Not All Scissors Are Born Equal

Not All Scissors Are Born Equal

Not All Scissors Are Born Equal

One of the questions I frequently get asked is, which scissors do you recommend. However, there are some questions and variables to be considered before making your choice. Questions such as the type of coat that you will use them on, and size of the dog, or the [grooming] style you are trying to achieve, will all play a part. Do you need them to remove bulk hair, finish the style off with texture, make the surface smooth and blemish free, or to leave a more natural finish perhaps?

Of course, different scissors do different jobs, but many can be multi-functional. Choosing between them can be a minefield and the best advice is to do your research, listen to recommendations from others, try them out if you can, and be prepared to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince … or princess!

Starting with the basics, scissors must fit ergonomically. This to minimise hand fatigue and the chance of developing RSI or carpal tunnel syndrome. Some groomers prefer short scissors others prefer a longer blade. To some extent though it depends on the type of hair that you are cutting (wool or silk for example) and also the size of the dog – it takes a lot longer to scissor a large dog with small scissors! So, select an appropriate size not only for your hand but also for the task. However, a mid-size pair of scissors that can be adapted to a range of tasks may be a good option for you, and more cost effective, if you are budget conscious.

More specifically, there are two types of hair cutting scissor blade – beveled edge or convex. Which you choose depends on where you are in your career, grooming experience, personal preference, and your finances. Most scissors manufactured in Europe use beveled edges, often with micro serrations. These serrated blades can be a wonderful choice for students learning to scissor, as they help hold the hair in place while the straight sharp edge makes a clean cut. This allows the student or inexperienced groomer to concentrate on technique and getting the job done. Alternatively, convex blades, often referred to as a Japanese edge, are the sharpest type of blade with razor-like edges. However, these can be more difficult for the inexperienced groomer or student to use. All convex-edged scissors are hollow ground (the surfaces that face each other when cutting are not flat but slightly hollowed out), so the only sections where the blades meet are the edges. These blades have a very smooth cutting action and the extremely sharp edges give a superior cut. Manufacturing convex blades is a skilled process making them more expensive than beveled-edge ones. They also require specialist sharpening from skilled technicians with the correct equipment. But, with correct use, care, cleaning and servicing, a pair of quality branded convex scissors will last a very very long time.

Another important factor is choosing handles which feel comfortable for you personally. Naturally this will vary from groomer to groomer, depending on the shape and size of your hand and individual cutting style. The three main types of handle design are symmetric, offset, and crane. Symmetric handles, as the name suggests, are symmetrical and look quite straight. A good example of these are the Muzzle-Makers.
By comparison, an offset handle has one handle which is longer than the other. The benefit is that it allows a more open hand position, and for the arm and elbow to be in a lower position, which is a feature of the Muzzle-Maker curved thinners and Muzzle-Maker curved chunkers.
Then there is the crane handle, which is similar to the offset, although the top handle is very straight. Once again this allows a lower elbow position.
Of course, there are also more advanced designs available, such as the lightweight and ergonomically comfortable Muzzle-Maker, with its aluminum handle, that can dramatically reduce hand and arm fatigue.

The kinds of steel used to make scissors vary widely and all types are most certainly not equal. Quality varies locally (within a country) and also globally. For instance, Japanese steel is reputed to be the highest quality and has to conform to the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS): the two most commonly used are 420 and 440. However, many other countries make the same steels and while it follows the same base recipe, the quality of the ingredients may differ, resulting in a superior or inferior finished product. Clearly then, anyone can call their scissors 440C, but the actual quality may not be the same as official graded JIS steel.

Many high-end scissors have blades made from the basic steels that are improved further by the addition of other substances, usually to give greater strength. Cobalt is such an additive, as is Molybdenum which as well as increasing the strength of the metal also adds flexibility. The advantage of cobalt scissors, like the Muzzle Maker Elites, for instance, is that they remain sharper for longer – if looked after correctly. There are even higher end super-expensive steels than this though, such as the Hitachi V grades and ATS314. Conversely, at the opposite end of the spectrum (usually) in the cheaper ranges, there are the Chinese CR steel and Indian steels. These are also used to produce scissors resulting in soft blades that can be difficult to sharpen and blunt quickly.

To add to the complexity, there are various types of screw systems used for adjusting scissor tension. Some cannot be adjusted by the end user, while others can. The flat head needs only a simple screwdriver, or a universal adjustment key such as those supplied with the Muzzle-Maker series, whilst another type is turned using a protruding, and often pretty screw. All of these adjustable screws are popular, since they allow you to turn the small screw by hand and either tighten or loosen the scissor tension as required.

Fortunately, checking for the correct scissor tension is a relatively easy task. Hold one handle in your left hand with the blades pointing upwards. Keeping the left hand still, use the free handle and your right hand to open the blades and then allow it to drop freely. The blade should stop slightly before the closed completely position, at around ‘5 minutes to 11’. If the blades close completely, then the pivot needs to be tightened slightly and vice-versa.

Predictably, scissors need periodic sharpening, and the frequency depends not only on the quality of the scissor, but also on how they are used – and how often. Also throw into the mix the type of hair you cut, use of the correct cutting/scissoring techniques, choice of the appropriate scissor for the task you are completing, and also how well you look after the scissors. But at the very least, scissors should be serviced every year by a reputable and skilled technician with the correct tools and training. And even if your scissors don’t feel as if they need sharpening, the attention of a good sharpener will keep your scissors in tip-top condition and keep them working for many years to come. To this end, the official By Pammie brand and Asian Fusion Grooming brand recommends Nigel Waterworth International Precision Sharpening for all specialist sharpening and maintenance requirements.

So, pet groomers’ scissors are precision tools that require cleaning and oiling every day to ensure they stay looking good and working efficiently. Wipe the blades gently with the correct cloth and add a few drops of oil to the pivot screw to wash out the tiny shards of hair that get wedged in-between the blades. Left unchecked, these shards eventually force the pivot end of the blades apart and push the tips together (they then stop cutting effectively and become blunt). Then finish by lightly oiling and wiping the blades, return them to their protective box and store them in a damp free environment. Getting into a daily habit of doing this will pay dividends in the life of a pair of scissors.

To sum up, choosing scissors made of high-quality materials in an appropriate design is essential to good grooming. Your scissors become an extension of your hand and using them and maintaining them correctly makes a difference not only in the quality of your work but also the life of the scissors. Scissors are a groomer’s best friend, look after them well.

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