Best Barber Tools: How To Pick Professional Shears

Barberhacks is a blog that will help you become a better barber, beginner or advanced, by making barbering knowledge thorough and accessible. Learn essential tip and tricks and become a better barber by having the knowledge and secrets to succeed. Today we’re talking about how to choose your scissors.

I have an image of barbers just not giving a damn about their scissors, having rusted scissors from the 1940s that crush the hair off of the head instead of actually cutting it. I’ve known a lot of barbers and hairdressers that use horrible scissors, cheap molded scissors that lose their edge in a matter of minutes because they’re made from a grade of metal that is softer than the aluminum foil wrapping that you get from a stick of gum. Yes, work with what you’ve got or can afford, but there are amazing scissors out there that can make your job easier and that can make you a better barber.

I fell in love with a pair of shears at the New York Hairdresser convention. They were Japanese shears unlike any I had ever seen before, a brand called Matsuzaki, I can still remember the way they looked gleaming in the display case, all stainless steel with just enough of a colour accent on them to differentiate them from other shears, but in a tasteful way. Matsuzaki had stackable shears, so that you could put up to five shears together stacked on on the other. I have no idea why anyone would do this, but I thought it was fascinating. I splashed down the cash and bought myself my first pair of actual hair scissors and I had those scissors for about ten years before they were ruined by someone who was sharpening them. I’ve never looked back.

There are so many shears to choose from. Google barber scissors, or hairdressing scissors right now. There are millions of scissors out there, and a lot of them are garbage. I’ll tell you right now that any scissor that has a skull on it, diamonds on it, some metallic design on the handle, a shiny purple metallic finish is garbage. All of these scissors have been designed (and poorly so) to appeal to some sort of target market that wants to appear trendy. These scissors are poorly made, made with sub-grade steel and have the durability of cotton swabs.

I’ll put it this way. When I buy a clipper I want the best clipper available. The one that will last me a long time, that is durable and reliable and gets the job that I want done, done. That is why I have made the choices that I have made when it comes to the clippers I choose. So why would I want anything less when it comes to my shears? Yes, scissors can get really expensive. I’ve seen pairs of shears go for as much as 10’000 American dollars. I know I can’t afford that, nor do I want those shears. Shears that cost that much are for people that are celebrity super barbers that don’t know what to do with the money that they make from cutting up the latest celebrity. I want shears that will get the job done, that won’t bend the hair when I’m cutting, that will hold a razor sharp edge so that I can scissor over comb with the a barber comb and get a uniform look.

Shears are part of our trade. Shears are something that I believe you should take the time to master, because we are barbers, and barbers should be able to cut ANY haircut with just their shears, or thereabout. If you gave me just a pair of scissors for a day, and a razor handle, I think I could give you any haircut out there. This is the standard that I think we should hold ourselves to, even if we never do these things. Why? Because I want us barbers to be proud of ourselves when we walk into the shop every week, knowing that we have our game on lock, or that we can make the customer that comes to sit in our chair happy with their haircut.

Let’s start looking at the anatomy of the scissor. There are two blades on a pair of scissors, a stationary blade and moving blade. The moving blade is called this because it is the only blade that moves during the haircut. If you are moving both your blades at the same time you are cutting improperly. The moving blade is connected to the handle with the thumb ring on it. The stationary blade is connected to the finger ring, which generally has a finger rest (or tang) sticking out of it. The finger ring should be placed over the ring finger (isn’t that a sentence?), with the pinkie finger resting on the finger rest. Your thumb should go through the thumb ring. When I cut, I prefer that the rings do not go further than the first knuckle on the ring finger and halfway to the knuckle on the thumb. The stationary blade should be the blade on the top, and the moving blade the blade on the bottom. When performing a cutting action the moving blade should be the only blade to move and the stationary blade should be prone. To practice this movement properly, put the blades of your shears on a shelf and rest them there as the you move the moving blade with your thumb. This is how your shears should be worked in order to get a proper cutting action from your scissor.

The tips of the shears are the end of the shear and are used for precision cutting, point cutting, among other things.

There are a couple different types of blades when it comes to hair cutting scissors, but the only ones that matter to me are convex blades that are hollow ground. A hollow grind is hollowing out of the inside of the blade which produces a smoother feeling when cutting the hair.  What are convex blades? They are blades that have a rounded edge without any bevel. When you look at cheap kitchen scissors you will notice that there is a bevel to them, a hard square decline as you reach the cutting edge. These are called beveled edge scissors, and while they cut a crisp line, you cannot slide cut with them, and I like an all around scissor. When you look at a convex blade they are smooth all the way down to the edge. This creates an edge that the hair slides with, making slide cutting better, allowing for directional cutting, and chip cutting. The industry standard for cutting hair is convex blades. If you’re using anything else, it can work fine, but it may be limiting.

When it comes to handles there are many different types of handles to choose from. In an industry that suffers from tendinitis and carpal tunnel it is important to find scissors that fit your hand well. Traditional straight handles are not considered to be ergonomic (a fancy way of saying “good to work with”), modern scissors have offset handles, crane handles, and swinging thumb and finger rests to allow your hands and wrists a better position in which to cut. I enjoy the offset shears, but sometimes you just have to go with what feels good for you and your wrists. What works for me is not going to work for everyone.

Generally, most scissors have a tension screw or dial in the side. This is to ensure that the cutting action of the scissors is perfect. If the scissor is too tight the blades will grind into one another, if they are too loose they’ll wobble in your hand and nick the blades. If you hold your scissors up by the moving blade and let them fall open they should not fall loosely, but should fall slightly and stay open, but only slightly open, not loosely.

When it comes to picking a scissor the general rule of thumb is to pick a blade the size of your middle finger, but it depends on what you are using them for. I tend toward 5.5 to 6 inch blades for general cutting (I only have one shear for cutting and two for texturizing the hair), which I like for scissor over comb and club cutting, point cutting and the like, but there are times when I’d like a longer shear for finishing out Afros and the like. It all depends on what you are using your tools for.

For lefties, always buy left-handed shears, otherwise you’re cutting action will not be perfect.

The premier convex blades are generally Japanese. Taiwan, Korea, India, Pakistan and China all make scissors as well. Like I said at the beginning, things are complicated when it comes to scissors. I tend towards buying Korean and Japanese scissors, but the market can get shady if you start looking for a deal. There are counterfeit scissors out there.

Take a popular long-standing brand like Kasho. They are considered one of the more upstanding reliable Japanese scissor companies out there. There a thousands of counterfeit Kasho shears. I thought I got a deal on one of them once...it was counterfeit, within a year it didn’t hold an edge for longer than a month before it started butchering hair. So how do you get a good pair? Buy from the dedicated dealers of the shears. These distributors can be found on the websites of the scissor manufacturers themselves.

Let’s talk steel for a second. There are different grades of steel from all over the world, and there are many manufacturers of steel. From the Yamamoto shears website, “In Japan there is something called JIS, - Japanese Industrial Standards.  There are mainly 3 steels used for scissors under JIS. Those are: 420, 430 and 440. These are "Official" steels… anybody can make them if they follow the "Ingredients list". It is like making a cake. If you follow the recipe you can call it by the right name for that certain cake.That means that anybody can make 440C steel as long as they make it accordingly to the recipe from JIS.  However - the ingredients can be of low quality or high quality. So the quality of the 440C will depend on who is producing it. For this reason you can have scissors made in 440C that is in a somewhat low quality. Here it is worth mentioning that Hitachi steels are double the price of anybody else. That is because they are only using the very best materials when making their steels. But when it comes to private label steels it is a whole different story. V-1, V-5, V-8, V-10, V-10B, and V-10W was developed by "Takefu" steel factory, but they are not making it themselves so they are having Hitachi making it for them. These are their private label steels.  Nobody is allowed to make those steels and call them "V-1" etc. The same goes for Hitachi; they have 3 private label steels: Silver 1 (GN1), Silver 3 (GN3), and ATS314. Nobody is allowed to make a steel and call it ATS314 other than Hitachi. So when you are offered to buy scissors made in "ATS314" for U$ 50,00 or less, you should think twice, it is simply a fraud. Faulty Steel names within our industry:  many websites are not stating exactly what steel their scissors are made in.  There is only one reason for this - It is low quality steel.  following are some of the "names" that some companies are using.  we warn you against buying scissors from those companies, as they are selling scissors in low quality.   faulty or insufficient names:  "The finest japanese steel" or "Cobalt steel",  "best japanese steel",  "high carbon stainless steel", "Special alloy", "Cobalted steel", "japanese steel".  "440C with cobalt added",  "Molybdenum and Cobalt steel",  "Cobalted V-1"... well... a cobalted V-1 would basically be a V-10 steel...  :-)   and many more.  unless the steel is named with one of the specific steel names like for instance "ATS314" or "440C", etc. it is a low quality scissor.”

This is just something to be aware of, that there are low quality steels out there, and a lot of people are going to try and sell them as something other than low quality steel. Let’s talk for a second about why you would want to buy something that is high quality. High quality steel gives you a cutting edge that will maintain its edge for a longer amount of time. The steel is generally harder, and can be honed to a razors edge. If you have never felt the way good steel cuts through hair, it cuts it like butter, with each action of the blade hair falls effortlessly away from the head, your thumb doesn’t have to work quite as hard. When you are doing this over a 1’500’000 times in your life and want to maintain good wrists and hands, these are things to think about. With higher quality steel you don’t have to sharpen your blades as often and the scissors will last you longer. If you have cheaper scissors your blades won’t last through sharpening, asthey will have more metal taken off of the blade with each sharpening. Oftentimes cheaper scissors are made with a layer of hard metal with softer metal on the inside. Once you hit the soft metal you might as well throw the scissors out.

Let’s talk about scissor maintenance. Wipe your blades after every cut. Drop a drop of oil on them at the same time. Always close your blades when you set them down to ensure that the cutting edges are protected. Once a week slide the blades along your thumbnail to check for nicks or burrs in the blades. Sharpen your blades every six months to a year. Make sure that whomever is sharpening them knows what they are doing, especially if you have invested money in these shears. There are certifications that you can get as a sharpener of scissors, make sure you ask the person sharpening them that they give their credentials, the last thing you want is to get your 500 dollar scissors back with a bevelled edge when it is supposed to be convex (it has happened to me). Also, if you are really invested in your scissors many companies will hone them for you, but you have to send them back to the company in order for them to do this for you. That said, they will come back like new, and without ever having to worry about some hack ruining them. Some scissor sharpeners will give a replacement if they ruin your shears, these are the people that you should be dealing with.

Now I’m going to talk about the different types of scissors other than your standard pair. You ever wonder what the difference is between all the shears with staggered teeth?

They are blending scissors, texturizing scissors, and chunking scissors. Blending scissors have the most teeth (27?)  finely remove hair from the head. These types of scissors are best used when you are blending weight lines into the sides with scissor over comb, or invisibly moving bulk from the interior of the hair.

Texturizing scissors have fewer teeth and remove more hair (20-24?), allowing you to chip away at a heavy weight line, remove bulk in a significant way, and create less uniform looks.

Chunking scissors have even fewer teeth (9 or so) and remove large chunks of hair quickly.

So what shears should you buy? I can recommend three scissor companies that I know will give you top of the line shears: Kasho, Mizutani and Hattori Hanzo. The least expensive of the bunch start around $350 and they go up from there. Hanzo gives you a fifteen day trial so that you can get them in your hand, and they offer an easy pay option so that you can pay for the scissors in installments. They also offer different promotions seasonally, such as 10% off if you purchase the scissors outright, or money off if you order more than one pair. They also offer a lifetime warranty against manufacturer’s defects. Mizutani also offers a lifetime warranty against manufacturer’s defects. They also offer engraving services for their shears for if you wanted a small logo or something engraved into the steel. Kasho, being an older company doesn’t offer any special services, but offers different grades of scissors, so you can start with something lesser and work your way into a better scissor as you progress.

This has been a long blog post, but I learned something and I hope you did too. Thanks for reading,

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Comments

  1. This is the first post I've been able to find that gives good information on buying shears. Thank you for taking the time to do so.

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    1. My pleasure, it took quite a long time to get all of this knowledge together. Happy to hear from someone. Feel free to subscribe for more free content.

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