Scissor Sharpening Mysteries Revealed

Keep cutting tools in prime condition with these easy steps.

| March/April 2009

  • Tom's scissor collection
    The author rounded up 27 pairs of scissors, but they will serve no purpose if they're forgotten and left dull.
    Tom Larson
  • Regular scissors
    This old pair of scissors was on the brink of useless before using the sharpening stone.
    Tom Larson
  • Pinking shears cut
    The top cut was made with older, obviously carefully crafted pinking shears, while the bottom cut was made with the old shears the author attempted to sharpen.
    Tom Larson
  • Pinking shears
    The author started with the coarse side of his combination stone because his pinking shears were in such bad condition.
    Tom Larson
  • Pruners
    Pruners require disassembly prior to sharpening.
    Tom Larson
  • Pruners prior to sharpening
    This photo shows the condition of the author's pruners before he attempted to sharpen them.
    Tom Larson
  • Pruner blades disassembled
    Ground the flat sides of the blades either on an emery cloth or sandpaper placed on a flat surface.
    Tom Larson
  • Concave cutting edge
    On the concave cutting edge, lock the blade in place with a vise or something similar and wrap sandpaper around a dowel to file the blade down.
    Tom Larson
  • Convex cutting edge
    The convex side of the cutting blade is ground against a bench stone.
    Tom Larson
  • Grass clippers
    Sharpening grass clippers also is best done with the tool disassembled.
    Tom Larson
  • Grass clipper sharpening
    The author prefers to grind his grass clippers, using a piece of coarse emery cloth on his planter bed.
    Tom Larson
  • Stone over blade
    It is also effective to lock the blade in place and run a sharpening stone over it.
    Tom Larson
  • Watch your fingers
    The same as knife sharpening, progress to finer papers or cloths as your blade gets sharper.
    Tom Larson

  • Tom's scissor collection
  • Regular scissors
  • Pinking shears cut
  • Pinking shears
  • Pruners
  • Pruners prior to sharpening
  • Pruner blades disassembled
  • Concave cutting edge
  • Convex cutting edge
  • Grass clippers
  • Grass clipper sharpening
  • Stone over blade
  • Watch your fingers

Recently, the news about our economy has become rather grim. I suppose some economic experts would say we should all throw away anything worn or dull and buy new as a means of stimulating the economy. But I grew up listening to my elders’ gloomy accounts of the Great Depression. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” was their mantra, and I guess it took with me. I’m more prone to think that our current economic woes have more to do with spending excess and waste than with too little buying and borrowing. Scissors and scissor-like devices are a good example of what we can continue to use and sometimes make better-than-new with simple sharpening.

Robert Hinchliffe, an Englishman, is credited with the manufacture of the first modern scissor in 1761. Whether they are called a scissor, a pair of scissors, shears, tin snips, pruners, loppers or trimmers, they have been around in one form or another since ancient times in Egypt, Rome and China. Where they originated is in question, but there is no question that they are some of our most useful devices and are certainly worth the little time and effort it takes to keep them in good cutting condition. As with knives (see “How to Have the Sharpest Knife in Your Drawer,” January/February), most can be sharpened with a combination bench stone. A few require a finer stone such as a hard Arkansas or fine sandpaper or emery cloth. The rest can be done with grinders improvised from sandpaper or emery cloth wrapped around objects of the right shape and size, usually cylinders such as dowels or pipe.

Old scissors are good practice

I found 27 scissor-like cutting tools around our place when I went looking for examples to use in this article. Let’s start with the old, beat-up scissors I’ve been using for rough cutting in my shop. These are my wife’s first sewing scissors. The tip of one of the blades broke off some time ago, so I ground the ends of both blades to a proper shape. This is the sort of scissor that would be good practice for a beginner. If you ruin them trying to sharpen them, you haven’t lost much.

If the blades are very dull, as these were, start sharpening with the coarse side of the bench stone. If they are not so dull, use the fine side. If they just need touching up, start with a fine stone or sandpaper. Open the blades of the scissors and place the edge to be ground (the bottom, shiny edge of the blade) against the stone. Rotate the top of the blade away from you until there is a gap between the bottom edge of the blade and the stone. Then slowly tip the blade back toward you until there is no longer a gap. Next, draw the blade from one end of the stone to the other, pulling it toward you so the entire edge is ground. Maintain the angle as you pull.



Curved blades need to be rocked as you pull. Long blades, or a short stone, require that the blade be ground in segments. As you grind, what is known as a wire edge will form on the cutting edge of the blade. Check for the wire edge by lightly pulling a finger at a right angle to the cutting edge. To avoid being cut, do not run your finger along the length of the blade. When you can feel the wire edge, grind the other blade in the same way. Make trial cuts in the material you will cut with the scissors. (The wire edges will be sloughed off as you make trial cuts.) If you are satisfied with the result, you are finished. If not, grind both blades again with the finer side of the bench stone. Test again, and grind with a still finer stone, if necessary, to obtain the results you like.

Scissors used to cut cloth require that you finish with a fine stone. I recommend that you get some practice before attempting to sharpen shears for your favorite seamstress or tailor. You can get in serious trouble with these folks when using their scissors for other than the intended purpose. Cutting paper is the usual offense. I think you could get into even more trouble by doing a poor job of sharpening them.

Linorygun
3/29/2010 10:41:05 AM

Photos are accessed by clicking on "Image Gallery" in the blue box accompanying the article.


Larry Sullivan_2
2/10/2010 7:11:12 PM

Why don't you include diagrams and pictures referred to in your articles? They contain a lot of valuable information not covered adequately with a text only presentation.


Vincent p. Altieri
6/30/2009 10:41:48 AM

A more simplified procedure to sharpening scissors is by using sandpaper. Simply cut the sandpaper with the scissors the act itself sharpens the scissor’s blades. You can use your procedure of heavy grit sandpaper to finer.







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