Did you know that Martha carries a pair of small embroidery scissors with her at all times? She uses them for everything from cutting ribbon for a present to snipping a loose thread from her jacket. It's just one of the many ways they benefit our lives every day. Scissors are tools, and it helps to use the ones with the right size, shape, and blade for your project. It's not hard to stock the house with scissors of all kinds; simply think of all the times you reach for a pair and make sure you have the right ones nearby. Designating certain scissors for certain tasks will actually make them last longer. "When you cut paper, you dull scissors," says Cam Wiegmann, manager of Henry Westpfal & Company, a family-owned cutlery store in New York City. "When you go back to cut fabric, it's not going to work."
Here's how to keep your carefully chosen pairs in tip-top shape for snipping.
How to Clean Scissors
Water and dish soap will suffice for most gunk that builds up after repeated use. Bill Tate, of Bill's Sharpening Service in Comstock Park, Michigan, recommends using paint thinner (in a well-ventilated area) to remove any sticky residue or other stubborn dirt from the blades of scissors. For glue that's dried on, you can also use the rough side of a sponge and an acetone nail-polish remover. If they're rusty (from age or water contact), wipe the blades with a cotton ball soaked in white vinegar.
Oil the joint of the blades with a soft cloth to the screw area every few months. This keeps the blades moving smoothly and without friction. Mark Allen, owner of Mark's Sharps, a sharpening and equipment-repair shop in Seattle, suggests a few drops of lightweight multipurpose oil (like 3-in-One Oil, available at hardware stores). Rub all the excess oil off before using the scissors again.
How to Sharpen Scissors
When you have to work hard to make scissors cut, it's time to have them sharpened. If you're not certain whether they're ready for sharpening, try this test: Slowly and gently close the scissors on a piece of thin, silky fabric; if the fabric folds on the sides of the blades instead of being cut, then the scissors are dull.
It's a good idea to have your best scissors (such as sewing shears) sharpened by a professional. Henry Westpfal Company is one of the best scissors sharpeners around. Established in 1874, the store has used the same tool to sharpen scissors for more than a century: a wet sharpening stone in the shape of a wheel, much like the ones used during the 1800s. In fact, Henry Westpfal's does such a good job that Martha recommends you send your scissors there for sharpening even if you don't live in New York City. Sharpeners often do work by mail. You can, however, sharpen your scissors at home if you have the right tool. Martha uses a Fiskars Desktop Universal Scissors Sharpener for her everyday scissors. (It should be noted that at-home fixes—like cutting into extra-fine-grain sandpaper or double-folded aluminum foil—are less precise and can ruin your scissors.)
How to Store Scissors
If you have to rummage through a crowded drawer each time you need a pair of scissors, you're keeping them in the wrong place. All that banging can scratch them, nick the blades, break the tips, or knock them out of alignment. To keep your scissors in shape between sharpenings, protect the inner edges by always closing your scissors when you're not using them. The best thing to do is keep them in something. Many pairs of scissors come in a sheath, pouch, or gift box; if so, don't throw it away. Use it to store the scissors—and to protect them. If the scissors didn't come with one, make a sleeve out of felt. Never keep a pair of scissors in a humid place, such as the bathroom; the moisture in the air will cause the scissors to rust.
How to Properly Use Scissors
Use specialty pairs for their intended jobs: fabric shears for sewing, paper scissors for wrapping and crafts. This will keep all the blades sharp longer. When in use, get a better grip on scissors by wrapping their handles with soft linen-and-cotton twine. Roll five feet of twine into a bundle small enough to pass through the finger holes. Beginning at the base of one handle, secure the free end of the twine with your thumb, and loop it around the handle; pass the bundle back through the loop, and pull tight to create a half-hitch knot. Continue around the handle, aligning the knots to form a herringbone pattern around the handle's outer edge.
And remember, paper is dulling to any kind of scissors. So, keep your fabric and paper scissors clearly marked (Martha likes to use sharp-tipped permanent markers for this purpose) so that you don't use your more expensive fabric scissors on paper.