William Whiteley and sons

William Whiteley

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Hardening & A Near Death Experience

My great-grandfather was in charge of Whiteley’s during the latter part of the Victorian era. Unfortunately, he hadn’t quite got the hang of how to run a business. After becoming bored with scissor-making, he ensconced to London.


Installing himself in Claridge’s, he promptly divested himself of all the company’s money indulging in wine, women and song.

Up until 1900, all scissors were hand-forged. Whiteley’s had 12 hand forgers all very busy hammering (smithing) away. They would start with a piece of beautiful Crucible mild-carbon Sheffield steel, and work on it until it looked like a scissor blade. All screws and bolts were hand-made, too.

william whiteley
Always resplendent in suit, pocket watch, whiskers etc Luckily my grandfather stepped in to put things to rights, and set about rebuilding the company’s bank balance…
These days we buy our forgings in from drop-forgers instead, which stamps out the shape of the scissor blade from a steel bar, like this:

However, this doesn’t mean any less work for our team, as the forgings are still extremely rough! Some scissors go through 39 operations to get them from a forging to a scissor, all done by hand in our factory.


Whether it’s hand-forging or drop-forging, all scissor blades then need to be hardened. In my grandfather’s time, this was done with a chimney furnace, full of glowing coals with the blades pushed in up to the screw-hole. The furnace had air pumped through by a giant set of foot-operated bellows.

Back then, the operator of the bellows was a character called Harry Taylor, who had a hunch-back and a club foot; he would pump away with his heavy club foot wearing a special elevated boot, and always a picture of sartorial elegance in a three-piece suit and a tie.

One summer, the furnace became so hot that the window frames burst into flames as he was pumping – he didn’t stop until he had finished the batch and the fire brigade turned up! Even then, he shouted at them “I’ll just finish these”……


Eventually we switched to a ‘less hazardous’ process called salt-bath hardening, where the blades were dipped up to the screw-hole in molten cyanide salts. However, in true Whiteley style, my father once tapped his pen on the edge of the furnace absent-mindedly, and later chewed the end of it while at his desk. After he woke up in hospital – a very narrow escape! – we switched to a non-toxic, tastier type of hardening salt, so he could tap the furnace without having to worry about such pesky things as dropping dead. We still use that salt today.

scissor hardening process
Today’s hardening process; less toxic!