by David Thomas August 05, 2023
Making craft scissors for the other 15%
August 13th is International Left-Handers Day, but since most of us are right-handed, you'd probably never even thought about left-handed scissors until you tried to cut the finger nails on your right hand using your left. Now you get it; It’s hard to do that, right?
Welcome to the lefties’ world where everything is built for righties. It can be an eyeopener and a good reminder that 10-15% of the general population is poorly served when it comes to scissors.
For most activities, it doesn’t matter which hand you use. Certainly not for swinging a baseball bat. About a third of professional baseball hitters bat left and, no surprise, they use the same bats as righties. And we don’t have different pens for lefties. Or tennis rackets. Or cutlery. So why are right-handed and left-handed scissors so different?
For our answer, we need to get a bit sciency. Scissor design looks simple enough but there are a lot of smart mechanics, as well as ergonomics at work. For one thing, scissors are not symmetric – the blades don’t just magically meet in the middle; they overlap.
(The good news is that traditional craft scissor makers are more attentive to lefties and if you look closely, you can find left-handed products. We want to make sure both hands get equal opportunity to feel what heritage quality feels like in action, the way they are supposed to work.)
OK, back to the science, physics to be precise. Scissor blades move cleanly in a vertical fashion. Meanwhile, your thumb pushes out from the palm of your hand and gives it a lateral pressure while the fingers pull inwards. With a right-handed pair of scissors the right thumb blade is closer to your body and pressure is exerted to push the blades together.
“Right-handed scissors are engineered to harness this motion to push the blades together, but when used in the left hand, the blades are pushed apart,” explains Paul Jacobs, co-owner of craft scissor maker Ernest Wright in the English town of Sheffield.
The weird thing about scissors is, often lefties just put up with it. Okay, to be honest, historically a lot of lefties were just forced to write with their right hands and to stop being ‘different’. (If you want to dig deeper, this mess is a good example of how dominant forces in society marginalize minorities.)
If you don’t use quality scissors very often (at Ciselier, we feel sorry for you), and just need to snip a piece of string, then a lefty won’t really mind using the wrong design. But if you are left-handed and doing crafts, or embroidery or tailoring or upholstery or any number of activities that require precision and ergonomic comfort, it’s time to get the right scissors. It’s time to use scissors the way they are supposed to work.
“Two and a half thousand left-handed people are killed every year using things made for right-handed people.”
― Maggie O'Farrell, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
“Are you really left-handed?” Mr. Marshall asked. “No. I’ve just been pretending to use my left hand my entire life because I enjoy never being able to work scissors properly.”
― Courtney Milan, The Suffragette Scandal
Let’s start with the semi left-handed pair of scissors. The ‘semi’ addresses only part of the challenge; that being the finger grips, which are reversed for easier opening and closing by lefties. But a person’s sightline is still obscured by the position of the blades.
In order to give a left-handed cutter a clear view of the actual cut, the blades need to be reversed as well. That requires a full mirror image of the right-handed pair. This is called a ‘true’ left pair of scissors and before 1970 you’d be unlikely to even find a pair.
You will also see scissors that are sold as ambidextrous, with symmetric handles that make no distinction between the handles of the thumb and finger handles. With these scissors, there is a very strong pivot and the blades don’t have any lateral give.
Even here, most "ambidextrous" scissors are still right-handed in that the upper blade is on the right and that creates the same problem with sightlines for left-handed users of right-handed scissors.
We have personally never held a pair but there are actually true ambidextrous scissors as well. Under U.S. Patent 3.978,584 a design calls for double-edged blades and one handle that is swung all the way around (to almost 360 degrees) which means the back of the blades does the cutting.
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