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There's plenty of literature about knife sharpening out there—when, where, and how you should go about caring for those expensive, beautiful kitchen tools. But what about your kitchen shears or your office scissors? There are few experiences as unpleasant as trying to cut with a dull pair. Luckily, the fix is easy. Here's how to sharpen scissors at home.

How Often Should You Sharpen Your Scissors?

When it comes to sharpening, there's no standard timetable. It boils down to how often you use your scissors and what you're cutting. Someone who often cuts sturdy materials will probably need to sharpen their scissors more often than someone who is only cutting things like herbs.

How Do You Know When to Sharpen Your Scissors?

According to Jeff Malkasian at Viking Culinary, it's time to sharpen your kitchen shears when cutting begins to require more than your usual effort.

"If you are having to work harder to cut through a piece of meat or vegetable, it's probably time to think about sharpening," he says. "Effort can also be defined as having to increase amounts of pressure to close/cut with the scissors."

A good way to test your scissors is by using the paper test, shares Mack Mor, OXO Senior Product Engineer. If the scissors are unable to cleanly cut the paper, they are due for a sharpening. When testing, start at the maximum opening of the scissors until they close completely. Sharp scissors should give a pristine cut at every part of the blade.

How to Sharpen Scissors at Home

From stones to sandpaper, there are many ways to sharpen your scissors at home.

"A whet stone or sharpening stone is my go-to for sharpening my scissors," Malkasian recommends. "There are also low-cost home sharpeners available in the market designed just for sharpening scissors and take a lot of the guessing out of the process."

If you don't want to invest in a sharpening stone or sharpener, Mor says that sandpaper on a hard, flat surface will also do the job. Files and mini diamond hones will work, too.

When it comes to actually sharpening, follow these tips:

  • Mor advises separating the scissor blades before sharpening, if possible. Some scissors come with hinges that allow for disassembly.
  • If using a sharpening stone, Malkasian instructs to follow along and mirror the angle of the bevel as you move your blade across the stone. The bevel is the lip of the scissor blade that slopes downward.
  • When using sandpaper, Malkasian says that the grit count should be around 200.

"Try to visually follow the angle that the blade already has in place," Mor says. "This angle is typically much more obtuse than a knife. Where a knife might have a 30-degree included angle (15 degrees per side), the blade from a pair of shears could have an 80-degree angle. It's best to follow the angle you can see on the blade as best you can."

He goes on to note that the back of each blade should be flat. "The edges of the two blades need to contact each other for the scissors to properly function. If the back is not sharpened flat, then the blade edges will not contact each other, and the shears will not cut."

The one thing Malkasian would not recommend is using a rotary wheel to sharpen your scissors. If you are not familiar with one, then attempting to sharpen your scissors on it could create an uneven edge.

Avoid These Scissor-Dulling Practices

Scissors will dull with time, but there are some practices that will speed up the wear and tear. Malkasian shares that cutting through materials such as hard plastic containers or packaging will accelerate blade dulling.

"We always recommend using your kitchen shears specifically on food for the best results," he states. "There is one caveat—using them to cut small bones will reduce the time needed between sharpening."

One way to keep your kitchen scissors sharp longer? Have dedicated scissors for different tasks instead of a tool for all trades.

"I always believe that a good pair of kitchen shears should be dedicated for cutting food and not opening boxes or cutting open bags," Malkasian says. "We keep three essential tools in our kitchen drawer to help reduce the chance that someone will grab the cooking shears for a non-recommended use."

Of course, sometimes we find ourselves in a pinch and need the most convenient tool available. Whether that means you're cutting paper with the kitchen shears or herbs with those office scissors, don't sweat it. However, if you want to take the best care possible of your scissors, Mor says that you should be on the lookout for these characteristics that could reduce your scissors' longevity:

  • Dull blades or nicks from cutting overly abrasive or hard material
  • Bent blades or loose pivot point from cutting something too thick and tough, especially close to the tip
  • Buildup of adhesive or other sticky substances between the blades
  • Anything that could damage the cutting edges or prevent the blades from contacting each other

"Kitchen shears are made with thicker blades that are usually a little shorter than the blades found on scissors used for fabric," Mor continues. "The thickness of kitchen shear blades can make them a little less maneuverable for delicate tasks but makes them more durable when used for cutting tough items, since they are harder to push apart."

Additionally, you may have serrated kitchen shears. Mor shares that while serration helps keep slippery items, like raw chicken, in place, these types of scissors are not good candidates for gliding cuts.

"The serrations usually work reasonably well for other tasks outside of the kitchen, like cutting paper, but serrated blades do not work well for gliding cuts, where the blade angle is fixed and the blades are drawn across a sheet, like for cutting wrapping paper," he says.

When to Replace Scissors

If you're thinking about replacing your scissors, know that sharpening may solve your problem.

"For good kitchen shears, sharpening and maintenance should suffice," Malkasian says. "Many styles of kitchen shears will easily come apart for cleaning and sharpening. Those styles are a little easier to maintain than shear blades that are permanently affixed together, but both can be sharpened."

However, if you own both kitchen scissors and poultry shears, Mor notes that while the scissors can be sharpened, it is recommended that you replace the poultry shears.

Maintain Your Scissor Blades

If you own a knife set, you probably have a honing steel, and it's not just for your knives.

"Don't afraid to hone your scissor blades with a sharpening steel between uses (especially if they are designed to come apart) just like you would your good knives," Malkasian says. "This will help maintain the edge of the blade and reduce the frequency of sharpening."

Other tips from Malkasian and Mor include handwashing your shears and drying well to prevent rust. If you put your kitchen scissors in the dishwasher, you run the risk of them knocking against other flatware, which will cause them to nick at the edge.  

Besides soap and water, you can also give your kitchen shears a clean with a solvent such as alcohol or Goo Gone.

"Adhesive from cutting boxes and tape can build up between the blades and cause them to bind and separate," Mor says. "Clean blades cut much better, and proper care can help avoid a more involved and time-consuming sharpening process."