How to Sharpen Fly Tying Scissors

October 19, 2017 By: Philip Monahan

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Fly Fishing

photo courtesy of Dr. Slick

Question: I have heard that you do not sharpen scissors like you would a knife. What is the correct way to put the sharp edge back on a pair of tying scissors?

JHJ, via email

Answer: I have never even tried to sharpen scissors because I know that even hair salons (which use a lot of scissors) have their scissors professionally sharpened. So, I threw the question to someone who probably sees more tying scissors than anyone alive—Steve Fournier at Dr. Slick—as well as some of my renowned tying friends. Here’s what they said.

Steve Fournier, owner of Dr. Slick: There are a few issues and a couple tricks.

1. At home, sharpening depends on the skill set of the individual. Some people are great with whetstones and ceramic towers or files, while other people have no skill set at all. For those who know how to sharpen knives and scissors with whetstones or jig set ups, a 30- to 35-degree angle is a good starting point. (Different scissors have different angles, so start with 30 degrees and move upward from there.) Only sharpen the non-serrated blade. Sharpening a serrated blade will remove the serrations.

2. For those folks who do not have the sharpening knowledge, I suggest a knife/scissors sharpening service. Most areas have an individual who comes to town couple times a week and picks up knives from restaurants and scissors from beauty parlors/hair-cutting joints. My best advice is to call your local hair-cutting place and find out who does their sharpening. Last time I checked, our local service charged around $10.00 per scissor.

3. Last point: Don’t wait until your scissor blades are completely dull and rounded off. One wants to keep a keen edge on the blade (just like on a good kitchen knife). Once the blade is too far rounded off (dull beyond belief), then the process to re-install a new edge can cause trouble, as material must be removed to re-establish an edge. That can mess with the scissors’ camber–the action where the two blades sweep against each other to create the cutting action. Remove too much material and they won’t sweep or cut very well.

Greg Senyo, commercial fly tier and owner of Steelhead Alley Outfitters: I don’t typically resharpen my tying scissors. I usually have two pairs, one that I only use for furs, hairs, feathers, and soft synthetics. The second pair is a cheaper version used to cut fine wire, fireline (abrasive Teflon), and hard materials that will dull your blades. By doing this I can get the best bang for my buck and just replace the inexpensive scissors with a new pair. I still tie with a pair of scissors that is 10 years old, and they are as sharp as the day I bought them by doing this!

Dave Klausmeyer, editor of Fly Tyer: One of the biggest challenges with sharpening high-quality fly-tying scissors is that they have serrated blades; scissors designed for clipping deer hair and cutting synthetic materials have deeper serrations. Also, the steel is much harder than what you find in typical clothing scissors. Due to the complexity, small size, and quality of these scissors, sharpening is best left to an expert who has the proper experience and tools. Unfortunately, it might be more expensive to have the scissors sharpened than to just purchase a new pair. If this is the case, use those dull scissors for cutting wire and tinsel, and purchase new scissors for fine and delicate work. And enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you tie so many flies that you can wear out your scissors; not too many tiers can say that.

Scott Sanchez, author of Introduction to Saltwater Tying and A New Generation of Trout Flies: If they are good scissors, get them professionally done. On basic scissors, file both blades at a 90-degree angle and deburr with a stone. Basically, scissors fine-rip the material between the two edges, so the sharp edges need to mate. Adjusting the screw for a snug fit helps a bunch or on riveted scissors you can tighten the rivet a bit with a hammer.