Ice hockey is a great past time you can play all year round. You just need some good friends, an ice rink, hockey sticks, and a nice pair of sharp ice skates. Adequately sharpened ice skates are mandatory equipment when playing on any ice surface.
Unfortunately, only some new ice skates come sharpened from the factory. Most skates arrive dull and require sharpening before you try them. Even if you do buy them already sharpened, you still want to re-sharpen them as shipping can ding the blades.
Luckily, there are easy methods to check blade sharpness and then sharpen them to like-new condition. These methods take some effort, but they will work on any skate blades out there.
Good ice skates that fit your feet should always be your goal when buying them, but sometimes they are no good out of the box, but not because they are dull. Most ice skates do come pre-sharpened from the factory. The issue is all the handling and wear that happens to them before you get them.
Before you bought them, your skates probably went through the hands of a few hundred people. Some of these people were other customers who tried them on but returned them. Others are the delivery truck drivers and the store clerks who may have tossed the blades around without a care.
In either case, the drops, bumps, and scratches can dull even the sharpest blades. These concerns are why most manufacturers and skating experts recommend sharpening any new blades you buy. This sharpening is the only way to know if the skates are ready to go. Or, you at least want to give them a quick sharpness check.
Any time someone hands you a pair of skates, you want to check their sharpness before using them. This rule applies to skates you buy from a store or those that were given to you as a gift. While you need professional equipment to truly know how sharp your blades are, there is a quick check you can do anywhere.
- Run your thumbnail down the edge; if the blade shaves off some of the nails, the blade is sharp enough to use as is. It would be best if you did this on either side of the “U” shape profile of the blade, including its front, middle, and back.
- If the blade fails to shave your nail, then you need to sharpen it. If it only fails at a certain point, you can use a self-sharpening kit to smooth out that rough patch.
Another important consideration is if your skates are dedicated ice hockey skates or not. Only ice hockey blades come with the standard U-shape. Other types of skate often come with a more rounded edge. These skates always require sharpening even if they come with plastic holders.
Regardless of the blade, you need to re-sharpen them every 15-20 hours of ice time. So, you may still want to get your blades toped off and clear of any deformations before you jump on to the ice.
Before you press any grinding stone against your blades, you should know that ice skate sharpening is different than sharpening a knife. The U-shape of a hockey blade offers two edges separated by a groove instead of the single blades you find on knives.
The groove, called the blade’s hollow, is the key feature of ice skate sharpening. You must ensure that the hollow is deep enough to prevent inhibiting your performance on the ice.
- Deep hollows provide more movement and control at the expense of speed.
- Shallow hollows make you faster but require more effort to turn.
Therefore, you must file all five surfaces of the blade to ensure you have the proper sharpening level for your skills and your desired use.
Under normal conditions, most ice skates require re-sharpening about every 15 to 20 hours of use. Therefore, you want to adhere to a regular sharpening schedule to keep your blades as good as new. However, there are times when you may need to do it more often. Other times, you may want to do it less often as sharping the blades too much can wear them out permanently.
Luckily, there is a short test you can do to know when you must sharpen the blades. While not foolproof, these steps can inform you about the condition of the blades.
- Loss of Control: If you can no longer do quick turns or the blades don’t dig into the ice as they should, it might be time for some sharpening.
- The Thumbnail Test: Rub your thumbnail lightly over the blade to feel for nicks and gouges. Sharpen the blade to remove them. If the blades feel sharp to the touch, they are fine.
- The Light Test: Place the blade under a bright light and check for a reflection on its edge. Any reflection is a sign of a dull blade.
Beyond the above tests, there are other things you may want to consider when deciding your sharpening schedule. Some of these considerations you have complete control over, and therefore can customize your skates to improve their longevity. Others are out of your control and must be dealt with as you come across them.
- The temperature of the ice can change how fast your blades wear out, with colder ice accelerating the process faster than warm ice.
- Modern stainless-steel blades can survive through 100 to 150 filings before breaking. The quality of the steel determines towards which side of the range your blades will fall.
- Debris tends to cover outdoor ice faster than indoor ice creating a potential hazard for your blades.
- Not every skate shop is reputable. Some shops may claim to be professionals but will not correctly sharpen your blades, leaving them weaker in the process.
- Blade guards can protect your blades from gravel, dirt, and other debris while you are off the ice. Just make sure you get the right size and type of guard for your skates.
Even with a regular schedule, ice blade sharpening is not something you can just do at a moment’s notice. Without the proper precautions, you can sharpen the blades poorly or cause irreparable damage to the blades or yourself.
Because of the risks, you generally do not want to sharpen your ice skates yourself. You should always seek the advice of a professional shop. A reputable shop will have the right equipment to properly fix the blade without harming themselves or the blade.
With that said, you can sharpen your skates yourself. You will want the special machines the pros use, but you can go without them in a pinch. Typically, you only want to self-sharpen your blades if you only need to spot sharpen them. This way, you lower the deformity risks associated with manual grinding.
Just remember that you must sharpen all four sides of the edges as well as the hollow in the middle. There is no right or wrong way to sharpen a blade. If it does not break or impede your desired performance level, any amount of grinding will work. You can even curve the edges or leave them flat.
While some new ice skates do come pre-sharpened from the factory, you may still want to file their edges before using them. They can become damaged during shipping, leaving you with a dull blade. Fortunately, there is a quick check you can do to see how much grinding you need to get your skates ready for the ice.