At the end of 2015, when I was down at Ernest Wright & Son (Sheffield), talking to the scissor makers and picking their brains, I came across a small number of obsolete vintage scissor blanks. Not enough to justify them setting up to make them, I took some to play with. People have been asking for me to make more general purpose scissors and by starting with the rough blanks, I have been able to rescue some abandoned Sheffield heritage and produce ‘working’ scissors rather than fancy exhibition pieces.
One of the aspects of the project was to see how differently the pieces could be from the same initial shape. The way that the flat profile is shaped can dramatically change the feel of the finished piece. It is easy to see in Victorian catalogues that variations at this stage were used to create an entire range, from basic working pieces to highly carved ornate ones – all filed and ground from the same blank shape. I do most of this work with files. I like being able to take my time and see the shape develop under my fingers. It gives me time to assess the work and change it as it is needed.
There are four main area that have variations; the blade profile (flat, dagger, round) the pivot area (straight, waisted), the shank shape (thigh, bandy) and the interaction between the shanks and the bows (blended, dramatic).
Each pair is numbered in the ‘under’ between the blades. “matching marks (symbols or numbers) are sometimes seen near the pivot area inside both blades. In Sheffield, these were hardened and ground together. In some cases these marks indicated that the two blades were forged together from the same piece of steel to ensure that both were of the same hardness. This coding enabled them to be matched together after they were tempered, ground and polished. If one blade was even slightly harder than the other, it would wear down and blunt the softer blade.” The Cutting Edge – Antique Scissors, Carolyn Meacham 2006
These days, with increased control over the alloy content of steel and the precisely controlled industrial heat treatment of the parts, this matching isn’t the issue that it once was. Obviously, given the complexity of having every item in batch being different, numbering the halves was vital in this project.