This Is Not an Ambidextrous Scissors

Boker V 88 Razor Steel Scissors

I purchased this scissors at a flea market last weekend, basically because it looked weird.

I thought it might be ambidextrous, but after playing with it a little, and doing a bit of research, I realized it is not a genuine ambidextrous scissors. But it is an interesting design.


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The 1944 patent claims this is an ambidextrous scissors. Source:

Simply putting a thumb and finger ring on each side does not make an ambidextrous scissors. Otherwise any scissors with symmetrical ring holes would be ambidextrous. For a scissors to work properly, the top blade must be attached to the finger ring, so a scissors has to be right or left handed.  This arrangement accentuates the natural action of the hand as it closes, so the cutting edges are squeezed together. If a left hander tries to operate a right handed scissors, the natural action pulls the cutting edges apart, putting the action at a mechanical disadvantage. So a genuinely ambidextrous scissors is a mechanical impossibility, at least if it operates with thumb and finger rings.

Secondly, there is a discrepancy between the patent drawing and the actual product. The patent drawing shows the curved areas of the rings that could be used right or left handed. The actual product uses the same shape on each side, making it uncomfortable to use left handed. Would this difference invalidate the protection of the patent? Possibly this was done to save money when making the mold for casting.

Detail, before immersion in vinegar
Detail, after four hours in vinegar

Nevertheless, I decided to clean the scissors and sharpen them. These scissors are very comfortable and convenient to use by right handers since it doesn’t matter which way they are picked up.

After taking them apart, I immersed the scissors in white vinegar for four hours, occasionally removing surface rust with a Scotch Brite pad. I’m amazed at how well the vinegar works, and still surprised how satisfying it is to fix up a tool, returning it to useable condition. It just feels good.

If you are interested in the “proper” way to cut paper with scissors, check out this 1927 illustration from Palmer’s A Course in Bookbinding for Educational Trainning 

Miriam Schaer (see first comment) sent me this photo of a lefty scissors (note the top blade attaches to the finger rings), with even weirder placement. I can’t make sense of where you would put your fingers.

Photo: Miriam Schaer,

A Nice Scissors Move

A hairdresser showed me this move.  She said she had also spoken to a surgeon who uses a similar technique. It allows you to safely keep the points of the scissors away from whatever else you are doing, without taking them completely off your hand and putting them down. A couple of years ago I wrote about Palmer’s proper method for using scissors, which deals with how to hold the paper to make a straight cut.

For this, you will need to have a scissors with single finger metal bows. The bows are the “handles” of the scissors, the enclosed round part that you put your fingers in. (1) This might be a good excuse to ditch those plastic handled Fiskars and buy some real scissors, such a pair of drop-forged chrome-plated ones made by Mundial, which are an excellent value.

Basically the scissors are spun 180 degrees on the middle finger.


When you are done cutting with the scissors, take your thumb out of the bow.


Twirl the scissors, using your index finger, so that the point is facing towards you.


Then your fingers are free to grasp another tool or manipulate an object without fear of stabbing it. Don’t stab yourself, though.


When you are done and need to use the scissors again, twirl them back into position by using your ring finger, then reinserting your thumb.

Usually we use one hand per tool and occasionally two hands per tool. But using two tools in one hand requires dexterity and practice, like handling chopsticks or holding an awl and threaded needle at the same time for heavy leather stitching. Generally we keep the cutting edge of tools pointed away from us, although David Esterly mentions wood carvers are trained to spin their chisels around and place them down on the bench handle first, so as not to damage the edge.(2)

I imagine this move come in handy in a number of circumstances. Cutting strapping and double stick tape when mounting books for exhibition currently comes to mind. Others?


(1) J. B. Himsworth  The Story of Cutlery: From Flint to Stainless Steel. London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1953. Chapter 10 deals with scissors, the whole book is great. Filled with interesting historical tidbits, like early nineteenth century Sheffield knife grinders, who often died of silicosis, sometimes had their grinding stones used as their gravestone.

(2) David Esterly, The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making New York: Viking, 2012.

The Proper Method of Using a Scissors

scissorsPalmer, E.W.  A Course in Bookbinding for Vocational Training. New York: Employing Bookbinders of America, 1927.

I’ve never thought too much about using a scissors, and can’t even recall ever being taught.  I’d usually hold the sheet of paper on the left side, with my thumb on top of the paper.  But after reading Palmer, I’m a convert the “proper method”.  It seems to result in a straighter cut, since the paper ends up slightly curling parallel to the direction of cutting, as well as acting as a more stable counter point for the action of the blade.  This right eye view, shows the exact perpendicularity of the scissors to the paper plane, as well as reminding us that often diagrams can show essential information much more clearly than a photograph can.

Of course, this is a small matter, and not using the “proper method of scissors cutting” will not hasten the end of civilization as we know it. But it does relate to the demise of technical education in general, and makes one worry about the hundreds (hundreds of thousands?) of other techniques that have disappeared, are almost forgotten or will become lost in the future.

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