Hair scissors, or “shears” are the connection between a cosmetologist and a paycheck, which means having access to a set of quality shears is essential for every professional cosmetologist or barber. There are several factors that should be considered when choosing your shears, but we’ve organized them into three overarching categories in an effort to help you wrap your head around it all: (1.) comfort, (2.) quality, and (3.) cosmetics. There’s a lot of info here, so grab a drink, get comfortable, and enjoy the read!
Blade Length – Rule of Thumb vs. Instincts: An old rule of thumb known as the “Palm Sizing Method” suggests that stylists lay the shears in the palm of their hand to decide the best blade length. The method involves placing the shear’s finger rest on the base of the thumb, with the tip of the shear falling between your middle finger’s first knuckle and the end of the finger. Rules of thumb aside, there’s no better advice than to listen to your body and let it tell you what size shear it wants to use. The perfect size shear is a personal decision and many stylists will experiment with different lengths throughout their career until they become satisfied.
Convex vs. Beveled Blades: Convex blades are intended for slide cutting and precision cutting. Their razor-sharp blades have become the standard for modern salon cutting; allowing the stylist to exert less effort and strain with each cut. In general, convex shears are more expensive than beveled shears and require more frequent sharpening, but their premium performance and added comfort make them the industry’s preferred choice and worth the extra coin.
- Offset Handle: The offset or “traditional” handle is the most common handle because of its proven, natural grip. The short thumb handle and its longer finger handle enables the stylist to perform natural movements, while decreasing the tendency to over extend the thumb; instead allowing the stylist to cut hair with a more open and flexible hand.
- Drop Handle: A drop handle is similar to the traditional offset handle, but provides an even more ergonomic grip that is growing in popularity among stylists.
- Opposing Grip Handle: Unlike the traditional offset handle and the drop handle, the opposing grip’s handles are the same length. The opposing grip handle is the oldest handle style and regarded as the least ergonomic handle design. Despite that, some stylists choose it for its nostalgic look and feel.
- Swivel Thumb Handle: Shears with rotating swivel thumbs are widely regarded as the most ergonomic choice. Those who use them swear by their ability to reduce strain on the hand and wrist, but many others – despite encouragement from an army of chiropractors – find it difficult to adopt the handle’s more modern form.
- Finger Inserts: Finger inserts are the most common form and method to provide immediate comfort and to ensure proper sizing. Not only do they provide function, but as described below, they provide a personal cosmetic touch.
Metal Composition: The quality of a shear’s metal is the factor that is most responsible for the shear’s cost. The science behind a shear’s metal composition is one of the most important factors for choosing beauty shears. The combination of carbon and chromium determines the shear’s quality and resilience, which ultimately determines how frequently the shear needs to be sharpened. Carbon and cobalt provide strength, while chromium and molybdenum provide increased flexibility and protection from rust.
Rockwell Hardness: The Rockwell Scale measures the hardness of a shear’s steel and typically ranges between a rating of 48 to 63, depending upon the type of stainless steel used and the heat treatment applied to the steel. The rating signifies how easy it is to dent the steel with a diamond tip. The higher the rating, the harder the steel and the heavier the shear. In general, quality steel shears will have a Rockwell Hardness rating of 58 or 59. Even higher quality shears may have a rating between 60 and 63. At the risk of geeking out too much, we want to emphasize how important this is; particularly for Rock Paper Shears’ Japanese style shears, which are sharpened with extremely fine edges. All of Rock Paper Shears’ products are deliberately crafted for their high quality Japanese steel and high Rockwell Hardness so as to ensure lasting edges and premium cuts.
Steel Alloys: In addition to Rockwell Hardness, stylists should carefully consider a shear’s steel alloy composition. The types of alloys described below are sorted in ascending order, based upon quality:
- 420 Steel: Also known as “J2 Steel” or “Surgical Steel”, this steel contains high amounts of chromium, but trace amounts of carbon. It is a low-cost soft steel, which allows it to be sharpened easily and making it ideal for one-time surgical use, but it tends to not hold a sharp blade as long as the other types of steel alloys.
- 440A: The family of 440 steel alloys represent an upgrade to the more affordable 420 steel alloy and are very rust resistant. The 440A is not as strong as the 440B and 440C alloys, as it contains the weakest carbon and chromium combination. 440A steel alloy typically possesses a respectable Rockwell Hardness rating between 54 and 56. If you find a shear that simply reads “440”, then it is generally safe to assume that it is 440A quality.
- 440B: The 440B alloy is more expensive than the 440A and offers a higher carbon content and Rockwell Hardness of 57 to 58; making it a well-regarded steel alloy for shears.
- 440C: The 440C allow offers the highest carbon content, but generally comes at a steep price and possesses a Rockwell Hardness of 58 to 59. It is the most expensive and strongest steel within the 440 family and most shears with this caliber of steel are prominently stamped as such on the back of the shear as a sign of high quality. All Rock Paper Shears’ subscription products, including the “Premium Shears” carry at least a 440C rating as a testament to our commitment to quality. Stated more bluntly, we see no point in offering our members anything less.
- VG-10: Also known as “V-10” steel or “super-steel”; this alloy is a superior grade stainless steel produced in Japan with a Rockwell Hardness of 59 to 61. VG-10 contains a high carbon content, along with significant amounts of cobalt. VG-10 is designated for some of the highest-grade shears in the world and is designed to maintain durability and sharpness, while not becoming brittle over time. Rock Paper Shears’ “Elite Shears” are available in limited quantity and are proudly composed of Japanese VG-10 steel.
- Hitachi ATS-314: Hitachi ATS-314 steel is also imported from Japan and typically possesses a Rockwell Hardness of 62 to 63 and is known for its corrosion resistance, hardness, and overall strength. It is extremely expensive and is considered to be one of the best quality steel alloys; containing 15% chrome and 4% molybdenum.
Custom Tension Screws: Tension screws (a.k.a. “pivot screws”) should be checked on a daily basis and adjusted as-needed. They are available in a variety of designs and colors, described below in order of good to best:
- Coin Adjustable Tension Screws: This is the simplest and oldest type of tension system, and as the name suggests, they can be adjusted with a coin or a screw driver. Newer technologies have been introduced that allow for quick precision adjustments, yet these types of screws remain common; particularly in entry-level shears.
- Flat Tension Screws (a.k.a. “UFO screws”): Some prefer these low-profile screws, but adjusting them is cumbersome compared to the click plate and round dial spring assemblies because they require a special UFO tool to adjust the tension.
- Click Plate Spring Assembly: Similar to the round dial assemblies, click plate assemblies allow the stylist to quickly adjust the tension with exact precision; simply by using their fingers. Although the mechanics of click plate spring assemblies are remarkably similar to round dial spring assemblies, they rely upon more exposed parts and crevices, which can accumulate unwanted oils and dirt; thereby compromising performance and requiring more frequent cleanings.
- Round Dial Spring Assembly: Round dial assemblies improve upon the technology developed in the click plate assemblies; offering the ability to quickly and accurately adjust the shear’s desired tension by hand, yet without the exposed mechanics that invite unwanted grime. Similar to click plate assemblies, round dial assemblies are offered in a wide variety of designs and colors. Round dial spring assemblies come standard on all Rock Paper Shears products, with the ability to choose a custom color to match a desired look.
You can’t take the style out of hair stylist and you can’t take cosmetics out of the cosmetologist. True, cosmetics is not as important as (1.) comfort and (2.) quality, but there’s no need to apologize for taking pride in your tools and wanting to look good.
Colored Titanium Coated Shears: One misconception about titanium shears is that they are made entirely of titanium, which is a very soft metal. Instead, they are simply coated in titanium and these coatings come in a variety of pretty colors. However, despite their popularity, if there’s one drawback to titanium coatings, it is that they tend to show their age because the color can fade, chip, or scratch more easily than classic stainless-steel shears.
Colored Finger Inserts: Inserts’ primary purpose is to ensure comfort and fit, but why can’t they look good doing it? Inserts generally come in three sizes (small, medium, and large) to fit their respective shear’s ring holes. Additionally, they are offered in a variety of thicknesses to conform with the user’s finger size. Beyond that, they are available in almost every imaginable color to provide a custom look.
Colored Silencer: Silencers (a.k.a. “stoppers”) are typically clear and sometimes black, yet can be custom color-matched to create a slick mono-chromatic look when matched with colored tension screws and finger inserts.