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Powder Steel, the best

Powder Steel, the best

Many of the latest hairdressing scissors are made of powder steel, or powder martensitic stainless steel to be precise. To understand the benefits of this revolutionary new technology and why the top hairdressing scissor makers choose it, you need to understand a little bit about the process.

As you may know, steel is an alloy of iron and carbon; that is, the atoms of one element occupy the spaces between the atoms of the other so that the materials are inextricably joined. Stainless steels also have other elements alloyed in them that enhance specific characteristics—such as stain resistance, toughness and edge retention.

To make the powder steel used by the top scissor factories, suppliers first formulate the alloy to their specifications. This is the first consideration to why powder stainless steel is the best. In the traditional steel making process, steel is made into huge rolls weighing 1000s of kilos and mass produced as is this image.

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Custom making your own alloy is pretty much impossible or you would need to order enough to make millions of scissors. So with using the mass produced steels, the choices for scissor makers in Japan for choosing their blade material really comes down to a relatively few makers and grades. So all the scissor makers end up making their scissors from the same grades. Commonly the premium Japanese stainless steels grades are Hitachi ATS314, and Takefu VG10. These grades are also available to scissor makers in Korea and Taiwan who import them from Japan.

In 1995, after first developing a unique type of Stellite ( Cobalt Based Alloy ) and a unique heat treatment process in Australia for the Stellas range, I set my sites onto analyzing and testing all premium grades of stainless steels available in the world and making hairdressing scissor samples out of them. To my knowledge I was the first in the world to produce a powder stainless steel hairdressing scissor that same year (some Japanese makers may have been before me but they certainly did not advertise the fact!). My good friends in the custom knife making fraternity helped me refine the list of powder stainless steels down to the very best and the field results eventually led to the introduction of the Quantum hairdressing scissor (now made in Japan). I tested powder steels from Sweden, America, Germany and Austria. All proved to be outstanding and one in particular with a high level of Tungsten and Molybdenum was in my estimation and in market trials, the best. This alloy uses the unique properties of powder steel manufacture to form super fine Carbides and Tungsten Carbide particles within the steel. This would be impossible with mass produced steels. Powder stainless steel is made on a small scale and can be formulated to specific requirements. I would receive only enough powder stainless steel plate from each production to produce about 15 pairs of scissors. Some custom powder stainless steels can be about half as expensive as solid Gold!

How is Powder Stainless Steel made?

First the liquid steel and component alloys are melted at high temperature. Some alloying elements will need to be added later at the powder stage and are formed under a different process. Then the molten metal is atomized. To do this, it is poured through a nozzle where high-pressure gas turns the liquid into a fine spray of tiny, perfectly round droplets. The spray is instantly cooled by Argon gas. These solidify into powder particles that are extremely small and uniform in size and have a very consistent microstructure. Importantly the carbon in the steel does not have the time to form crystals or primary carbides which means the resulting stainless steel will have a super uniform carbide distribution, critical to edge retention and wear resistance.

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The powder is vacuum-sealed in steel tubes and exposed to the precise amount of pressure and temperature to compact the powder into dense steel. This is called Hot Isostatic pressing which makes the powder form into a solid steel of incredibly fine grain structure. Then the steel is milled and processed as usual.

Because this process is very clean, there are virtually no inclusions in the stainless steel that the steelmaker did not intend. It produces very high-quality stainless steel with superior dimensional stability, grind-ability, and toughness. Here is a cross section photograph comparing a scissor blade edge made from conventional stainless steel to that of powder stainless steel.

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What’s more, the extra-fine carbides in the powder stainless steel enable scissor makers to make a blade that takes a super fine edge and provides superior edge retention (cuts unbelievably and stays sharp a long time). The best powder stainless steels not only will hold an edge much longer, they also have very high wear resistance and corrosion resistance—two qualities not generally found in the same stainless steel and critical for hairdressing scissors

Nowadays there are a number of scissor makers using powder stainless steels for their best scissors. Jaguar call it Microcarbide steel and Mizutani call it Nanosteel. I also know some other small Japanese makers who are just now starting to use this type of material and I hope to help bring their products to the western market soon. Some other makers do not disclose their use of powder stainless steel but to a sharpener it is very obvious which scissors are made from it and these powder stainless steels require special techniques to finish the edges correctly. The premium quality of our own chosen powder stainless steel enables Sharpline to produce our Quantum series, one of the world’s finest hairdressing scissors. Powder stainless steels will become a new benchmark to make premium-quality blades and provide you with the hard-use, high-quality, high precision hairdressing scissors you demand.

Adrian Schlemmer

 

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