharpness can result in nasty cuts, even in experienced hands. It is common in salons to see the stylist who has become accustomed to using dull scissors and then had their scissors sharpened professionally, or has purchased a new set of scissors, reaching for a band aid as a small lapse in concentration results in a nicked finger.
However, a far more serious and unfortunately common issue for hair stylists can be the issue of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). This cover all term refers to a range of specific conditions such as golfers elbow, tennis elbow, and of particular relevance to the hairdressing trade, Carpal tunnel syndrome. This painful condition, linked to professions which involve high levels of wrist movement or gripping, is common among knitters, butchers, and hairdressers among others. Symptoms include tingling in the thumb and/or fingers. Further advanced cases can demonstrate numbness in the fingers, and a loss of manual dexterity. The end result of this is at best a discomfort while cutting hair, or indeed a complete rest from the aggravating activity, which in the stylist’s case will mean time off work and the accompanying problems that brings.
As the saying goes “prevention is better than cure” and there are some hairdressing safety basic steps the hair stylist can take to ensure he/she doesn’t have to deal with this painful affliction. Chief amongst these is by using sharp scissors. Blunt scissors require more force to operate, which will over time be reflected in wear and tear in the wrist area. Choosing scissors with an offset handle can help align the shoulders and wrist in a manner which is less stressful to the body. At Scissorfix, we can assist in choosing a pair of scissors which is suitable for the stylist, and with our sharpening service, we have the technology to ensure that they remain in the condition which will reduce the chance of Repetitive Strain Injury occurring. Of course, as a downside, the stylist may have to ensure there is a healthy supply of band aids in the salon!


The value of sharpness

You may have heard the saying that tools doesn’t make the tradesman. In many cases this adage contains a lot of truth. The best pair of hairdressing scissors in the world cannot make a trainee into the best stylist in the world. However, correctly sharpened scissors will greatly improve your hairdressing skills and provide a far more pleasant styling experience for both the stylist and the customer. Sharp scissors slice cleanly through hair reducing pulling and are crucial for many of today’s cutting techniques. I have found it invariably true on my experiences that the best stylists are the ones who maintain the best possible levels of sharpness in their scissors, a fact which can surely not be a coincidence.
In a previous career, I spent a lot of time working with wood. No matter what the task, from large scale roofing projects to delicate indoor finish work, the work was always easier, and more importantly far neater when the tools used were brand new or had a cutting edge maintained to an as new condition. Although it might be believed that wood constitutes a more demanding medium with which to work than hair, this is not necessarily the case. Human hair is one of the strongest fibres on the planet, with an equivalent strength to aluminium or Kevlar, which is used in the manufacture of bulletproof vests. A single strand of hair is as difficult to cut or break as an equivalent strand of copper wire. In fact, the high tensile strength of hair means a full head of hair could carry the weight of 20 tonnes, which clarifies just how Rapunzel was able to swing around on her hair in Disney’s Tangled!
Illustrating this relative strength of human hair makes it clear the stresses and forces that are in action every time a pair of hairdressing scissors are closed to complete a cut. The value of correctly sharpened scissors becomes apparent. With Scissorfix, you can rest assured that we too understand this value, and will restore your scissors to the best possible cutting standard.

How to choose the right scissors for you.

Choosing a new pair of scissors can be a tricky proposition given the proliferation of styles and sizes available. However, following some simple rules can simplify the ordeal and ensure that you buy a pair of scissors that you will enjoy using for years to come.

Scissor types can be broken down into two categories, bevel edge and convex edge scissors. Bevel edge, sometimes referred to as German style scissors; usually have a serrated edge, which grips the hair while cutting. They are durable and particularly effective in blunt cutting techniques. Convex edge, typical of Japanese scissors, have razor sharp edges which are suitable for all cutting techniques such as slide cutting. Correct sharpening is essential with convex edge scissors.

The most important aspect of selection should be how the scissors feel in your hand. Scissors range in length typically from 5 inches to 7 inches measured from the tip of the blade to the end of the finger loop, and the hairdresser will usually find a preference in a particular length based on what feels comfortable in relation to his/her hand size. Closely related to size in importance is handle style. Scissor handles are offered in three styles, symmetrical, semi offset, and offset. Examples are shown below.

Symmetrical handle style

Semi offset handle style

Offset handle style
The equal distance of each handle of the symmetrical handle means that the scissors can be used in either orientation, left or right handed. Offset scissors on the other hand, have one arm of the scissors longer than the other, which allows a more ergonomical comfortable cutting position.

The price of scissors is invariably an important issue in choosing a new pair of scissors, and the most important factor in this is the type of steel used in the scissor. Quality scissors should be manufactured from at least C440 steel, and higher end scissors often are made from cobalt steel. The best grade of steel used typically is Damascus steel. Better grades of steel will be reflected in the ability of the scissors to hold a sharp edge, which will obviously affect the frequency of sharpening required.

Adjustment of the scissors is an area which also should be considered. Dirt build-up in the screw area can affect the scissor tension, and thus scissors need regular cleaning and adjusting. Many scissors use a locking screw mechanism which holds the scissor tension securely; however these usually require a screwdriver or special key to adjust the tension. A common choice is a locking screw which can be adjusted by hand.

At Scissorfix, our mission is to provide you with a wide choice of scissors. We will also be happy to provide no obligation assistance in choosing the perfect choice of scissors to suit you.


Essential scissor care

In visiting salons, it is clear to see that taking proper care of the tools of the trade is the single most important factor in maintaining a long working life of the scissors. Perhaps on a level with quality of blade materials, simple techniques to prevent damage to your scissors are crucial to ensure that scissor sharpening is kept to a minimum and scissor life is extended.
The primary aid which the hairdresser can use to look after their scissors is the scissor pouch or case. Using a dedicated storage case, or scissor holster will protect those delicate blade edges from damage longer. In most salons I visit, it is common to see the scissors lying on countertops, which invariably leads to them being knocked about and knocked to the ground. Given the extremely fine edges on top scissors, it requires very little abuse before the hairdresser encounters problems when cutting. Using a case is a great way to prevent edge or point damage. At Scissorfix, we stock a range of scissor cases and holsters.
Proper cleaning is also important. At least one a day the scissors should be cleaned with warm soapy water and dried thoroughly. Make sure the area around the screw is clean, as hair and dirt can build up here. A few times per week, the scissor should get a few drops of scissor lubricant oil in this area. Apply the oil when the scissor blades are open and open and close them a few times to allow the oil to penetrate to the screw.
Check the scissor tension regularly. Although scissor tension is commonly set to individual preference, tension which is too tight will cause aggressive wearing of the blade edge, while tension which is too loose will cause poor cutting, and pushing of the hair. A simple test for tension is to hold the scissors with the points upwards open the blades ninety degrees and let them swing closed with gravity. The blades should close to within approximately three quarters of the length of the blade if the tension is correct.
If there is a problem such as after a fall etc, it is vital to get professional help as soon as possible, as what my seem a small issue such as a nick on the blade can quickly deteriorate into a bigger one if the scissors are continued to be used. At Scissorfix, we can give your scissors the attention they need to perform to their optimum levels for the lifetime of the scissors.



Can you tell if your scissors are sharp?

On many occasions visiting salons, I have encountered hairdressers using scissors which were in poor condition and a long way removed from the pristine sharpness of their new state. Perhaps a case of familiarity breeding contempt, or a previous bad experience with sharpening, I often wonder why scissors are allowed to deteriorate so badly. Blunt scissors push the hair, and don’t cut cleanly, making cutting harder for the stylist. Although many hairdressers will know automatically when the edge of their scissors have reached a dullness sufficient to warrant attention, it may be beneficial to look at some simple tests of sharpness that can be performed easily.
When I have completed a sharpening, the first test I perform on the reassembled scissor is cutting a damp Kleenex tissue. This test can be tried on a scissor at any stage to ascertain the level of sharpness. Check the scissor tension is accurate first using the gravity closing technique illustrated in a previous article (essential scissor care), then get a Kleenex tissue and separate it into single tissue ‘plys’. Dangle a single ply in your hand and wet it thoroughly using a mist of water from a spray bottle. Using the scissors, close the blades carefully upwards on the single ply of tissue and pull straight downwards. The scissor should cut cleanly and not pull the tissue, particularly at the tips. If it does, your scissor needs sharpening.
In the salon, a common test for sharpness is cutting an off cut of hair. A more accurate guide is to try cutting a freely hanging piece of thread. Providing scissor tension is correct, the scissor should easily cut through the hanging thread without pushing or folding it in all locations along the blade.
Using these two simple tests will give the hairdresser an accurate picture of the sharpness of their scissors. If the scissors need attention, simply contact Scissorfix to have them restored to their perfect state!