For years other sewers have told me that Ernest Wright scissors are the best scissors ever but couldn't explain why. I decided I needed to know, so off I went on a tour of the factory in Sheffield
Based in a 'new' workshop in the centre of Sheffield the scissors are still made the same way they have been for years, by hand and with love! The steel, although now expensive to source in Sheffield, is still found locally and the transformation given to the pressed blanks after they arrive into the workshop, is amazing!
Jamie, my guide for the morning, has been an apprentice for 4 years and loves his work. He explained, to a very nosey me, how the scissors go through the different processes that make them the best scissors.
The scissor halves when they arrive are first drilled to make the screw hole and then the scissors have to be sent away to a furnace, that heats the metal to over 500 degrees the metal is quickly cooled and this process hardens the steel to make them last a lifetime. The new workshop can no longer do this themselves as they've no gas, but I could see the equipment they used to use, and I think they wished they could still use it!
The scissor halves are then tumbled in a giant agitator full of ceramic beads which removes all the tarnish and oily coating from the furnace. This takes hours! The cleaned up scissors are dried with hot air and then on to the next job.
Today it was Cliff's turn to run each blade under a roller that burnished the blades smooth, ready for grinding. There was a lot of water involved to keep the blades cool as reheating them would soften the metal again. Cliff has been making scissors since 1958! He started as a boy apprentice and is still looking youthful! (he paid me to write that!)
Initially, when the factory was much larger, each man was a specialist at one job, but now, with the factory being smaller, the men working there learn all the jobs allowing them to cover each other for holidays etc without the factory having to grind to a halt. Years ago many factories had to have 2 week 'shut downs' for holiday times, because people only did one job and they couldn't cope if key people were missing!
Once the blades are burnished clean they then go to the grinding area. Eric was in charge of grinding today, another man who's been a scissor maker since leaving school and worked his way up as an apprentice. Eric ground the blades on a water cooled wheel giving each blade a slight bow. The blades then go through several more stages of grinding, each one finer than the last before they go to the next stage.
When each scissor half arrives at the factory, there is a line all the way around them where they were initially pressed, this now needs to be smoothed off so the scissors are comfortable to hold.
Using a coarse drive belt machine Glen, one of the newer apprentices at 2 years service, smoothed off the insides and outsides of the handles. He got a bit clever doing 4 at a time to make more sparks!
Finally the scissors are ready to be put together. A 'putter-togetherer' is an official job title! (ranks up there with 'Blob Wrangler' - a job at the Swizzels Factory!) This is the most skilled part of the job that takes years of experience to perfect. The halves are screwed together and then the blades and handles are hammered gently, to make the tiny adjustments needed.
The putter-togetherer holds the scissors up to the light and is looking for a tiny uniform gap down the length of the blades with the tips meeting. The tools for this job are the same as they've always been and the wooden handle of the hammer was perfectly worn and moulded to Cliff's hand! The sunlight was streaming onto this workbench, making a job that needed good light and good eyesight a bit easier!
My assumption with scissors was, that the blades should meet along the length in order to cut but apparently not! The slight curve in the blade made by Eric on the grinder, means that the blades slide across each other at the sharpest edge, as the scissors pivot. This gives a lovely crisp cut as the forces oppose each other, very satisfying!
The scissors are finally polished or the handles coloured and they are ready to go go to their new owner, who will love them for a lifetime!
I was curious to know how long the whole process takes but, as the scissors are made in batches sometimes it may take days! All over the workshop there were batches of scissors in the various stages of finishing, hundreds of those beautiful little stork scissors!
The overall sense I got from my visit was one of pride and satisfaction in a job well done, that the men working here felt. As someone who makes things myself, it was easy to understand the skill and craftsmanship making something beautiful takes. It was a privilege to witness a business still doing things 'the right way' and nurturing a new workforce to continue in a great tradition. The company are involved in a 'kickstart' scheme to manufacture kitchen scissors again, which seems to be going well and will keep them busy for some time to come.
I left feeling hopeful about the future and convinced that they are truly, 'the best scissors in the world!'
My thanks to Simon and the rest of the team for making me feel welcome, it was brilliant!