By Daryl Conner
Recent conversations where groomers gather to share their thoughts found me reading about how frustrated stylists can be with pet owners who do not understand our work. It made me think about other service providers who must sometimes find their customers to be vexing. Then it occurred to me that I bet the folks that sharpen our scissors can find we groomers a bit annoying. For instance, I work my scissors hard and probably do not maintain them the way I should. Then I send them off to be sharpened and adjusted, expecting them to be returned to me good as new. And it better not be too expensive!
The parallel between pet owners that bring us dirty, matted pets, with coats that have not been properly cared for and expecting magic at a reasonable price was not lost on me. I also know, from talking to groomers over the span of my career, that many of us don’t really have a clue how to buy scissors. What kinds work best for what jobs? What is the difference between styles, shapes, shanks and metal types?
I called my friend Randy Lowe at Precision Sharp (Mt. Wolf, PA). I asked him, “What kind of scissors are ‘must haves’ for groomers?” He said, “For a great basic scissor, the ‘must have’ is a wide blade, Filipino, ‘88’ style. These are for bulk work, cutting through mats, removing a lot of hair fast. They are strong, because of the wide blade. The blades are serrated on one side, and both edges are beveled. One edge is micro serrated. The serrations grab on to the hair and hold it in place while the groomer cuts. If you could only have one shear, this one can do it all.”
But what about those serrations? I have had cases, in the past, where I sent my serrated edge shears off to be sharpened by the local guy who also did lawn mower blades, and the scissors came back with the serrations removed.
Randy says, “The correct term for what happened there is that your scissors received an incorrect surface finish. Groomers should ask their sharpener if they know how to put a serrated edge on the shear and if they know what a micro serration is. Serrations are coarser, micro serrations are finer. These are all about the ability to hold hair, to keep it from bending or slipping as you cut.”
I learned my lesson the hard way. A sharpener that is not familiar with working on grooming shears can ruin an expensive pair of scissors.
Next I asked, “What about convex blades? I see so many scissors advertised that have this style blade.” Randy said, “Groomers love convex blades. They are razor sharp, and cut very smoothly. The problem is that very fine, sharp edge does not last. It gets dull very quickly. Think about the edge on a razor blade. When it is new, is it super sharp. But it does not keep that sharp edge long after being used, and has to be replaced often.”
The same is true with the sharp, un-serrated edge of the convex shear. It is especially vulnerable to dirty coats. “Use your convex edge on a clean coat, as a finish shear,” Randy advises.
How about thinning shears? Randy says the premise of a “must have” is the same. “For a general work horse, I’d suggest a German style 42-46 tooth thinner with a beveled edge. Use this thinner for 80% of the work, then switch to a Japanese style convex edge thinner for finish work. This will prolong the cutting edge of the convex shear.”
Metal types confuse me. Randy kindly explained, “There are two basic types of metal in grooming shears. 420 stainless steel is a bit softer, and more flexible. They are made this way on purpose, and you will find this type of metal mostly in the German style shear with a beveled edge. 440c is a stainless steel alloy with carbon. This is a harder metal and is used often in shears with a convex style blade.”
Here is something else that is confusing; when shopping for scissors you will find the prices are all over the map. Some of my favorite scissors were purchased for less than $100, but I also have some very nice shears that cost $400 or more.
Carol Visser, grooming industry expert and owner of Two Canines Pet Services, (Montville, ME) said, “Cost is not always a good indicator of a shear’s value or its value to you.” Scissors are tools, and individual preference will vary from groomer to groomer. Part of that preference will be how the shears fit in your hand.
Sharpener Stephen Toth, (Shear Mobility, North Tonowanda, NY) says, “The biggest problem I see is improperly fitting shears. This causes so many problems. I tell groomers all the time, ‘The good Lord has made us all different, just because your friend likes a certain shear doesn’t mean it will work for you.’ So many groomers think they need to buy a real expensive shear, but that is not the case at all. You can buy a $30 shear, have it fitted properly, and have the proper tension and you will do just fine.”
Having shears fit to your individual hand is one great reason to go to trade shows. A good scissor vendor will help you find the best shear for the job, as well as one that will fit your hand. If your hands are small, chances are good that a shear with a short shank will fit you better than one with a more traditional, long shank. Weight and balance come into play when choosing shears, too, and that is why a knowledgeable vendor is invaluable when shopping for this important tool.
Chris Bear Anthony, a representative for Evolution Shears, (Murrells Inlet, SC) said, “The theory behind our shears, which have either single or double swivel holes, is that shears should fit your hand. One size does not fit all. Our shears are designed so that they can be adjusted to give a custom fit to your hand. This creates a more natural movement as you are scissoring, and keeps your hand and wrist in a neutral position.”
Shears should be stored carefully when not being used. Ideally, they should be tucked into a leather holder that will keep them dry and safe. They should also be oiled after being used each day, with oil made for scissors. Place a drop or two where the blades meet, open and close the shears several times, then gently wipe the blade to remove any excess oil. Keeping your shears clean, oiled, and properly stored will help prolong the time between visits with your sharpener, and, hopefully, make that indispensible service provider feel kindly about you when they receive your tools in for sharpening. ✂