Recently, I posted an introduction video concerning buying scissors as part of the LEMON/SODA DIY haircutting series, which can be found here. That particular video was not really meant as an in-depth guide, rather a cursory overview when purchasing scissors for an amateur stylist. Today I thought I’d expand on that video for those that are looking for a more in-depth guide to help out people when they’re looking to buy a pair of hairdressing scissors or shears.
when choosing a pair of scissors, the cost can run into quite an investment and hopefully you’ll be buying something which will last you a decent span of time. Suddenly it can feel like a responsibility and with the various companies trying to come up with (and heavily marketing) new innovations and reasons to chose their scissors over a rival companies offering, it can become quite a confusing affair. In this post I’ll try to break down the choice to a few options which I personally feel are important when I am buying a new scissor or shear.
Handle shape (offset / straight / swivel ring etc.)
Handle shape when buying scissors is really something that comes down to personal preference. Straight handles are becoming less and less common in recent years, though most of the major manufacturers will have a straight scissor in their range. Offset handles are set at various angles, but in general the main factor that makes a handle offset is the location of the finger ring being set in line with the blade of the scissor and the thumb ring being set lower. Offset handles are supposed to allow your hand to rest in a more natural position when cutting, reducing strain injuries on your wrist and elbow over time. Swivel ring handles have a rotating thumb ring which is similar to an offset but taken to the extreme, allowing the hand to remain in a much more stable position in any number of cutting positions. In particular they can help people who find point cutting to be uncomfortable. In essence however, the various handle shapes come down to ergonomics and personal preference. If you can, try to find either a store that stocks all the available handle options and try for yourself, borrow a friends or even try and swing a trial period with a distributor. Over time, this is something you’ll come to think less about as you know what is comfortable for you. If you are buying on a budget or this is your first pair of scissors, offset handles will probably be the most common variation available to you and so you might consider some of the other factors over handle shape to get the most value for you. Worth noting is that whilst it might seem like a good bargain to import a pair of scissors made in Japan directly from Japan, be careful when selecting the model that it is made for a worldwide market. A lot of models that are made specifically for Asian markets have smaller finger ring sizes, which could either be a blessing or a curse for you, but obviously worth thinking about when you see those bargain Kashos due to favourable exchange rates.
scissor and shear handle types: straight, offset & swivel
Researching the material the scissor or shear is made from can lead down some pretty ugly and frustrating avenues and can feel like you might need to go and qualify as a metallurgist. To break it down and simplify this section, we’ll talk firstly about the origin of the steel in the scissor or shear and what it actually means. These days, scissors are made all around the world and from all sorts of steel composites of differing qualities. No matter how you swing it though, Japanese made scissors are still perceived as the gold standard and that’s why so many brands who have nothing to do with Japan still tend to use Japanese sounding names. In general, scissors will have one of three stamps concerning the construction material on them somewhere or in their marketing or packaging. Firstly uoi have Steel or Stainless steel, which means they are made from a regular steel composite of unknown origin and are made in a factory somewhere, probably China or Pakistan or the like with cheap labour costs for the manufacturer. The second will be “Japanese Steel”, this means that whilst the steel in the construction originated in Japan, the scissor or shear was manufactured in another country, much like regular steel scissors. Finally, in the higher end scissors, you’ll find “Made in Japan”. This stamp is only legally allowed to be on scissors made from Japanese steel and manufactured in Japan, however be wary of knock-offs that stamp this on anyway. If they’re very cheap and have this mark I would avoid. Made in Japan, although perceived as gold standard, still doesn’t mean that they’re hand crafted however and are generally just finished by a Japanese craftsman. I say this simply because most manufacturers like to do their best to evoke the imagination of a little old master craftsman sitting around a furnace hand crafting these things like it was still the Kamakura period, which is far from the reality, these things are machined in any country they are made in.
Now secondly, the composite of the steel comes into play. This is where things get quite ugly depending how deep you want to go, however to speak as general rules, it can be boiled down. Stainless steel is the cheapest composite and has little special properties, but will be a good composite which balances hardness and durability. As you get to higher grades of scissor, you will find composites of both Cobalt and Damascus. These are still regular steel, but with differing percentages of said element added to the metal during refinement. Cobalt is generally a little cheaper than Damascus and has a longer durability than stainless steel whilst still maintaining an equivalent hardness. Cobalt is also rust and chemical resistant by nature. Cobalt is non-magnetic, so you can test a scissor or shears Cobalt percentage by using a magnet to see how high or low the percentage of cobalt is within the composition. Finally, you have Damascus, a material which is generally only found in the high-high end of the market and is a very beautiful material. They generally contain Cobalt at the same time and boast the same hardness whilst feeling softer than other types of steel.
It’s worth noting that more recently scissor manufacturers are offering some cermic blades now, however I don’t have much experience with these types of blades.
All scissors are not created equal and blade shapes are numerous! Bevelled blades are generally only found on cheaper pairs of scissors and shears and have serrated teeth which cut the hair. There are some down sides to using scissors with bevelled edges, they cannot be used for slicing and they also cannot be sharpened, however as a cost-effective starter scissor they are fine. Some people say that the serrated teeth actually help when beginning as a hairstylist, as the teeth grip the hair and stop it from sliding down the blade. The step up from bevelled edge blades are ‘Japanese style’ blades, with convex and sword blades being the two popular blade shapes for general cutting. Both are powerful and sharpened to be like razors and can be used for slicing and can be sharpened, however in general will be more expensive than the cheaper serrated edges of a bevelled blade. Bamboo leaf or curved blades are best avoided as a starter scissor, as these are used for slicing techniques and will be near impossible and frustrating to try and use to cut a straight line or as a general cutting scissor. Width of the blade can factor into matters, with thicker widths being suited well to slicing and heavy cutting and thinner blades being used for more detailed cutting.
The curved blade of the Mizutani Puffin
Length will be very much down to preference much like handle design, but if you’re looking at buying your first pair of scissors or shears, there are some rules of thumb guidelines which you can bear in mind. In general, the smaller scissors of less than 5.5″ are generally considered as strong for detailed, tight cutting, with scissors of 6″ and up being for slicing and scissor over comb work. If you’re looking at a starting scissor, a 5.5″-6″ scissor is a solid middle ground, or workhorse which you can generally use as something of an all-rounder. Keep in mind though, that scissors of any length can do just about any job and these are just guidelines as to what each might be suited best for. It might again be worth getting your hands on a few different sizes before you make a purchase if it’s possible to see if there is any length you might gravitate towards.
Arguably the least important part of decision making in buying a scissor or shear, brand of manufacturer still needs to be taken into consideration when looking at manufacturers warranty, reputation and availability etc. Worldwide, the major hitters for scissors are Kasho and Joewell. These are both solid brands with strong reputations in the hair industry. Joewell make scissors right down to the £100 price range, whereas Kashos cheapest option is closer to £250-£300 depending on how much shopping around you’re willing to do. Joewell are less common in the US it seems, who have another brand, Mizutani which seems to operate in the same price bracket and have a good reputation, but are conversely more difficult to get in the UK. As an aside, my Korean hairstylist friend tells me Mizutani are very popular in South Korea, plus they make some of the best looking scissors I’ve seen, their puffin scissor for starters! Joewell, Kasho and Mizutani are all made in Japan. You then have the smaller, but still popular brands, like Nix, Passion, Jaguar, AMA, Osaka and Yasaka, who offer scissors and shears of varying prices and quality, but all carry a brand with a pretty good reputation. When buying, don’t focus too much on the brand, just pick the pair you like with the features that fit your price range, but it can be important to check out what the manufacturer will do for you in terms of warranty and I’d recommend sticking to a brand with a strong reputation.