Chances are you’ve heard about steel hardness in relation to hairdressing scissors. But how does the steel impact on how well scissors cut hair you might ask? This article does a hair shears steel hardness comparison that shares everything you need to know about how much steel hardness matters.
What’s the impact of hard steel use in hair shears? The hardness of the steel used to manufacture shears affects the blade edge and how long it will stay sharp, the life of the shears, and the durability of the shears.
The grade of steel used in scissors will affect the all-important blade edge. Poor quality or soft steel can’t be honed to a fine edge. The only way to get a super sharp edge on scissors that cut hair cleanly with minimal force is to use shears made from high quality steel.
The better quality the steel, the longer the scissors will last. Hairdressing scissors need to be sharpened at least annually. And to sharpen scissors, a bladesmith will need to remove a small amount of steel. The higher quality steel doesn’t need as much taken off so they can be sharpened more times than a cheaper pair.
The Rockwell Hardness scale is a measure of how hard a material is. It allows manufacturers to maintain quality control and a measure for consumers to understand what they’re buying.
The test is used to determine the hardness of most metals and alloys including the steel used in scissors and shears. It’s performed using a diamond tipped indenter under a large load to measure the depth of penetration.
The higher the number, the harder the steel and the better edge retention it will have. A soft steel will be in the 54-56 HRC range while premium hard steel will achieve a rating of 59-66 HRC. It’s common to see HRC further abbreviated to RC after the number. A Rockwell Hardness measurement of 58-60 RC indicates a high quality steel that’s ideal for shears and scissors.
No shears are manufactured from one material because steel is an exact blend of alloys, ores and elements. Carbon gives steel its strength and should have a content between .95 and 1.2% of the finished product. While you want shear steel to be hard, it can’t be too hard otherwise it’s not ideal for dry or slide cutting.
Molybdenum also helps with hardness and also increases corrosion resistance. Shears are at risk of corrosion because they’re exposed to chemicals in colour treatments and water. Without molybdenum in the shears, the steel would be pitted and dull.
Manganese helps with strength of the blade and a durable sharp edge. Chromium helps with heat resistance during the forging and finishing processes and later when the shears are in use, it helps with resisting corrosion. Vanadium also helps with strength and helping the scissors keep their set and balance.
Cobalt and titanium increase hardness and reduce the weight of finished shears.
All steel can be graded depending on the mix of materials used to produce it.
The order of steel quality from lowest to highest is:
The 420 grade is used in cheap scissors made in Pakistan while the 440C is the more expensive Japanese grade. There is a significant difference in the Rockwell rating with the 420 stainless steel achieving 50-55 and the 440 cobalted stainless steel between 55-62.
The S1 has a low level cobalt steel for hardened shears while the S3 is high cobalt steel for sharp cutting edges. The V category is where vanadium and titanium are added for extra strength and sharp cutting blades.
ATS-314 has the highest quantities of cobalt, titanium and vanadium and has an impressive Rockwell rating of 59-61. An older high end Japanese steel used in Yasaka Scissors.
While raw materials are important, good quality steel also requires good craftsmanship and an ideal tempering process.
VG10 is a superior grade of Japanese stainless steel, also known as cutlery grade because it was designed for Japanese chefs. The V refers to the element Vanadium and the G stands for Gold meaning gold quality.
VG10 has a Rockwell Hardness of 59 to 61 due to its high carbon content and cobalt. The VG10 shears are known to maintain their sharp blade and remain durable for the life of the shears. VG10 can be made sharper than many other types of steel. The VG10 became known as the SuperSteel. Check out this range of VG10 Offset Scissors.
Damascus steel is made from layers of high quality VG10 steel being folded onto itself 15-17 times which creates around 5,000 tiny layers of steel. The layering technique gives the appearance of a fine wood grain or water mark in the surface of the shears.
The main benefit of using layers of steel is the shears blades are strong but still flexible with a soft feel as they close against each other.
The 440C grade of steel contains the highest carbon content making it some of the most expensive steel available. With a Rockwell Hardness of 58 to 59, it is also one of the hardest steels in the 440 family.
Scissor Tech always favours Japanese steel for hairdressing scissors. Japanese steel manufacturers have perfected the art of producing incredible quality of steel that’s yet to be replicated anywhere else in the world. The second best producer of steel is Germany.
Their steel is very hard, too hard in fact to sharpen to a razor sharp edge but works well for barbering scissors that use a bevel edge.
Other countries that manufacture steel include Korea, Taiwan and China. Their steel is softer than Japanese steel and doesn’t hold a sharp edge as long. The other two manufacturers are India and Pakistan.
Their steel is of the poorest quality and doesn’t sharpen or hold an edge well so isn’t ideal for professional shears.
Our two favourite steel manufacturers in Japan are the acclaimed Aichiand Hitachi. Both factories produce steel used in Matsui and other brands of shears stocked in the Scissor Tech stores.
In business since 1934, Aichi Steel began as a steelmaking division at Toyota Industries Corporation in Japan. The business name changed to Aichi Steel Corporation in 1945. Over its life Aichi has continued to develop new automotive steel products but also a range of new steel shapes and products for a variety of industries from steel rods, dental implants to magnets for drone motors and everything in between.
Established in Japan in 1956, Hitachi Metals prides itself on producing high quality steel blades and products for the automotive, infrastructure and electronics industries. Hitachi produces the highest grade of Japanese steel, the ATS-314.
If you’re unsure which scissors are the best quality for the cutting you do, contact the experts at Scissor Tech.