Ask an average person on the street to describe a work glove and they will likely describe something that looks like a garden glove, or the gloves they see in Big Box home improvement stores.

Ten years ago, the gloves they would have described would have been very different. The typical gardening glove was largely unchanged for 50 years, but it has evolved in the last decade and is typically a seamless knit with a latex palm coat. Gloves popular with the DIY market now are form-fitting, mechanic-style gloves which did not exist ten years ago. More than just cosmetic changes in styles and colors, these are fundamentally different constructions and better gloves for the job at hand, in every measure of the word.

Similar changes in hand protection have also occurred in the work world. Increasingly, the gloves you see in factories and at job sites around North America are not the same glove styles we grew up with.

So what is the difference? It relates, in part, to the kinds of hand injuries employees sustain at work. After sprains and strains, the second most common hand injuries are cuts and lacerations. The prevalence of these injuries has led to developing new cut-resistant gloves. To put it simply, your father would not recognize the new cut-resistant gloves on the market today. In fact, these are not even your older brother’s gloves.

Space-age materials
Today’s cut-resistant gloves are made from space-age materials. Gloves are on the market utilizing materials ten times stronger than steel on an equal-weight basis. Incredibly strong fiber constructions now come into play. Some are so lightweight and dexterous, you can pick up a dime, yet are so cut-resistant that they withstand repeated slashes from a box cutter. No, this is not science fiction.

Leather gloves — once the king of work gloves — used to dominate all medium and heavy-duty jobs. Cotton canvas — the prince of gloves — was the undisputed choice for lighter-duty work. You can still find these gloves on Web sites all over the Internet. They still have applications, still have markets.

Leather is tough and strong; just ask cowboys or motorcycle riders. They continue to wear protective apparel made of it because leather’s abrasion-resistance is hard to improve upon. If you fall off a motorcycle at 60 miles per hour and are skidding across the pavement, it is indeed a very good material to be wearing.

But in terms of cut-resistant performance, the space-age fiber technologies have created new glove categories for cut protection. Many of today’s work gloves are made from two competing materials, Kevlar® and Dyneema®. These space-age materials are used in bullet-proof vests, and are both considerably stronger than steel on an equal-weight basis. Leaf through any safety magazine and you’ll encounter many pages advertising new glove styles made from these cutting-edge materials, none of which, I would wager, were available prior to the year 2000.

Raising the bar
Very recently, the bar of cut resistance was raised even higher in hand protection, with the advent of more styles incorporating stainless steel into both Kevlar and Dyneema glove styles. This might prompt you to ask: if Kevlar and Dyneema are stronger than steel, how would adding steel improve the overall cut resistance? Well, there are several reasons. For one, the claim of being stronger than steel is always prefaced by the words “on an equal-weight basis.” But on a cross-sectional basis, steel wire is stronger than the equal volume of Kevlar or Dyneema.

Pound for pound, Kevlar is much stronger than steel. But a steel-mesh glove, though heavy, is stronger than a Kevlar glove. Also, by engineering how these cut-resistant materials are twisted and plied together, textile engineers are able to get higher cut-resistance values than the sum of their parts would suggest. One can think of it as reinforcing concrete with steel rebar, making something already strong even stronger.

Look at some Kevlar/steel and Dyneema/steel combination gloves on the market now. No, these are not your father’s work gloves. Or even your older brother’s.

Kevlar® is a registered trademark of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company.

Dyneema® is a registered trademark of Royal DSM Group N.V.