Shears vs. Scissors: Differences, Pros & Cons

Confused between scissors and shears? These two tools are sometimes interchangeable, but they’re not the same. What’s the difference between these two, and when should you use which?

Differences between Shears and Scissors

Shear and Scissors on Bench

Scissors and shears look similar and are often viewed as interchangeable. Still, they differ in key aspects and are used for different applications.


Scissors and shears both have two blades brought together and separated by moving two handles. These are often riveted together, but this sometimes varies in shears. Scissors typically have blades measured at 6 inches or less, while shears have longer blades.

Standard, multi-purpose scissors typically have matching holes for fingers on each handle since they’re not meant to exert much force. Some scissors are adjusted for special applications, such as surgical scissors, hairdressers, and children’s craft scissors. The blades are designed to be incredibly sharp and not quickly dulled for surgical and hairdressing applications. The handles often have a protruding finger rest, facilitating precise cutting.

Children’s scissors are commonly equipped with a plastic cutting guard and aren’t very sharp, which would be a safety hazard.

Shears typically have a larger finger hole on one handle, allowing space for more fingers. This design enables greater force exertion during cutting. Some shears, like garden shears or sheep shearing shears, have long handles that can be held in the palm or gripped with two hands. These allow for even greater force exertion since shears are meant for more heavy-duty work.

Cutting Mechanism

The mechanism of cutting with scissors and shears is much the same. Material is gripped between the two blades, which cut through the material as force is applied. Shear blades are far sharper than scissors blades, providing a much cleaner cut. Scissors often tear the material since their blades are duller, and their design doesn’t allow for as much force to be applied.

Material that Can Cut

  • Scissors are meant to cut small, soft items, typically found around the home or in hairdressing applications. Examples include food, paper, craft materials, hair, and nails.
  • Shears can cut through tougher materials. Larger shears are typically used for thicker, more demanding applications. Examples include hedge trimming in gardening, sheep shearing, and metal and plastic cutting.

When to Use Shears vs. Scissors

A good rule of thumb is that scissors are typically meant for more delicate work, while shears are meant for heavy-duty work. So, if the work is outside, in the garden, or in the workshop, shears are probably the right tool.

If the work is inside, should be precise, or is of a delicate nature, then scissors are your tool of choice.

Types of Scissors and Shears

There are many different types of scissors and shears. Some are multi-purpose products that can be used in various applications, while some are highly specialized. Sometimes, a multi-purpose pair of scissors or shears will do the trick. However, if you specialize in something, you can find scissors or shears meant for a specific task. In sowing, for example, there are about ten different types of scissors to use, each with its own specialty task.

Here is an overview of the most common multi-purpose scissors and shears.

Kitchen Scissors

Kitchen scissors are meant for general kitchen cutting and are typically dishwasher-safe. These are sturdy and durable and can exert slightly more force than other general scissors.

General-Purpose Sewing Scissors

Sewing scissors are sharper than other general-purpose scissors. They’re meant to cut through both tough and delicate fabric. If you attempt to cut delicate fabric with a dull blade, the fabric will rip and crumple, potentially ruining it.

Hairdressing Scissors

Hairdressing scissors are usually slightly smaller than kitchen scissors and extremely sharp. They also have a finger rest protruding from one of the handles to facilitate precise cutting.

Embroidery Scissors

Embroidery scissors are small and meant to create tiny, precise cuts on delicate work. Their blades are pointed, enabling them to slide between threads when needed. 

Craft Scissors

Craft scissors for adults are pretty sharp and sturdy, comparable to kitchen scissors. They won’t necessarily be dishwasher safe since they’re not meant to cut food or wet products. 

Craft scissors for children are smaller and typically have plastic cutting guards for safety. These scissors don’t have sharp blades.

Hedge Shears

Hedge shears are meant for heavy-duty trimming on hedges. They’re typically quite large, with long handles that can be gripped with one in each hand. Large hedge shears are meant to cut sturdy branches, while smaller hedge shears can be used to prune roses and other delicate garden work.

Sheep Shears

As the name suggests, sheep shears trim sheep’s wool. They’re meant to be held in one hand since the other holds the sheep during the trimming process.

Metal Shears

Metal shears are used to cut sheet metal. These are very sharp and should be used with care.

Maintenance and Care

It is good practice to clean scissors and shears after every use. Remove any debris from the blades, and wash them if appropriate. If you’re working with food, plant material, or any other wet item, wash the shears or scissors with warm, soapy water, then rinse them properly with clean water. Allow them to dry completely before closing the blades and storing them.

Shears and scissors should be sharpened periodically since they dull with use and age. Some cutting tools can be sharpened at home using a grinding wheel or sharpening block. Some blades are more delicate and should be taken to professionals for sharpening. Examples include hairdressing scissors and sewing scissors.

Safety Precautions

Both scissors and shears are sharp instruments and should be used with care. If you’re using shears to cut sharp objects, like metal or branches, it’s best to wear gloves.

Always pay close attention when using scissors or shears. You could easily cut your hand or arm or hurt a bystander if you’re not paying attention. Also, never allow a child to use these tools unsupervised.