How Sharp are Your Skates?

hockey skate bladeHave you ever looked at your skate blade up close? Before I did I guess I assumed it would resemble a knife blade–one sharp edge created by bringing the metal to a thin, triangle-shaped point. This is not actually the case though, the blade on your hockey skate looks more like fingernail clippers. Go ahead, grab your skates and check them out. You can barely see it, but it’s there.  You may have heard a coach advise a new player to utilize all four of his edges.  The reason he will say this is because each skate has two edges, one on each side. Therefore, a pair of skates will have four edges.

Measuring the Groove

skate blade radiusThe radius of hollow (ROH) measures the depth of the groove between the two edges and are usually somewhere from ⅜” to 1-¼”. (To put these sizes into perspective, a penny has a 3/8″ radius). The grinding wheel will dictate how deep or shallow the blades ROH will be. The larger the radius, the flatter the skate blade will turn out. A diamond dressing tool is used to true the grinding wheel before each sharpening to ensure an accurate radius.

Deep or Shallow?

You want to find the perfect balance between maneuverability and speed.  To understand which one you should choose, let’s look at how different radii affect the skater.  A deep hollow is sometimes mistakenly referred to as being sharper than a shallow hollow because of how the blade feels on the ice. A deeper hollow means an increased edge, which translates into more “bite” because the blade digs deeper into the ice with each movement.  A shallow hollow, on the other hand, reduces friction making it easier to glide, requiring less effort for each stride. This is why speed skaters use a flat grind, because they don’t need to make tight turns or corner quickly. If you aren’t sure where to start, try somewhere in the middle such as ⅝” or ½”.
skate radius chart

Factors to Consider

1. Weight

The heavier the player, the deeper his skates will dig into the ice. A 6’3″ 240 lb. guy riding a ⅜” blade may find himself toppling over wheras a 50 lb mite will be just fine.

2. Ice Temperature/Hardness

Similar to weight, the hardness of the ice will determine how much your blades sink in. Skating on soft ice will feel slower, but can be adjusted by using a higher ROH. If the ice is harder (Under 23°F) you might find yourself slipping so going to a more aggressive edge (lower ROH) might correct the problem.

3. Skill Level/Position/Style

As you get more experience you will be able to tell what works best for your style of play. A defender who likes to take the puck coast-to-coast might like a flatter blade (higher ROH) so he can skate across the rink quickly. If you are like me and come from a roller hockey background you might try a more aggressive edge. The reason I say this is because inline skates have NO lateral gliding–just try the snowplough stop next time you play roller hockey and see what happens! A lower ROH may feel more familiar, but then again it might not. You just have to be patient and explore your options.

How Often Should Skates Be Sharpened?

The answer to this question depends so much on skater preference, but in general I’d say every 10-25 hours of ice time. Skating outdoors will require more frequent sharpening due to debris that often collects and nicks the blade. Keep in mind each time you sharpen your skates, your blade will become just a little bit shorter and, unless  you want your boot to grab the ice on a sharp turn, will need to be replaced. Oh, one more thing: Brand new skates will need to be sharpened.

What to Look for After a Sharpening

uneven edgesImmediately after getting your skates back from the shop, take a good look at them. Feel them with your finger. Get familiar with what a freshly sharpened skate is like so you know when it’s time to service it again. Check to see if the edges are even. This can be done by holding a flat object—a credit card, for example—and seeing if both edges hit the object at the same place.Uneven edges will cause your skates to feel different on one side when turning. Misaligned edges can also occur over time through normal use.

Maintenance Tips

  • After each game, wipe down your blades completely to eliminate any water build up. Water can lead to rust and that will shorten the lifespan of your blade
  • Avoid walking on rough surfaces if possible
  • Make sure when you walk through the gate you step over the threshold
  • Dry your skates upside down so no moisture seeps onto the blades


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1 Comment

  1. Jeremy said on December 25, 2012

    Awesome information here. Thanks for this!

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