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A pair of scissors can be a sheer pleasure to use in the kitchen—if you get the right one.
Kitchen shears are an essential component of any cook’s knife kit. We use them for a wide range of tasks—cutting twine and parchment, snipping herbs, trimming pie dough, cutting florets from heads of cauliflower and broccoli, and butterflying chickens, to name just a few. In our last testing, the Kershaw Taskmaster Shears ($26.30), also known as the Shun Multi-Purpose Shears, outperformed all competitors—and at a fairly low price. So we knew we didn’t have to spend a lot to get a great tool. Curious to see whether our former favorite reigned supreme among all inexpensive shears, we decided to pit it against five other models priced from $12.99 to $39.95.
All the shears sailed through the lighter tasks, ably snipping twine and chives, cutting parchment rounds, and trimming pie dough. But when we challenged them to cut tougher, denser, or more slippery foods, some shears faltered. Several slipped on the woody stems of rosemary branches, failing to bite through them. Others just couldn’t find purchase on the slick skin of raw chicken—never mind the hard, smooth bone—when we cut whole chickens into parts.
Blade design was primarily to blame for these failures. Each pair of shears has two blades: a cutter blade, which has a smooth edge and is responsible for most of the cutting action, and an “anvil” blade, which is usually serrated and a bit thicker, the better to help grip and secure the food being cut. Cutter blades are similar to the blades found on chef’s knives in that they sport a bevel—the slim strip on either side of the blade that narrows to form the cutting edge—that’s sharpened to a specific angle. While cutter blades are generally sharpened to a wide edge angle (traditionally 50 to 70 degrees), we found that, as with chef’s knives, the narrower the angle on the blade, the sharper it felt and the more easily it sliced through the food; blades with thicker edge angles tended to wedge themselves into the food instead of cutting it. Not all manufacturers were willing to disclose edge angles, but our favorite model had an unusually acute angle of 25 degrees, providing an almost knife-like sharpness (for comparison, chef’s knives are typically sharpened to about 15 to 20 degrees). And although narrower edge angles can make some blades more vulnerable to chipping or scratching, we’re pleased to say that our favorite suffered no such loss of integrity over the course of testing.
The type and placement of the serrations on the anvil blade mattered, too. For the serrations to truly bite into and stabilize the food, they had to be on the edge of the blade or at least on the bevel. And the deeper and sharper the serrations, the more securely they held the food. The shears that struggled most on tough and slippery food didn’t have proper serrations at all but rather rounded, granton-like indentations on the side of the anvil blade, away from the edge and bevel and thus adding little, if any, gripping power.
A few general blade characteristics also helped some shears succeed better than others. The blades on the models we tested ranged from 3 to 4 inches long, and while it’s a seemingly small difference, the extra length helped; we preferred blades of at least 3.5 inches, which made longer, smoother strokes through the food. Narrower blades felt more agile and were easier to maneuver around food, allowing us to get into a head of cauliflower to snip off florets. In addition, we liked blades that could be used by both lefties and righties. Only one pair of shears failed here; it claimed to be ambidextrous but simply wouldn’t cut for our left-handed testers.
We liked shears that were not too light (sacrificing power) or too heavy (taxing hands): 4 to 5 ounces was ideal. And we preferred shears whose pivot (the central screw, or fulcrum) held the blades together with a medium level of tension. If the tension was too tight, the blades were hard to open and close; too loose and it was difficult to summon the requisite shearing force to help cut the food. In a few cases, the tension loosened over the course of testing; since none of the models can be adjusted, we preferred those that maintained their tension.
Finally, we preferred models with blades that could be separated from each other for cleaning. Unlike models with fixed blades, take-apart models allow the user to get rid of any chicken or herb bits that might get stuck at the pivot, making it easy to sanitize and reuse the shears. And although some users were concerned that these models would come apart when opened wide, we didn’t find this to be an issue during testing.
The handles of the shears were also important. We liked those with finger bows (holes) roomy enough for large hands but not so big that smaller hands struggled to find position. Handles with small bows were uncomfortable for most testers to use, as they generally cramped hands and limited the grip options. We also preferred handles made of grippy plastic as opposed to slick metal; these were more comfortable and easier to hold securely, especially when dealing with wet, slippery chicken.
In the end, our old favorite triumphed yet again. The ambidextrous, take-apart Kershaw Taskmaster Shears ($26.30) had the longest blades in our testing, ensuring smooth, continuous cuts on parchment rounds and chicken parts, and they’re narrow enough to maneuver nimbly through even the most intricate foods. Fitted with deep, angular serrations, the anvil blade securely gripped every type of food we threw at it. And with a cutter blade sharpened to a fairly acute angle—the smallest in our lineup—these shears felt razor-sharp and stayed that way throughout testing. A moderate amount of tension between the blades provided excellent shearing force without taxing our hands too much, and good-size finger bows made of grippy plastic were comfortable for hands of all sizes to hold.
We tested six kitchen shears priced from $12.99 to $39.95, using them to snip twine and herbs, cut parchment rounds, trim pie dough, snap cauliflower into florets, and break down whole chickens into parts. We also had users of different hand sizes and dominant hands take the shears for a spin, clipping the tips off hard, slippery chicken wings. Throughout, we cleaned the shears by hand. We evaluated each model’s performance and ease of use during testing. We weighed each model and measured the blade lengths of each. Manufacturers provided blade angle information. All models were purchased online and appear in order of preference.
Performance: We evaluated the shears on how easily and precisely they cut different foods and kitchen materials.
Ease of Use: We evaluated the shears on how easy they were to open, close, maneuver, and clean; we also rated them on how comfortable and effective they were for users of different hand sizes and dominant hands.
Superior blades gave our former favorite the edge yet again. With a razor-sharp 25-degree angle, the shears’ cutter blade sliced through every kind of food with equal ease. Deep, angular serrations on the anvil blade helped secure slippery foods. The blades’ length (the longest in the lineup) ensured smooth, continuous cutting; their overall narrowness made them easy to maneuver; and a medium level of tension between them provided just enough shearing force without taxing our hands. They’re ambidextrous, comfortable to hold, and can be taken apart for cleaning. Note: The Kershaw Taskmaster Shears and Shun Multi-Purpose Shears are produced at the same factory and are identical products with different branding; prices vary.
With relatively long, narrow, sharp blades, these ambidextrous, take-apart shears were nimble and made nice smooth cuts on all foods. Lots of tiny microserrations on the anvil blade edge helped ensure a secure grip on slippery foods. And its plastic finger bows were comfortable for hands of all sizes. But because they were the lightest shears in our testing, with a fairly loose level of tension between the blades, some testers found them to be less powerful than our winner; a wider blade angle contributed to a slightly less keen-feeling edge.
With a cutter blade sharpened to a knife-like 20 degrees and an anvil blade with lots of tiny microserrations, these ambidextrous, take-apart shears did a great job of gripping and cutting all foods. They were long enough, although the blades were a little wider than our top choice, sacrificing some agility; high tension between the blades made them harder to open and close repeatedly. Testers liked the grippy plastic finger bows, but some found them to be too large, making it tricky for smaller hands to find their position.
These ambidextrous, take-apart shears had comfortable handles and a nice level of tension, making them great for lighter tasks. But the blades, which were shorter than those of most other models, slipped around on chicken parts and rosemary and took more strokes to cut around the perimeter of a parchment round. Also, because the blades were wider, they were less agile when maneuvering around a head of cauliflower.
These shears were serviceable for most tasks but not all that pleasant to use. While the blades were long enough, they were quite wide, feeling clumsy and awkward to maneuver. With medium-size serrations, the anvil blade did a good job of gripping food. But the cutter blade, which was sharpened to a more traditional large angle, felt a bit dull, and a fairly low level of tension between the blades only got more slack over time, providing less and less power for cutting through food. Overall, these shears required more work to operate. Finally, the narrow finger bows were grippy but a little uncomfortable to hold.
These shears were fine for cutting parchment and cauliflower—but little else. With the stumpiest blades in the lineup, they required more cuts to get through food. Rounded, granton-like indentations on the side of the anvil blade provided no traction at all, making these shears especially bad at handling slippery foods; the cutter blade looked nearly flat and felt fairly dull. And over time, this model’s medium tension slackened, lessening its shearing power. Finally, an all-metal construction made these shears heavy and uncomfortable to use for extended periods, as the tiny, narrow steel finger bows dug into testers’ hands.