In the Wool Cottage at the Ozark Medieval Fortress guests see several Medieval spring-type scissors. They often ask whether they are authentic to the Middle Ages and whether they are used to shear the nearby sheep. The answer to both questions is “Yes”. In addition, the good wife uses these scissors to cut the yarn.
Spring scissors like these go back to the ancient Egyptians, who made them out of bronze. The Romans had not only iron spring scissors, but also developed a pivot scissor that is the ancestor of the modern scissors. The Roman pivot-type used crossing blades like modern hand held grass shears. By modern, I mean like the kind Grandpa used to trim the edges of his lawn on hands and knees.
Medieval spring scissors were made of iron by the blacksmith. The middle of the metal, which is the bottom of the scissors, is made of high carbon iron that is heated, cooled and heated again to make it like spring steel. That gives these scissors their name. In the middle on both sides are handles that let a person squeeze the scissor to make it cut. At the ends, or top, are the blades, which are separate. The tension between the blades is created by a slight twist in the spring end.
These scissors were not especially difficult to make and the design stayed the same until the late Middle Ages. They were, therefore, well known by common people and put to daily use in the home, on the farm and in the castles. On the other hand, it is unbelievable how much work it takes to squeeze these scissors over and over on a job such as shearing a sheep. Once again it is easy to underestimate the effort that went into something as common to us as cutting with scissors.