Time To Sharpen Your Skates?
It’s essential to maintain a degree of sharpness in your hockey skates to stay at the top of your game. If the blade is too dull—or even too sharp—it can affect your game negatively. But many new players aren’t sure when and how often they should sharpen their skates.
Young players can get their hockey skates sharpened every 2-4 weeks or 20-30 hours of ice time. If you push hard on your edges, you’ll want it done more often. But this time frame is only to give you an idea; it would be best to sharpen your skates whenever you feel like it’s affecting your game.
You also need to know the skate sharpening mechanism and how to figure out it’s time to get it done. To help you with all of that, in this article, we’ll discuss the ‘when,’ ‘how,’ ‘where,’ and ‘why’ of hockey skate sharpening.
This section is where we give you the dreaded “it depends” answer. But please stay with us, there are a few things to keep in mind, and you’ll be an expert by the end of this article.
Some people suggest sharpening the skates every 10-15 hours of ice time, while others think it should be every 5-6 hours. There are also those who prefer to do it once a month, which is around 30 hours of regular youth hockey. And we’ve also seen some over-excited parents getting their kid’s skates sharpened every week, which often does more harm than good.
The fact is that different skaters can handle different degrees of dullness. So it all depends on what kind of player you are, how often you skate, and what suits you best.
Here are some guidelines to help you determine how often your skates should be sharpened:
- A player in initiation or novice hockey needs to get their skates sharpened more often. This is because they tend to step on pucks, sticks, and other things in the dressing room, which dulls their skate blades more quickly. (Note: Initiation hockey means kids aged 5 and 6 years (U7 or under 7). Players who are 7- or 8-years old fall in the novice category (U9 or under 9).)
- If you’re hard on your edges, you’ll need to get it sharpened more frequently. Depending on how often you skate, you could even do it every 5-6 hours of ice time.
- If you have a nick in your blade, you should get them sharpened as soon as possible. This is so that you don’t keep falling down all the time. A nick along the edge of your skate blade will cause you to stumble and often fall. Developing a nick is easy, so you need to check your blades every so often for them (more on that later).
- The temperature of the ice influences how quickly the blade dulls. Colder ice is more rigid, which means it will wear your edges faster.
- If you’re practicing on an indoor rink, your skate blades can do longer without needing sharpening. On the contrary, outdoor ice is often colder, and there’s also dirt, leaves, sticks, and other debris. So you’ll have to get the blades sharpened more often.
- You get what you pay for. Good-quality skates have better-quality steel blades. They require fewer touch-ups, and their edges last longer.
As we’ve discussed, an essential part of the process is to keep an eye out for nicks or performance issues. A novice player may not have much experience with this, but knowing when to sharpen your blades is easier than you might think.
Say you are only going around in a circle, not doing many tight turns, tricks, or stops. Then, you’ll need to get your skates sharpened much less often than somebody who’s more active on their blade.
On the other hand, if you like to turn, stop, or crossover a lot, you may occasionally find that your skates are slipping out, and you’re losing your edge. When you start noticing these symptoms, it means the blade is getting dull or blunt. So it’s time to get your edges sharpened.
It’s also a good idea to visually inspect your skates every time you come to the ice rink. By skates, I mean all parts of it and not just the blade. Make sure none of your laces are cut or torn. Look at the boot itself and ensure that the rivets are in place. And finally, come to the skate blade.
Closely look at both edges of the blade. See if you can notice any little nicks or dings that are affecting your edges. Next, slowly rub your finger on the blade. These nicks are often hard to spot with your naked eyes, and rubbing your finger can help you feel them. Remember to go slow with your finger; if the skates are sharp, you can easily cut yourself.
Feeling the blades before and after sharpening will help you learn what sharp and dull blades feel like. Then, it’ll become easier to figure out if a pair of blades need sharpening or not.
Now you know the when of skate sharpening, but there’s more. To understand how to get your skates sharpened, you should know what happens when you’re skating on the ice.
When a person glides across the ice, the blade is the only part that makes contact with the surface. It melts the ice because of friction and allows you to slide on the small amount of water generated. As soon as you go past the surface, the water freezes back to ice.
The weight of the player is also crucial because ice melts under pressure. It determines how deeply the blade cuts into the ice and what type of sharpening will best suit the player.
This is why I recommend not to sharpen your blades too much for young hockey players. Scientifically, the lighter the player is, the less ice is melted by their blade. Sharper blades can actually hinder their game because the skates will “bite” into the ice more than necessary.
So why should you get your skates sharpened? Because it improves your push and glide, allows you to generate speed better, and reduces your chances of falling. A sharper blade can cut into the ice more easily.
Not sharpening your blades can severely lower your game, and it can even be dangerous. For example, say you like to go very fast and stop, spraying ice on the boards. If you lose your edge while doing that, you might slip out and go straight into the boards. So it’s always best to get your skates sharpened whenever you feel like you’re losing the edge.
It’s useful to understand how blades are sharpened. It’ll help you figure out what type of sharpening (or how much sharpening) you need to get.
Skates are sharpened by running the blade across the center portion of a spinning grinding wheel. The wheel removes material from the skate, creating a hollow groove in the middle and making it sharper. By adjusting the face of the grinding wheel, we can choose to make the hollow deep or shallow.
Take a look at your blade. You’ll see that it has two distinct edges that carve into the surface. The edge towards the inside of a skater’s foot is known as the ‘inside’ edge. Similarly, the edge toward the outside of a skater’s foot is known as the ‘outside’ edge.
Hollow refers to the cut or depression in the blade. When we sharpen the skates, a hollow groove is carved into the center of the bottom of the skate blade. It’s cut deep enough that only the two edges (inside and outside) are left on each side. The deeper the hollow is, the more pronounced your edges will be.
The hollow directly affects your skating performance. As we’ll discuss, it even determines whether you’ll be able to stop or not after getting your skates sharpened.
Another thing to understand is the radius of the hollow. The radius is how you measure the depth of your hollow. If a blade has a huge radius, it means that the hollow is relatively shallow.
The next few sections will discuss how to find out the optimal radius for your blades.
A deep hollow means a small radius. If the hollow of your blade is deep, it’ll feel sharper and have more edge. More surface area comes in contact with the ground, allowing it to carve deeper into the ice. This provides extra grip and the ability to hold very tight turns. However, the drawback is that it’s less maneuverable. Also, since the blades are deeper into the ice, there will be additional friction, and you’ll have to work harder to glide.
On the contrary, a shallow hollow means a larger radius. It doesn’t have the sharp feeling of a deeper hollow and also has comparatively less edge. Less surface area of the blade makes contact with the ground, giving you less grip. However, the plus point is that it’s more maneuverable and faster. Since a smaller portion of the blade cuts into the ice, you will have less friction opposing your movement.
Your skates’ edges will be sharp after a grinding, no matter how shallow or deep the hollow is. The question you need to ask yourself is whether the edges are sharp enough for your skating or too sharp to suit your style.
Thanks, I now know everything about the physics of skate blades. But how will any of this help me decide how to sharpen them?
Fair enough. The most important part of skate sharpening is knowing what to tell the guy behind the counter. By now, you know that it’s not enough just to say “sharpen my skates please”—which is what many players do.
If you tell them nothing else, they’ll sharpen to whatever hollow they cut for most players or whatever hollow the machine is set up to cut. The result will be that you won’t get a consistent hollow, which means you will never figure out what works best for you. So it’s best to be specific about the hollow you want. Let us answer the question.
We’re sorry, but we have to give you the “it depends” again. There are several variables at play when deciding what hollow might be best for you.
- The first factor is your weight. A lighter skater can even use a tiny radius (or deep hollow) effectively. The extra edge will help the blades bite into the ice, and it won’t be a problem if the player doesn’t have much weight on the ice. The same hollow will result in too much bite for a heavier player. They’ll have trouble stopping without tipping over and will also have to work harder to glide.
- The hardness of the ice also affects your choice of hollow. Most rink managers try to maintain a 25°F temperature of the ice. 17° to 23° is believed to be “hard” hockey ice. For hard ice, more bite is needed, which means a deeper hollow will work better.
- Lastly, the position you play. As we’ve discussed, a deeper hollow allows you to make quicker, tighter turns, but it also sacrifices glide. For this reason, forwards prefer deeper hollows than defensemen of similar weight. And goalies tend to like very shallow hollows.
So you see, you’ll have to experiment to figure out the sweet spot for your skating needs. But with what radius should you start testing?
We recommend you begin with 1/2”. It’s one of the most common radiuses among young hockey players, so it’s a good starting point. Odds are, you’ll do fine with it.
Go for a shallower hollow if you feel like you’re digging in too much, or your skate chatters when you stop, or if it takes a lot of effort to move. Similarly, try deepening your hollow if you tend to fall every time you want to make a tight turn.
Keep experimenting with different types of sharpening until you find the best spot for yourself. There isn’t a definitive answer to most questions about skate sharpening. But the above guidelines will help you find your fit.
In any case, the radius of your blades should never be less than 1/4”. It’s too sharp to be useful for anyone and weakens the grinding wheel, creating a safety risk.
Finally, here’s a chart to give you a general idea of what radiuses players opt for based on their use:
|Type of Play||Optimal Radius|
|Ice Dance/Competitive||3/8” to 7/16”|
|Hockey Goalie||1 to 1.25”|
Phew, you’ve made it almost to the end. The last thing you need to know before getting your degree in skate sharpening is where to get it done. You’ll be glad to know it’s the least complicated part of the entire process.
In some arenas, you’ll find coin-operated sharpening machines where you have to mount the skates in the device. It would be best if you didn’t use them because there’s a good chance you aren’t setting the skates up correctly. And by continuing to use these machines, you risk ruining the skate blade.
Then there are sporting goods retailers (like Oshman’s or Modell’s in the United States). Some of these places offer sharpening as a service. However, I would advise you to avoid using these services as well. They’re likely using a similar skate sharpening machine that works automatically.
Granted, now the person mounting the skates knows more than you do, but it’s still not the best place to sharpen your blades. You never know when they might mess something up.
Don’t worry; We won’t tell you that you have to get an electric knife sharpener and do it yourself. So, where should you get it done then?
The best people for skate sharpening are usually those at rink pro shops. They typically hold the skate in their hand while they’re sharpening it. They also ask you what hollow you want (and assuming you haven’t skipped any part of this article, you already know the answer to that. You’re welcome.).
We’ve talked about a lot of important stuff in this article, aiming to make you an expert at skate sharpening. Your skates are the link between you and the ice. Therefore, it’s crucial to know how often you should sharpen them. It’s also equally important to know the specifics of skate sharpening and where to get it done. These things become more important as you transition into an advanced player.
So if you’re having trouble floating on ice, maybe it’s time to take a look at your blades and see how they’re holding up.
By the way, sharpening isn’t the only change you can make; you can also change your skate’s hollow, contour, or bias. But these are topics for another day.
- Wikipedia: Minor ice hockey
- Pure Hockey: Hockey Skate Sharpening Guide
- Medium: When to Sharpen Skates?
- The Hockey Fanatic: Hockey Tips: How to Know When to Sharpen Your Skates
- Skate Amherstburg: How often do skates need to be sharpened?
- Hockey Family HQ: When Should I Sharpen my Skates?
- Rutsch Hockey: Youth Hockey Skate Sharpening
- Skaters Landing: Choosing an Appropriate Edge Radius When Sharpening Blades