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by Maggie Fox December 07, 2022

How an 1880's English innovation became a universal design
Robuso paper scissor

Have you ever noticed that some scissors have straight shanks (the shank is the part between the screw and the bow, or handle), while others are bent? If you’re not a sewer or don’t work with fabric, you may not have registered the difference. Scissors that are bent at the shank are called (wait for it) “sidebents”, and they’re a relatively modern evolution in the 4000-year history of the scissor.

This innovation, which allowed for more cutting power and better comfort, was patented in 1800 by a man named Thomas Wilkinson, in Sheffield, England’s scissor and cutlery capital. According to William Whiteley, one of our heritage makers and a local Sheffield firm that has been making scissors since 1760, “In the 1800s, there were no laser cutting machines or band-saw cutters so everything that needed to be sewn or woven, wound or spun, from ordinary clothes, thick jackets, curtains, upholstery, saddles and leather items, ropes, strings, and so on, would be cut by scissors. It was of paramount importance they were ergonomic and effective.” Hard to imagine - but many people spent all day with a pair of scissors in hand, cutting materials. The sidebent was a major improvement.

Fennek sidebent fabric scissors

Because the sidebent handle is bent upright, it allows the shears to cut flat along a table. This means less bunching and disturbing of the material being cut, as well as better control; the cutter can stabilize the bottom of the scissors on the cutting surface. This allows one to cut more easily in a straighter and more accurate line. The handles are also typically curvaceously designed for total grip comfort, especially in larger, heavier pairs.  

William Whiteley left-handed British sidebents

Of course, as with all patents, the one for the sidebent eventually expired. Today, they are universal: sidebents are not only made by Sheffield’s William Whiteley (which in 1875 purchased Thomas Wilkinson & Sons, by then Royal Warrant holders for tailor’s shears to Queen Victoria) but by virtually every other quality scissor manufacturer.

It’s no wonder that, 221 years later, almost everyone who has a job or a hobby that requires working with scissors uses a sidebent!

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