Buy Once, Buy Well.. from the oldest scissor-makers in the Western world
Which ‘made in England’ hand tool company is used by, and therefore bizarrely unites, the disparate worlds of Saville Row tailors, the Ministry of Defence, upholstery and millinery schools, a World Rally Championship car building company, and a paragliding company?
And has a Royal Warrant too?
If you guessed correctly that it’s Sheffield scissor makers, William Whiteley’s, then well done – you are a ‘cut above’ us. Whilst we have always rated and advocated Whiteley’s scissors - we didn’t fully appreciate just how, during their 250+ years of manufacturing, they have developed to ensure they remain at the ‘cutting edge’.
William Whiteley & Sons proudly state they are “the oldest scissor-makers in the Western world” because they have been designing and manufacturing beautifully hand-crafted industrial scissors in Sheffield since 1760. They claim to have “made scissors through storms, floods, strikes, world wars, depressions, recessions, and more” and that they are now the last industrial scissor-maker in the UK.
We reckon there are three key reasons they continue to thrive through the generations and why we rate them as ‘buy once, buy well’
Firstly, they are knowledgeable: Sheffield has long been synonymous with high-quality, handmade scissors and shears – back in the 19th Century the city housed 60 steel scissor companies and tens of thousands of men working in the trade (according to the Heritage Crafts association). Whiteley’s is still a family-run firm – with two of their current management team being direct descendants of the original William Whiteley – making them the 11th and 12th generations of Whiteley’s to dedicate their lives to making scissors. So all of the Whiteley’s scissors are all still hand-made, assembled and tested in Sheffield – using skills and techniques that have been honed and handed down through generations.
Secondly, they’ve adapted to survive: Whiteley’s has, and continues, to evolve. They’ve had to, in order to survive over the centuries. Here are just three examples from each decade they’ve been in business:
- In the 19th Century: It was actually Thomas Wilkinson, the renowned Master Cutler, who invented and patented the ‘sidebent’ scissor - with cranked handles tilting upwards, that allow for smoother cutting of cloth as the lower blade can run flat along the fabric. These are the type of scissors that are well loved and used by dressmakers, tailors and even BBC Great British Sewing Bee contenders. By 1875 Whiteley’s had “incorporated” their innovative rival into their company and, to this day, they “still use the Wilkinson name today as the brand for our highest-quality products.” Sadly there was perhaps only one space for a scissor manufacturer to survive in Sheffield – and Whiteley’s business acumen ensured they were (initially) holding this important patent.
- In the 20th Century: Apparently, during World War Two, Whiteley’s were the first British manufacturers of pinking shears that were sourced directly for the national war effort; “All our stock was supplied straight to the Royal Air Force, where our shears were utilised in the vital production of planes, air balloons and parachutes.” As well as doing their bit to keep Britain flying during this time, they successfully kept their business alive.
- In the 21st Century: They were also the first scissor manufacturer to design a range of shears that could be used by industries – including Formula One, aerospace and defence - that are using highly advanced composite materials. Essentially – as material develops, so too does the tool that needs to cut it effectively. So Whiteley’s continues to supply the Ministry of Defence – but instead of Pinking Shears, they are probably using their Kevlar Shears or advanced ‘Composite Shears’. And car makers such as Mellors Elliot Motorsport use Whiteley’s advanced composite shears to cut carbon fibre in the design and building of their R5 spec rally car (the Proton Iriz R5). We don’t stock Whiteley’s Kevlar Scissors or Composite Shears – but if Edd finds himself with a project that needs them and he can test them out, they’ll no doubt become available at Tinker and Fix!
Finally, they always have, and continue to, value the beauty of tools. Whilst all tools have a purpose and a function, they can also look good too and therefore be pleasing to own and use. Whiteley’s have always had an eye firmly on the aesthetic. Back in 1851 they were a part of the Great Exhibition of 1851 – an event specifically created to ‘show off’ Britain’s expertise developed in the Industrial Revolution. They showcased their quality and craftsmanship, designing and making scissors from crucible steel that were extraordinary in size and beauty. One pair even had the original Crystal Palace (which housed the exhibition) etched onto its blade. We reckon that – to this day - all of their ‘standard’ scissors (rather than ones designed for an exhibition or the Queen) look beautiful. Which makes them a great gift, as well as brilliant to use for years to come.
When we talk about ‘buy once, buy well’ (and the point of this monthly series) – it’s to advocate and show that what you are buying is MUCH more than just a pair of scissors, a multitool or a folding ruler. You are buying a little piece of history. You’re making a pro-active choice to have a tool in your hand that represents something, rather than replicates it cheaply. You’re also supporting a company that has survived (and will hopefully continue to thrive) because it designs and makes something really well. On all counts, Whiteley’s ticks these boxes. Which is why we stock our selection of the best Whiteley Scissors for Tinkerers and Fixers:
- 8” Whiteley Sidebent Scissors – both the black and Wilkinson classic models – perfect for cutting fabric.
- Whiteley Threadsnips
- Whiteley Pinking Shears
- 7” paper scissors
For makers and menders:
And – finally - yes, did I deliberately try to get as many scissor and cutting puns in as possible, to see how many I’d get away with before Edd groaned. Oh yes. I sheariously did.
And here are some more details on the worlds that Whiteley's are used in, if you’re interested…
- Whiteley’s are used by and endorsed by leaders in the world of bespoke tailoring including Saville Row Tailor, Andrew Ramroop OBE.
- Whiteley’s supply the Ministry of Defence with composite shears – which can cut through Kevlar to make body armour and stab vests.
- Teachers and students at the ‘Ministry of Upholstery’ school use Whiteley upholstery shears and some of the best tailoring academies use Whiteley’s
- Mellors Elliot Motorsport use Whiteley’s advanced composite shears to assist in the cutting of carbon fibre in the design and building of their R5 spec rally car – the Proton Iriz R5.
- FlyZermatt paragliding company are sponsored by Whiteley as a symbol of their contribution to the advance composite market.