The Image above is at Toronto Pro Shop. Finding a great Pro Shop with a professional skate sharpener is like finding a great car mechanic that knows your vehicle inside out. Build that same relationship, so they can help you find that edge! Thanks to Dennis & Co. At Toronto Pro located in Vaughan. Let them know… You heard about them from HockeyNeeds!
There are a lot of articles about skate sharpening on the net. Some go into great detail to explain everything that could be relevant and others are more general. This article is intended to act as a “Beginner’s Guide for Skate Sharpening”, which will make sure that you:
- Understand when to bring your skates to sharpen at a Pro Shop
- Customizing or Profiling your skate’s blades
- Identify or watch for potential problems when your skates are being sharpened
As a young kid heading to rinks every Sunday morning to play house league hockey, I was always fascinated with Jim, the person that operated the small Pro Shop at Downsview Arena, when he sharpened my skates. I would drive Jim up the wall with all the questions I asked regarding the different techniques for sharpening my skates. Years later, I now know how Jim feels with all the questions I get from my players and that is – “What is the correct or best way to sharpen my skates”.
I will try my best to explain all the different skate sharpening methods from hollows to rockers and in between.
Here’s what you need to know about how a skate blade functions on ice
When looking closely at the bottom of your skates, you will notice that each blade does not have a single edge like a knife. Instead, you will see a rounded (hollowed) upside-down U section in the middle that will give the blade two small edges. This process helps the blade to balance, glide, and cut into the ice effectively.
Standard Skate Sharpen
The technician will start the process by passing the blade along with the grinding wheel, which is called a finishing wheel. The finishing wheel has two semicircular pieces and the cross-sectional edge that is rounded, like a segment of a circle. When the technician passes the skate blade on the finishing wheel, parallel to the direction of the wheel’s rotation, it will create this rounded (Hollow) U shape into the bottom of the blade. That is why you will see the technician clamp your skate into a jig that holds the blade horizontally and then aligned with the finishing wheel. The blade is gently passed along the finishing wheel until the edges are sharp and the bottom is fully hollowed out. Finally, the technician will pass a stone on both sides of the blades. A couple of soft passes are all that is needed. Otherwise, the technician can damage the edges.
Hollow – Skate blades are not flat. A hollow or ‘U’ shape is ground into the blade to create a right and left edge. The deeper the hollow or U shape, the sharper a skate feels. Also, a sharper skate will give you more bite but less glide. The following are common sharpening measurements in order of deepest to shallow: 1/4, 3/8, 7/16, 1/2, 5/8.
Repairing the Blade
Cross Grinding – This is a process that brings the blade back to a flat surface. It is a technique that is used to remove damage done to the blade such as nicks or poor levels.
Customizing or Profiling Your Skate Blade
There are a few aspects to skate sharpening that can be customized or profiled. As mentioned earlier, sharpening your skates involves passing them over a spinning stone with a rounded outer surface. This surface can be modified to have a much curved surface resembling a segment of a small circle, or it can be flatter, resembling part of a larger one. Altering the shape of the wheel’s surface will alter the size of the hollow of your skate blades.
Here Are A Few Popular Customizing or Profiling
Flat Bottom V – Rather than being a ‘U’ Shape hollow, the FBV has a flat bottom and ‘V’ shaped sides. This shape allows the skate more bite without sacrificing the ability to glide. Because the blade does not penetrate the ice as deeply, there is less chance of catching an edge, reducing the chances of falling during transitions for less experienced or less skilled skaters. There is also a reduction of the twisting forces applied to knees, which means less wear and tear on the joints.
Contouring – Also referred to as “Rockering,” is the actual shaping of the blade. This allows different lengths of the blade making contact with the ice. The more contact with the ice, the greater amount of glide. The lesser amount of contact creates the ability to turn sharper (smaller radius). The goal is to create a balance between glide and turning radius, custom designed for the individual skater. Examples of common radius measurements, from the most amount of glide or contact to the least (or sharpest turning radius), are 13’, 11’, 9’, 7’.
Precision Balance – Is a method of sharpening that will enhance your skating ability and performance on the ice. Speed, Power, Balance, and Stability, the critical elements of skating, can be affected as a result of precise sharpening and contouring.
Precision Balance Sharpening addresses all of the inherent variables that affect the skate blade so that a better quality sharpening can be achieved. Blade thickness, for example, can reduce the bite angle of your blade and can ultimately cause slippage while your leg is at full extension during the skating stride.
How To “Catch” Major Sharpening Issues
Here are two Major Issues that make your skates effectively unusable until the problem is fixed. There are two common major issues that can do this. In either case, the only solution is to get your skates re-sharpened.
1. Improper Alignment:
This happens when the technician did not properly align your skate blade with the grinding wheel. It causes one edge to be taller than the other.
Skates will have plenty of bites when turning/stopping in one direction but will feel like they’re slipping out when going the other way.
When looking down the length of the blade, you will see one edge is higher than the other. If you balance a coin or other flat object on the top of the blade, you may notice it is tilted.
2. Not Fully Sharpened:
This is when your skates are cross-ground (either partially or fully) but then not completely hollowed back out. Skates will have very little bite in every direction, making it tough to push, turn, stop, or other types of movement. This is due to the blade being flattened from the cross-grind wheel and the technician did not pass it over the finishing wheel enough times for it to regain the proper edge.
When looking at the bottom of the blade, you will see two thin lines running down the edges with a slightly different “sheen” or color. Sometimes you need to hold the blade up to a light source and tilt back and forth to see. If you only notice this appearance on one edge of each blade, your skates were not fully sharpened and improperly aligned.
Common Questions Parents and Players Ask
How Often Should I Sharpen My Skates?
This is based on personal preference. Some players will sharpen their blades frequently, such as every 2-3 hours of ice time. While others can go an entire season without sharpening their blades. If you’re unsure of where to start, try getting them sharpened after 10 hours of ice time, and then adjust as you feel is necessary.
A Little Tip – Colder ice (especially outdoors rinks) is much harder, and will dull your skates very quickly. If you’re playing with your buddies on an outdoor rink, it’s probably a good idea to get your skates sharpened before your next game.
What Can I Do To Maintain My Skates In Between Sharpening?
A honing stone is a great choice for maintaining your blades. Its job is to smooth out any burrs or nicks that can form on the sides of your blades, which can catch the ice and slow you down.
A re-edging tools such as the sweet stick cannot and should not replace regular sharpening. The reason why, those tools do not hollow out the bottom of the blade the way an actual sharpening wheel would. Instead, they scrape away at the outsides of your blades by tapering them to create a temporary edge. These tools should be used for the occasional touch-up only if you are not able to get your skates sharpened before your game.
Final Wrap Up
This article is mostly directed to help young parents and players that are starting their minor hockey journey and looking for some general information. At every level of the game, it is imperative for players (and parents) the importance of having their blades sharpened correctly. Maintaining a sharp skate blade will determine a great deal about how you will be able to turn, stop, your speed, and the ability to control your body movement.
The most common problem that I have experience or read with skate blades is that after sharpening between 70-80% of skate blades are uneven. Because of the unevenness in the blade, this will force the body to compensate and ultimately compromise the health of the player. It affects the balance of the skater and the player’s ability to hold their edges. I cannot stress this final point. Finding a great Pro Shop (in my case, Toronto Pro Shop) with a professional skate sharpener is like finding a great car mechanic that knows your vehicle inside out. Build that same relationship, so they can help you find that edge!
I would like to give a special thanks to John M. Wynne from Verbero Hockey for assisting with this article. If you need any team apparel John can offer a full web-based program to assist your hockey organization with Verbero’s custom equipment and apparel programs.
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