Sharpening with Professionals

The Art of the Shokunin Sharpener

While many countries make scissors nowadays, there are two notable traditions of shear making:  Germany & Japan.  While both can be found in salons and barbershops around the world, I will make the imperious statement that the more common type of haircutting scissor is made in the Japanese manner, that is with a hollow ground, radiused cutting edge, twist, clam-shaped or convex outer blade, inside edge or ride-line, and arc or set.  Making these scissors cut like new is a function of maintaining the integrity of all these elements, and of course correcting any of them that have been altered during the course of normal wear, unintentional damage or damage incurred in a bad sharpening.

For example, look at the image below.  This Japanese scissor, Made in Japan, has had the convex edge taken out and replaced by a bevel.  Additionally the tips of the scissor no longer aline and the radius of the edge has been replaced by a straight line.  For all but the most skilled of sharpeners, this scissor has been ruined and is beyond repair.  Additionally while it may cut, it will do so poorly, require excessive effort by the user and turn what was a $600 investment into a $5 paper-cutting toy.

Continuing on this example, we show again this same scissor, but this time after it’s been refurbished by Master Craftsman Jean-Paul Babin.

This type of skill is not learned overnight, a few days or even a few years.  It represents what is called the 10,000 hours rule, in other words learned over the course of sharpening thousands of scissors.  Here is where the word “shokunin” becomes relevant.  “The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.”  Tasio Odate

Continuous improvement and Continuing education is the primary method used by the shokunin in their craft, and while the process of servicing a shear to it’s factory condition is not magic, there is an art to it.

Below is a presentation from IBSA 2013 international guest, Koshi Yamamura.