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:
- Help you understand when is a good time to actually sharpen your skates.
- How the process of sharpening works
- Discuss some of the problems that might occur when you sharpen your skates
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 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
The 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.
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)
- Uses your energy better
- Less tiring
- Great for new players and kids
- Faster speed
- Diminished turns and stops
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
- 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.
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.