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There are many now obsolete words for traditional crafts that are done by machines now, but many are still used because of the craftspeople that work hard to preserve the skills and knowledge to keep it alive.

I was curious when reading about the process involved in making scissors, and to find out that from most of the online resources I can see (many of which cite the same pieces of information, like this one) that the person who completes the final steps of making a scissors that involves putting the two halves of the scissors together is called a putter. More specifically, it is short for a putter-togetherer.

Is there really no other words in usage to describe this profession? It appears to be a non-trivial skill that requires a five-year apprenticeship, yet the name doesn't really do it justice.

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    Linguæ latinæ liber dictionarius quadripartitus (1715) Conjugator - One that joins or couples, a putter together, a matcher. The "double-inflected" a putter-togetherer is so obviously "ungrammatical" it can only really be called facetious / whimsical, but with or without hyphens, putter-together clearly has a long history and wide range far beyond scissor-making. Feb 19 at 11:31
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    And here's a sweeper, a gatherer, a putter together from a 1648 dictionary, which clearly has nothing to do with cutlers. Feb 19 at 11:39
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    putter-togetherer is an example of a humorous idiomatic way of describing the person who does an action by putting -er on the end of the words which describe the action. It's common in humorous writing and is often used to imply the speaker does not know the correct name, and is coming up with an ad hoc name instead. A trash picker-upper, a form filler-outer, and similar.
    – barbecue
    Feb 20 at 13:42

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The Sheffield-based company Ernest Wright, established in 1902, is one of the last two remaining British manufacturers who still make scissors by hand. They have a website with several videos dedicated to the art of scissor-making. The craftsmen terms “putter” and “putter togetherer” are used.

The artisan scissors-makers (known as ‘putters’) at Ernest Wright, Sheffield, explain some of the physical qualities, characteristics and crafting processes that go into a fine pair of handmade scissors – as well as providing some background on Sheffield’s steel and cutlery heritage.

Further on is another short video with the following description

Cliff Denton is “The Putter,” or more specifically he’s a ‘putter-togetherer of scissors.’ As the modern world has moved toward machine-made goods, Denton and his unique skills are working diligently at Ernest Wright of Sheffield, the last remaining hand manufacturer of scissors.

This was (and still is) a highly skilled job, after watching the short video it's easy to see why an apprenticeship could be as long as five years. It is certainly not a job for the faint hearted nor one you could possibly master in a month of workshop sessions.

There is a seven-year-old short documentary on YouTube entitled The Putter-togetherers. And there's the viral video by Shaun Bloodworth, which is said to have been responsible for saving Ernest Wight from closure. In another ten-year-old video the term is used yet again but by a different filmmaker: “Cliff works as a master scissors putter-togetherer. Yes, that's his official title.”

This is a screen capture of the aforementioned craftsman in a BBC short report

Cliff Denton with his official title Master Putter-togetherer on screen

A fancier, grander-sounding title appears never to have existed.

In an 1856 reference book, entitled *Turning and Mechanical Manipulation”, the craftsman responsible for assembling and sharpening the scissor blades was called a “putter together”. The following is an excerpt:

“The peculiar form of the insides of the blades is in all cases of paramount importance, and in the manufacture of fine scissors is attended to by a person called a ‘putter-together’, whose province it is to examine the screw-joint, and see to the form of the riding-places, and lastly to set the edges of the scissors, which for general purposes are sharpened on an ooilstone at an angle of about 40 degrees, but for fine scissors more nearly upright or at about 30 degrees from the perpendicular.”

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I'm pretty sure that that source is just wrong about "putter togetherer" being a traditional term for a specific well-established profession involved in the manufacturing of scissors. Indeed, I'm not sure that this was considered some sort of highly specialized craft; I haven't found any reliable sources for the idea that it traditionally required a special apprenticeship or even that it was considered a uniquely highly skilled job.

There are 19th-century sources that use "putter together" (without the extra "-er") to describe a worker involved in the final part of the scissors-manufacturing process, such as Holtzapffel (1856) and Holland (1831). But the term "putter together" was used to describe workers who made a wide variety of manufactured goods, such as umbrellas (as in this piece from 1853), knife handles (as in Pearce (1852)), papier-mâché (as in Measom (1861)), mosaics (as in this work from 1896), and even medicines (as in Attfield (1879)).

It seems that "putter together" was just a generic term for people involved in various relatively complex manufacturing tasks, and that it did not have any use specific to scissors-making.

Edit: as the other answer points out, certain artisanal scissors manufacturers today have adopted the term "putter together(er)" and claim that this is a longstanding title specific to the manufacture of scissors. I can't find any evidence that this has any historical basis, and I strongly suspect that this is just an invented tradition used for the sake of marketing. Historical sources clearly demonstrate that the word in question was just a way of describing someone involved in the assembly of pretty much any manufactured good. No doubt it was then used for those involved in making scissors, but it was also used to describe those making (say) umbrellas, without any obvious suggestion that the former involved more specialized skill than the latter.

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    So, "putter together" is just an old-fashioned term for "assembler"?
    – Dan
    Feb 19 at 23:33
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    @Dan Yes, and I suspect it was a fairly informal one. I don't think it was considered a particularly valuable title.
    – alphabet
    Feb 19 at 23:58
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    @alphabet However by comparison I'd remind you that an industrial fitter was traditionally a highly-skilled craftsman who finished components to a thou (i.e. a thousandth of an inch, 25 microns) or better to get them to play nicely. That's at the opposite extreme of a fettler who used a lump hammer to knock the sprue and riser off castings, and was colloquially referred to as "a butcher" :-) Feb 20 at 20:09
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I'd have expected this to have been done by a cutler, who is a tradesman that deals with domestic knives etc. as distinct from a bladesmith or an armourer... or for that matter a farrier (same material, different speciality) or a general blacksmith.

I believe that there's a cameo in "The Irish RM" where a barber's scissors have been sent to the blacksmith for the rivet to be tightened, but suspect that was more a comment on the rural society than on the naming of craftsmen.

However it's worth noting that that resulted in the barber using the local shepherd's shears (i.e. the blades were sprung rather than riveted) and there might be an older word for the occupation of finishing those.

As a more general point in response to a comment: traditionally, a tradesman would consider himself competent to undertake work either in the speciality in which he'd been trained or where he had developed a novel technique which extended his profession: if he went beyond that, he risked encroaching on the prerogative of a guild of which he was not a member.

Hence a blacksmith (or bladesmith etc.) would not have apprentices or journeymen (who he had trained) doing fine work with which he was unfamiliar, but he might hire (or lease workshop space to) a specialist craftsman.

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  • Would a blacksmith also have a workshop setup where he or his apprentices or fellow crafstmen could handle tiny delicate work at their benches at the same time as the heavy duty stuff at the stable end? Feb 19 at 23:47
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    @PrimeMover I think that traditionally it would have been more common for a smith to be fairly specialised, and to train (hence employ) similar specialists by propagating his own qualifications; if there was something that he'd not himself been trained in he'd send it to somebody else (e.g. a traditional blacksmith wouldn't do lathe work). Having said which, even a fine rivet plus making up the necessary staking tools would give him no problem. Things would of course be different where craftsmen with different specialities combined into a larger enterprise, e.g. after the Industrial Revolution Feb 20 at 7:30
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    Early scissors did not have a pivot, they were made by heating a bar of iron or steel, then flattening and shaping its ends into blades on an anvil. The center of the bar was heated, bent to form the spring, then cooled and reheated to make it flexible. So were they more likely to have come out of a blacksmith's shop or a cutler's? Perhaps both: the smith forging the basic shape, to be honed by the cutler. As a single piece of metal, there would have been no putter-togetherer. Feb 21 at 18:47
  • @WeatherVane I am fully aware of that, hence my comment about shepherd's shears which are still of that pattern. I've seen them with separate blades and hoop (i.e. the flexible bit) riveted together, but in any event (as you've suggested) I'd expect the blades and hoop to be tempered differently. I can assure you that when dealing with a large number of unfriendly brutes that don't want to be shorn, possibly in questionable weather, you /need/ tough and well-made equipment... Feb 22 at 7:36

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