Skate Sharpening – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

So there is a good chance if you’re reading this that you’re actually fairly new to hockey skating.  Or perhaps you have been skating for years and just want to know more about sharpening your skates.  Either way the goal of this post is to be a novice’s guide to everything you need to know about skating.

My goal is to:

  1. Help you understand when is a good time to actually sharpen your skates.
  2. How the process of sharpening works
  3. Discuss some of the problems that might occur when you sharpen your skates

If you’re looking for skate reviews – check out my favorite junior and seniors hockey skate reviews.

The Basics of Skate Sharpening

A skate blade is sharpened by making an extremely perfect rounded area called a “valley”. This area is located at the bottom of the blade which gives skaters control over the ice.

If you want to see what I’m talking about just take a quick look at the underside of your skates and you can see that on each individual blade there are multiple edges; not just one.  Each area has a middle area that is hollowed-out.

This area is actually where your skates are sharpened and it’s done by utilizing a grinding wheel used to mold the bladegrinding wheel or in some instances – a finishing wheel.  The grinding wheel is further separated in two separate pieces which form a semicircular. As you run the skate blade across this circular area in a parallel motion you can basically “carve” or sharpen the blade with the same rounded shape.

Skates are secured down with a device known as “jig”. A jig makes sure the skate doesn’t move and the blade remains horizontal. From there the blade is sharpened around ten times until both edges are sharp.

This hollow area is also referred to as the “radius of the hollow”. This area is range from 1/4 of an inch to 1 1/2. The majority of players will opt for a hallow that is roughly 3/8 inch or 5/8. This is all skate sharpening is really, making sure the hallow is razor sharp.

Generally speaking the larger the radius, the more shallow the hollow of the blade is. Another of understanding radius is to think of it as a wheel.  A larger wheel will tend to be slightly flatter than a smaller wheel.  This difference is the old that the wheel will leave on your skates.

This valley is the hollow, or more precisely the “radius of hollow.”

Radius of Skates – How They Affect Sharpening

how does a blade hollow workThe radius of hollow can be varied from ¼-inch to 1 ½-inch, however most players will chose a hollow between 3/8-inch and 5/8-inch. Radius of hollow is the most important aspect of skate sharpening to understand. It’s really pretty simple. The bigger the radius, the shallower the hollow on the blade will be. Picture the radius as a wheel. A bigger wheel is going to be closer to flat than a small wheel. That is the impression the wheel leaves on your skate blade.

The depth of hollow changes the feel of the skates on the ice. A deep hollow such as 3/8-inch will give significant “bite” on the edges at the cost of glide. A shallower hollow like 5/8-inch will allow better glide with some loss of edge bite. Thus, if you’re tripping over your edges and landing on your head, the hollow you are using is likely too deep. If your skates are skidding wildly out of control, you probably need to go deeper on your hollow.

Custom Sharpening Options

Having a hollow of a different depth really changes the feel of your skates.  For example, a deeper hollow like 3/8inch will give a larger “bite” when gliding; meaning you’ll get more power but slightly more friction.  A shallow hollow like 5/8 makes for smoother movement but with a loss of power.

If that seems a bit convoluted think of this, if you’re constantly falling down and tripping over your skate edges than it’s a good chance the hollow is  little too deep. Contrary to that, if you’re skating like a maniac without the ability to stop properly, the hollow probably needs to be a bit deeper.

image showing a sizing chart for skates and how to sharpen them

The above diagram gives you a little bit of insight into how these custom changes can affect your skating ability.  In either case, don’t worry as any profession skate sharpener will know exactly what to do.

 

I’ll add another picture below which gives another visual representation of how the hollow can affect skate sharpening. If you’re unsure of what to use I’d suggest just going with a 5/8, especially for kids.

How to Pick the Perfect Hollow

Let’s just review the above concepts one more time to make sure you got it.

Small Radius Hollow (usually 3/8)

  • Less Energy = More Friction
  • Top Speed is not as high
  • A little bit extra effort is required to skate
  • Great for lighter players
  • Great movement on the ice.
  • Faster turns, stops and explosive movements.

Large Radius Hollow (usually 5/8)

  1. Uses your energy better
  2. Less tiring
  3. Great for new players and kids
  4. Faster speed
  5. Diminished turns and stops

For some more detailed info check out this video to skate sharpening. 

Common Mistakes When Sharpening

There are some issues that can come up when your sharpen your skates. These should be addressed quickly as they can lower the reliability of your gear. The solution for any of these problems is to just get your skates resharpened 🙂

 Alignment Issues

  • An easy way to tell if this is a problem is to look down the length of your blade and check if one side or area is higher than the other. Basically it should be even with no side coming up higher than the other.
  • If one side is taller than the other that’s due to the fact that your grinder didn’t align the wheel well enough when sharpening. Best solution is to resharpen.

image showing some common mistakes when sharpening blades

Not Sharpened Well Enough

  • If your skates are cross-grounded but still not entirely hollowed, skates will have a slight bite in multiple directions. Again the issue with this is basically that the sharpener didn’t spend enough time on the finishing wheel and the edge is not properly set.
  • If you hold your blade up to the light and move it around you can notice two thin lines that run parallel to the edges. These lines differ in color to the rest of the blade.
  • If you can see this on only one edge as opposed to both that’s an indication that your blades were entirely sharpened and there may be some issues.

Too Much Cross Grinding

  • When you take new skates to get sharpened or even to remove rust you often take them to for cross-grinding.  So remember when we talked about the finishing wheel and the jig that holds your skates horizontally. Well, in cross grinding your skate is being held vertically.  The reasoning for this is in cross grinding a much more vigorous shaping of the blade is taking place.
  • Cross grinding allows an older blade to be “reset” the blade to being completely flat on the bottom of the hollow. This in turn allows it to be better aligned when traditional skate sharpening takes place on a finishing wheel.
  • One thing to note – if your skate shop is doing a cross grind every time you take your skates in be wary. This is slightly harmful to the overall lifetime of your skates and they will probably only last you about 1/3 as long as they should.  I’d suggest doing this for the new skates but not every time.

Don’t Sharpen the Tail and Tip Too Much

  • Just like the name says, a skate is design to be fairly flat in the middle section ( middle two-thirds). It’s important to maintain this design and doing so requires the some skill. If your skate is passed over the entire length of the wheel there’s a possibility of it become slightly bend or “rockered” over time.

Just the Right Speed

  • Like I mentioned earlier, the speed at which your skates should be passed through the wheel needs to be maintained. Not too quickly and also not too slowly. It’s best to think of it like crafting a samurai sword – it requires a steady hand and skill.

How Often Do I Need to Sharpen my Skates?

  • This question depends solely on how often you use your skates. Frequent use will naturally require more sharpening. Also it depends where you skate as well, for example pond skating will wear down your blades much faster than just skating on a well kept rink.  On average I’d say that it’s a good call to get your skates sharpened after 10-15 hours of ice-time. For kids this will be substationally less.

How to Maintain Your Skates

  • Aside from buying high quality skates (check out this article to find some), I’d suggest getting a honing stone. This is a little rock that can help you smooth out little kinks and scratches on your skates. These can add up over time and wear you down.

What is Flat Bottom V (FBV) Sharpening?

  • So this works like regular sharpening, it still relies on a wheel to smooth out the blade. The main difference is in the profile, instead of a round wheel design the FBV method relies on a flatter wheel in the center area and will cut from the edges first.  This results in your cross-section are being quite flat in the center and slightly angles at the edges. The purpose behind this kind of design is to allow for better gliding while not compromising control.
Summary
Skate Sharpening 101 - Beginner's Guide
Article Name
Skate Sharpening 101 - Beginner's Guide
Description
Everything you need to know about ice skate sharpening and how often to sharpen your skates.
Author
Publisher Name
Skates HQ

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