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by David Thomas March 08, 2022 1 Comment

There's a pair for everything (literally!). Time to make room in your scissors drawer?

So, you have one pair of general scissors. They’re dull, loose and sitting in a drawer in the kitchen. You know the drawer – under the muffin liners, mason jar lids and that deck with only 49 cards that your partner keeps ... "just in case”.

If you can actually find them, you probably use them for every imaginable purpose without stopping to think that artisans have been making beautiful, quality scissors and shears for every conceivable use for a few thousand years.

If you open your eyes to the universe of scissors, you will quickly learn there does seem to be a pair for everything. We pulled together a list to give you a better sense. We came up with 32 different types, broken down into 10 categories.

Of course, people who rely on specialty scissors know the magic of quality. So if you’re a haircutter, or tailor, embroiderer, upholsterer or a professional chef, you already get it. If you have spent $35,000 on a pair of bonsai snips, you really get it. 

Read on and you will probably find a kind you will want to get, too.

Fabric & sewing
  1. Embroidery Scissors: These are small scissors that are used to make delicate snips to threads. It may be hand-spun embroidery floss or manufactured thread and you can use the fine, sharp tips to get close to the fabric without poking any material you don’t want to. That goes if you’re doing cross-stitches, embroidering, needlepoint, smocking, crewel, appliqué or quilting.
The Complete Household Collection

Embroidery scissors are particularly popular for their designs, which can be very intricate and elaborate. One of the popular designs is shaped like an elegant stork. Popular history will tell you that the scissors were used by midwives to snip the umbilical cord when a baby was born. But others reason that this design was originally associated with a clamp rather than a pair of scissors. In any case, expect to find them in a modern day sewing basket, not a maternity ward.

  1. Tailor and Dressmaking Shears:  Coming in a variety of sizes and weights, these are high-quality fabric shears that cut clean without stressing the material. A fashion designer's best friend, anything above 6 inches or 15 cm is called a shear, while smaller models are called scissors. Tailor and dressmaker shears have a sharper blade and are cut at a steeper angle than most scissor blades
    Robust Hoch left-handed tailor's shears

The typical design is a sidebent, in which the handles are angled to point up. That allows the scissors to rest 100% on the actual fabric and table for a precision cut. One variation is a static cut design, where the bottom blade doesn’t even move. Static cuts are now collectors’ items, and they were both expensive and very heavy, running at about 4.5 lbs or 2 kg.

  1. Pinking Shears:  When there is a risk that fabric could fray when cut, the zig-zag pattern on the blades of pinking shears comes to the rescue. The name comes from an old usage of the verb to pink, which was used to describe the technique of cutting holes or slits in a material to expose the layer underneath it in a decorative effect.

One thing to keep in mind is to avoid pinking when you cut across the bias of the thread, as all the triangle shapes will be on what is called the straight-of-grain which makes fraying more likely on all edges. Pinking shears are also popular with paper, felt or other materials, adding a decorative border trim to craft projects.

  1. Buttonhole Scissors:  Buttonholes need to lie flat. You don’t want them to stretch or they will get loose and ripple or bunch up or even start to fray. Sewers will caution you against using a seam ripper to open up a buttonhole. The buttonhole scissor was designed with notches in the blades, to help you cut the hole but avoid cutting the edge of the fabric. Most of these scissors can also be adjusted in length so you can get the size of the hole just right.
    Robuso 5" Weaver's Scissors
  1. Upholstery Scissors:  In a sense, upholstery scissors are a lot like tailor shears. After all, you’re cutting fabric and upholstery shears often have the same “sidebent” design with a tilt to the handle so that the bottom blade can rest directly on the material you are cutting.

With upholstery, you’ll also see thicker and sharper blades with  maximum cutting edge hardness and durability. You will appreciate that edge when cutting through more layers, carpeting or harder materials.

All Purpose
  1. General purpose:  You can do a lot of things with a pair of scissors with long blades and pointy tips. Cut open a cardboard box from Amazon that just landed on your doorstep. Or wrapping paper or string. Or use them to practice cutting out a new dress design from light paper.
    Pallarès Primera Everyday Scissors
  1. Papercraft scissors:  Paper scissors are for paper and fabric scissors are for fabrics. A key consideration here is price, because paper scissors are less expensive. They tend not to stay as sharp for long, so they are likely to create jagged edges when used on fabric. Likewise, using fancier fabric scissors to cut paper will quickly dull the blades. 
Kitchen and dinner table
  1. Multipurpose kitchen scissors: If you need to make a quick cut in the kitchen, these are perfect. Whether it’s snipping a sausage, deboning a chicken, cutting twine or a plastic package of frozen fruit. And these scissors have can- and bottle-opening tools built into their handles, which can also be used as a nutcracker. 
Fennek Italiano Classico kitchen shears
  1. Poultry Snips: You can probably get the job done with most multipurpose scissors but poultry snips are custom built for this purpose and will snap through bone with ease.
  1. Grape Snips: Those shears that wine makers use to prune and harvest grapes are called secateurs. These are not those. Grape snips came into fashion in Victorian England and became a must-have for the fancy lady or gentleman to use at the dining room table to remove a snack serving of fresh grapes.

After all, you couldn’t expect someone to actually touch the grapes with their fingers. Or, God forbid they get any sticky juice on their fancy white gloves. The design of these scissors became highly ornate with gold and silver plating. They are still made today but tend to be less detailed. 

  1. Cigar Cutter: There is a ritual to enjoying a good cigar and having a good cigar cutter would seem essential. You can cut the cap with a knife or just chew it off, but it’s better to get a clean cut. You can try a straight cut, a punch cut or a V-cut

Alas we would be remiss if we didn’t warn you not only about the dangers of smoking. But we also need to warn about the danger of mishandling a cigar cutter. In a famous mishap in 1999 that may have led to his second retirement, basketball superstar Michael Jordan injured the index finger of his shooting hand while handling a cigar cutter. 

  1. Haircutting Shears and Thinners: Scissors for haircutting can get very serious – and expensive. A top quality pair of hair shears can cost you several thousand dollars. To look at them, it’s easy to see that the blades are thinner and there are those little handles off the bows (that’s scissor speak for the finger holes) that make the scissors easier to hold steady. But the bigger difference is the quality of the steel, as well as the craftsmanship.

Hardness influences how strong the blade edges will be and, therefore, how sharp they can get. Hardness will also influence how long the scissors are likely to stay sharp, as well as overall durability. More ingredients and process for the steel production adds quality and cost. The steel itself is a blend of alloys, elements and ores.

Some of the key ingredients in quality steel are carbon (which should be around 1% of the finished product); molybdenum (also for hardness as well as to resist corrosion); manganese (for durability and strength); chromium (for heat and corrosion resistance); vanadium (for strength and balance); plus cobalt and titanium (for hardness and to reduce weight).

Hair thinners are often called texturing or chunking shears. They reduce thickness and are also used to create a layered look. This works by having teeth on the edge of the blade or blades, which means some of the hairs don’t get cut and that creates an uneven effect. 

  1. Hair Trimmers: These are scissors designed to do the fine work on the edges of your hair and shaping around the ears or on sideburns or the back of the neck. Trimmers are for cutting short hair.
  1. Hair Clippers: Manual clippers have largely been replaced by electric clippers and they do the heavier cutting to make the initial longer cuts. The barber or hair stylist then moves to trimmers for fine shaping, edging and details.
  1. Moustache, Beard Trimmer and Nose Hair Trimmers: Men have embraced electric groomers with multiple attachments, including one for the eyebrows, ears and nose. But if you still want to go with the classic approach, you will be able to find different scissors for each of those grooming tasks. And if you want all those things together, you can pick up an all-in-one-kit – all blades – of manicure tools.
  1. Nail Scissors: Nail scissors have a curved design that makes it easy to trim finger and toe nails with control. Some people are sold on nail clippers and one good reason is the fact nail scissors usually come right-handed, and that means it’s tough for lefties in general and hard for right-handed people to cut the finger nails on their right hand. Like any scissor, good quality stainless steel will mean the blades stay sharp even with frequent use. And a good tip: Make sure you clip all the way across because if you leave a bit and decide to tear it off by hand you’ll regret it.
  1. Compound Snips, Aviation Snips and Tin Snips: Like scissors but designed with sharpness and power to cut through sheets of metal such as steel and aluminum as if they were paper. Versions with special tips are used for harder metals such as titanium. The compound design exerts a force that is a lot stronger than other snips their same size and they are available in different blade configurations like straight cut, offset and vertical. Basic straight snips are better for longer, even cuts, while Aviation snips are great for smaller, clean tight cuts on thicker metal.
  1. Hydraulic Cutters: Used widely by rescue workers in automobile accidents, these are better known as the “jaws of life”. An early version was developed in the 1960s. Known as the Hurst Rescue Tool, its inventor was inspired  after watching workers take an hour to free an injured race car driver. The challenge was to avoid added risks in the rescue that could arise from sparks or further injuring the victim by pushing metal inside the vehicle. The design of the tool was to cut (it can be used to take off a car roof in two minutes), as well as to push, pull and spread. 
  1. Throatless Shears: These shears are an all-purpose cutting tool for metals. The throatless part of the name refers to the fact that the metals do not need to be fed down into a guide or throat. That means you can move the metal around the cutting blade, which creates a lot of flexibility to allow for shaping curves or complex cuts in anything from light to heavy gauge metals.
  1. Bookbinder Shears: These scissors are professional tailor scissors put to another use. They have a lot of power and need to be able to cut through heavy leather. Bookbinder shears are not to be confused with the board shear, which is also used in traditional bookbinding. The board shear is more of a machine than a scissor. It stands on legs and looks more like a paper cutter you might find in the office photocopy room. It operates with two blades, one stationary and the other on a pivoting arm.  
  1. Trauma and Bandage Shears: A basic pair of medical scissors, trauma shears are good to have on hand in your emergency first aid kit. Commonly used to snip clothing away from a wound or broken bone to give emergency care works access to fix you up. With bandage shears or forceps, the design is made to lift a bandage up and away from the skin, using a longer lower blade. They also have a blunt tip to protect against causing any additional injury from jabbing the wound.
  1. Dissection, Metzenbaum and  Iris Scissors: These scissors are used to separate or differentiate tissues and are known to be more precise than operating scissors. As with most tools in the surgery, they are made with surgical steel. They all come in variable lengths. Metzenbaum scissors, which have a long shank,  are used for cutting delicate tissues and for blunt dissections. Iris scissors are designed specifically to use to excise tissues on the iris of the eye. 
  1. Mayo, Tenotomy Scissors: Mayo scissors have semi-blunt ends and are designed to cut tissues near the surface of a wound or fascia, and for cutting sutures. They come in straight or curved blades and can be used to insert then spread the tissues to create added access. Tenotomy scissors are used for delicate surgeries and come in a variety of sizes and shapes.
Garden and livestock
  1. Bonzai Scissors: These wee trees get a lot of respect. And without a super sharp blade, a gardener is in danger of tearing and damaging a plant. And face it, if it has taken painstaking care to nurture your bonzai for years, or even decades, it will take a long time to grow out of a careless nick. Honestly, you could probably get by fine with a sharp ordinary pair of garden snippers but this is about ritual and the design is lovely. And if money is no object, you can spend up to $35,000 on a single Japanese pair.   
  1. Pruning Shears and Loppers: Every gardener has a pair of pruning shears. They are held in one hand and can be used to trim branches, small trees, shrubs and garden plants. Try to leave them out in the rain and don’t forget to disinfect between use on plants because they can spread pests, bacteria and fungus. In Britain and among some winemakers working their vines, they are often called secateurs. A larger and longer version that requires the use of two hands is called a lopper.
  1. Grass Clippers: Grass shears, or clippers, come with either a short or a long handle, the latter allowing you to stand up while you clip border areas between the lawn and either garden or the sidewalk. Increasingly, their role is being taken over by electric or gas tools such as a “weed eater” that clips by rotating a piece of fishing line at high speed.

  1. Hedge Cutters and Trimmers: These days, hedge cutters have mostly gone gas or, more commonly, electric. The same goes for trimmers. When we grew up, our hedge cutters and trimmers were called grass shears and loppers. If you want to do it the old way, just start clipping with your grass shears and try a little elbow grease.
  1. Wool Shears: It’s rare to find a sheep who loves to be sheared. But what they seem to really dislike is being held. Done right, shearing doesn’t hurt the animal and will actually do some good for hygiene and in keeping the wool out of their eyes. Vintage shearers are a simple design and made to last with easy resharpening. Today, most shears have moved to electric shears for speed and efficiency. 
  1. Ribbon-Cutting Scissors: Commercial property developers are particularly fond of breaking out really, really big scissors to cut the ribbon when they open a new property. Two years earlier, the project kickoff might have been to have the developer, CEO, the mayor and other dignitaries pose for a groundbreaking photo while sticking their shovels in the dirt. We have found ads for ceremonial scissors that run 40 inches long. Technically, that means we need technically need to call these big babies ribbon shears because any scissors over 6 inches are always called shears.
  1. Scissors are sharp but there are lots of creative things kids can do with scissors, and that makes for a category for children until they grow up enough to be comfortable using a grown-up pair. It doesn’t matter if they are cutting different grades of paper, other craft materials or string, the safety comes from having blunt tips and safety-edge blades to protect fingers.

1 Response


January 11, 2024

This is 99% of a great article but WHY ISN’T THERE A PICTURE FOR EACH ONE??

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