By Nathan Griffith – We got a two-pack of fully rigged Rosa-brand sheep hand shears in April, reportedly made in South Africa, sent to us by Allen Gemmell of New Zealand. One sheep hand shear is 7 inches, made for production sheep shearing jobs; the other 5 inches, for general trim and dagging (crutching, dung tag removal).
Mr. Gemmell works with his crew of top-class shearers, each shearing an average of 150+ sheep daily. They use Rosa sheep hand shears because they’re harder steel than most, holding an edge even after sharpening well back into the blades.
50% More Sheep Shorn Daily:
To shear 100+ sheep each day, blade shears must be:
- Easily honed and stay sharp
- Easily closed, not more than 3.5 lbs. (empty) pressure to fully shut
- Sharp enough to cut through felt as big and thick as one’s hand with no undue strain
- Glass-smooth along blade backs, for less wool friction and no scratching of sheep’s delicate skin
- Able to open wide to take big gulps of wool (nibbling at it wastes time)
- Soft-bottoming no “clack” to upset sheep or jar and tire the hand
- Buck-strapped to ease blade tips into wool and keep control if kicked
- Tip-rounded; avoids stabbing sheep
- Resistant to edges flipping behind each other if opened past blade heel
The first two items are largely determined by the manufacturer. Bad steel won’t stay sharp or take a keen edge. We once had Turkish shears that took 11 lbs. to close! The Rosa shears close just a bit stiff, slightly under 4 lbs., though their good grind and temper reduced fatigue enough for me to not be too serious. Brave souls who want their sheep hand shears perfect can follow my instructions in sheep! Sep/Oct 2003, page 26, for heat treating springs.
Razor sharpening of shears is tricky to learn, even with good written instruction. These shears can be your model. Study them and you’ll see how it’s done.
Mr. Gemmell told me he uses well-oiled soft Arkansas stones for honing, available in most good hardware stores here in the U.S.
These shears are very smooth along the blade backs just smooth enough for excellence, though not mirror smooth.
These shears had been “pulled back,” bent at the shank so blade tips open wider to take big chomps of wool. If they weren’t so razor sharp, they wouldn’t be able to get through such full bunches. I easily took 2.5-inch blows (strokes) in shearing, considerably speeding the job.
The 5-inch shear wasn’t pulled back, but took a pretty good chop anyway, and was honed to easily slice right through.
Very heavy leather bumpers had been fitted to the heel stop on the lower blade, the other stop was ground off enough to let tips close fully, even though pulled back: No “clack.”
The 7-inch shears had rubber stitched tightly to the lower handle shank, to avoid blisters in long shearing runs of 150+ sheep. I was told without this rubber covering, the cost was $10 cheaper. Both shears were fitted with buck straps (or “drivers” as they’re called down-under) of heavy nylon web strap tightly taped to the handle using water-resistant, heavy plastic tape. It held up against sheep grease and after-rinsing.
The blade tips weren’t rounded enough for me, but most shearers I know like them that way. One can always round them off more with stone or wheel, but it’s hard to un-round them.
The sheep hand shears were fitted with a spur or “heel plate” as some call it, to keep the blades from flipping over each other no matter how wide apart they’re spread by big bites of wool.
I figure at just $160 for two sheep hand shears delivered from New Zealand, one can’t go wrong. Here’s why:
It takes at least four hours to rig a shear, probably longer for us normal mortals. Specialized work with special tools is worth at least $10/hour, probably more.
Big unrigged sheep hand shears cost about $50; small, around $35. Add $40 for rigging, $5 materials and $5 to get ’em homeyou’re in for $85 to $100/each. I figure this “two-fer” deal (perfectly rigged at $160) saves about $25. They’re good for at least 800 sheep each. One’s tally boost should quickly repay for the rigging. Ed Note: Prices are from 2010.
Visit Allen Gemmell’s website at www.shearingsheep.com.
Which sheep hand shears do you recommend?
Originally published in sheep! July / August 2010 and regularly vetted for accuracy.