Looking Sharp

For a simple solution to many of modern life’s little challenges you need look no further than a pair of scissors. Pesky packaging? Opened! Knotted twine? Tamed! Need to snip a thread? Removed before you resort to chewing it off like a trapped fox!

And that’s before we even get to gift wrapping – the thrill of the glide, the sensation of the SNIP, the perfection of a pennant end on a bow.

Scissors are so useful, and so common, yet often we treat these marvels of convenience as entirely disposable and replace them at the first sign of a blunt cut.  With a little love though, scissors can become trusted friends who will help you trim your troubles for decades.

The blades of scissors are really just chunky knife blades, and the pivot of the scissors allows these knife blades to act against each other in a lever action. This action uses simple mechanics to amplify the force your hand applies.

The angle of the two blades coming together further focuses that force into a tiny point that starts at the base and works out to the tip as you close the scissors, which both allows effortless cutting and creates that incredibly satisfying SNIP sound.

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Well, effortless provided the system is working as intended. If the scissors are dull the energy you generate by squeezing the handles is not focused but spread out. This will result in a compromised cut, as the target material will be compressed rather than cut, ripping and tearing unevenly. Dullness also means the lever action of the scissors pushes material out from between the blades as the material skates along the dull surfaces, sometimes to shoot embarrassingly out of your grip.

Blunt scissors are the enemy of gift wrappers. Not good for paper and sooo soo not good for ribbons. Fortunately keeping your scissors sharp and fabulous only requires a close examination of the scissors and a polishing stone.

Hold up the scissors and look down the length of the blades from the tip. You will see each blade has an inner face, an outer face and an angled top face which creates a chisel like edge with the inner face. The inner face may be vertical or slightly concave, and the outer face may be vertical or at a slight angle to the inner face. I’m only interested in the upper face and the chisel point.

 

To sharpen scissors, make sure the chisel point is sharp, and has no chips along the length of the scissor blade. Place a sharpening stone on a flat surface, turn the scissors over and press the top face onto the stone. The one and only rule is to ensure the top face is flush against the stone. The goal is never to change the angle of this surface, just to clean it up and bring back the sharp point.

Pass the scissor blades along the stone’s face, using gentle pressure. Be careful to keep that face flush! Rocking it backwards and forwards means you are actually rounding off the edge, not making it sharper. You can put some water on the stone to help carry away the tiny bits of metal you grind off the scissors, but it’s not necessary.

You can buy specialised scissor sharpeners to do this. However, a stone is usually cheaper and easier to use on multiple sets of scissors, which will come from the manufacture with differing chisel point angles depending on the job they were designed for.

Unless your scissors have really been through the wringer it will only take a few strokes to clean up the edge. Razor sharpness is not required, just an even clean angle.

If sharpening blunted scissors with a stone is not your thing, then do yourself a favour and find yourself a well credentialled scissor sharpener. In the name of science I did. I tracked down Troy from A Wicked Edge Sharpening and he wove his magic on my scissors. It was most economical and certainly well worth it to bring my favourite scissors back to sharpy sharpness. Not only that, but Troy is a top bloke who was happy to talk scissor sharpening. He is true gentleman, but I could sense he was not entirely won over by some of the scissor sharpening myths or hacks out there.

Now I am fond of a good hack. Heck you know I love a good hack. But not all hacks are created equal. The best are life changing, the worst can put you in a worse place than you stated.

The most persistent scissor sharpening hack is that cutting through folded tinfoil or steel wool will sharpen the scissors. Another suggests running the edge of the scissors against a screwdriver shaft or paperclip with a cutting motion will to restore tired scissors.

In reality, these hacks are damaging the blades by flattening off the chisel point the scissors use to cut with. They appear to give a burst of sharpness, but they do this by rounding out burs along the blades and smooshing the top of the chisel tips flat. Instead of cutting by pushing two fine angles together, your scissors are chomping by pushing  two 90°angles together. Those chunky angles will be rounded off after just a few cuts, and the chisel point will become so mangled that the same trick won’t work again.

In the interest of genuine scissor care,  here are my looking sharp scissor tips for all manner of scissors:

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  • Buy decent scissors and use them for a specific purpose. I have paper scissors for paper only and ribbon scissors for ribbons only. I was one advised to padlock my scissors so they could not be used by others (well my husband), but that seemed somewhat obsessive.
  • Understand the anatomy of your scissors -the blades, the faces, the chisel point.
  • Maintain your scissors as you would any other piece of precision equipment. A stone works well if you are confident. A professional scissor sharpener is well worth the price for your favourite scissors.
  • Avoid the quick fixes on this one – because they aren’t actually a fix. No cutting alfoil or steel wool and no using chisels or paper clips.

The maintenance and attention you gift your scissors will be rewarded with years of fine service – and in the gift wrapping world that means beautifully presented and  looking sharp for years to come.

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