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“Skate Sharpening 101”

What to buy, how much to spend, which type of skate sharpener to select? Hand held skate sharpeners, sharpening stones, ceramic sharpeners, diamond sharpeners and goalie sharpeners. There are too many types of skate sharpeners on the market. Which skate sharpening tool should I purchase? Is there a difference between skate sharpening machines? Where is the best place to get a good hockey skate sharpening? These are the questions that I hear from hockey players and parents. Most players/parents take their skates to a skate sharpner ….not knowing if they are getting sharp skates until they step onto the ice.

This article we will try to explain everything that you need to know about sharpening hockey skates. Which type of ice skate sharpener you should select? You may agree/ disagree with me, but these are the straight facts. Skate sharpening is not that hard to do……If you use a hand held sharpener…its simple!!!.....but if you work at a sports store running a skate sharpening machine that does all kinds of skates, there are lots of ways to make mistakes….due to a lack of knowledge, improper training, poor equipment and people who just want to do as many skates a day as possible.  Hopefully at the end of this article, you will be better informed, and will ask the right questions to your skate sharpening guru, or maybe you will select one of our portable skate sharpeners and take control of the quality of your skate sharpening to ensure that you always have sharp skates.

Your Equipment

Your skates are the second most important piece of equipment in your hockey bag (#1 is your cup!)  Sharp skates are the piece of equipment that transfers the energy of your legs to the ice that allows you move forward or backwards, they also are the brakes that permit you to stop quickly or make a quick turn and they provide the glide that gives us that top speed. Correctly done, sharp skates will make you a better hockey player! For all these things that your skate blades do: very few players and coaches pay much attention to how to sharpen ice skates. Yes, we all go out at the beginning of the year and shell out hundreds of dollars for the latest “high tech skate”, believing that this will make our son/daughter a better player. We also go out and purchase the latest hockey stick believing we will be able to stick handle through the entire team and of course have a blazing slap shot. Yet when it comes down to maintaining the skate blades on our skates….most of us cut corners (pun was intended).

We tend to forget that the thin piece of steel at the bottom of skates (your skate blade is about 1/8” of an inch wide, 0.114” or for people who measure in metric 2.9 mm) is the only contact between your body and the ice surface.  (Unless you have fallen!!!!)The last time I was on a rink …..Ice was extremely slippery! Yet most players and parents understand very little about what goes on between the blade and the ice surface and how the sharpness of your blade can affect the combination of the two. This is very important! Your new pair of high tech skates will be useless if your skates have been sharpened incorrectly and it’s hard to stickhandle (with your expensive graphite stick) through the opposing team or for that matter take a blazing slap shot if you’re having problems standing up!

We all have our reasons why we didn’t get our skates sharpened properly:

I forgot! Number one reason! You tend to remember only when you step onto the ice and notice that the ice seems really slippery or you notice that your son/daughter is falling down a lot!

Sports store is closed - the hours don’t coincide with your schedule.

Expensive- We try to get 30 hours of ice time between sharpenings.

Lazy- Let’s face it…who wants to go out when its 20 below and stand in line at the sports store to get your skates sharpened.

Lack of Knowledge- You didn’t know your kid’s skates were dull!

Good Sharpener is on the other side of town- Who wants to drive an hour…when you can take a chance with the guy at the rink!!!

Skates

The quality of your skates does matter. The low end skates on the market tend to use a poor quality of steel for their blades. These will be advertised as Carbon steel blades. The blades will be plated with a dull chrome finish that prevents them from rusting. But once you sharpen them for the first time, this protection will be removed and the bottom of your blades will rust. These blades do not stay sharp very long due to the poor quality of the steel. So if you purchase a cheaper pair of skates….be prepared to get them sharpened a lot.  Stainless steel blades are pretty much standard on all mid range and high end skates. This steel will not rust and when sharpened …will produce a nice finish on the bottom of the blade and will not dull as quickly as a lower end skate. It will also produce a “quality edge”!  Good skate blades are similar to using a high quality knife. The edge will become very sharp when sharpened and stay sharp for a long time! These types of skate blades can have their edges “renewed” with a stroke of a ceramic sharpener. (Using our products “Raptor” and “Excalibur” will save you many trips to your skate sharpener).  Try to stay away from skates that have blades that have a notch cut out in them. This is done to market the skates (as lighter), but this notch produces a stress point which can result in your blade breaking and it can also cause your blades to warp and twist….which makes them a pain in the (you know where) to sharpen.

History lesson

Skate blades use to be made from high quality carbon steel years ago. These blades were excellent for wear and for producing a perfect edge. In terms of hardness and durability they were better than stainless blades, but the drawback, was rust….all you had to do was oil your blades after every use and they would last forever. But the marketing guys decided stainless was the way to go…..and that’s where we are today. The stainless blades are good but not as good as the old carbon blades, but they are a lot better than the low quality carbon steel blades that they sell now.

The Ice

As mentioned before, ice can get very slippery! Most people assume that as the ice gets colder, it becomes more slippery. In fact, the opposite is true. Warm ice is very slippery! Try walking on the ice when water is sitting on top on it. (Don’t blame me if you get wet.)  Skates need a thin layer of water between the bottom of the blade and the ice surface. The water acts as a lubricant. If you ever watch curling on TV, all that sweeping they do is creating a thin layer of water under the curling rock that allows it to travel further down the ice, (I bet you thought they were doing it just to keep warm!).  Sweeping the ice generates heat that melts the ice.  Your weight, as you stand on your skates creates pressure on the ice and creates that thin layer of water than allows you to glide.  With hockey skates, this is a balancing act….too much pressure and you melt yourself into the ice….resulting in very little glide. Not enough pressure (as with a small skater) and you may not glide very well at all.

Light skaters need their skates sharp all the time. They do not have enough weight to create the pressure that is required for optimum glide. The sharp edges cut into the ice creating the pressure that results in a thin layer of water being produced under the blade.  The colder the ice…the sharper the skates will have to be.  If you are an old timer…playing hockey…a little overweight (like me) you most likely don’t like your skates too sharp...We older guys tend to have no problems melting the ice.

The colder the ice, the harder the ice will be. Indoor ice is kept between 18 and 22 deg. F (-5 to -8 c). This is the perfect temperature for hockey. If they made it colder, it wouldn’t need to be flooded as often, except cold ice tends to be brittle and can fracture in pieces. Figure skaters like the ice warmer…..the softer ice cushions their jumps. Curling rinks have their ice even warmer. (Keep in mind, you can’t go any warmer than 32 deg F) Outdoor ice varies and can be really cold and hard or soft and mushy. Outdoor ice generally is very hard on your skate blades. The cold hard ice wears down your edges quickly and there is quite a bit of debris in the ice that wears down your blades as well. Your skates will not feel dull outside do to the fact that the roughness of the ice will always give you grip.  If you or your kids skate on outdoor ice, you should always have your skates sharpened before playing on an indoor surface. Indoor ice is flooded and clean after every hour with a Zamboni ……which results in a beautiful smooth ice surface. When you step onto this smooth ice ….your skates better be sharp!!! Raptor and Excalibur sharpeners are great for bringing back your edge after skating on outdoor ice.  Make sure you have them at the rink!!! It only takes a second to touch up your skates and you can do them even when you are wearing your skates!!!!

As you can see, as the temperature in the ice varies, it will have quite an effect on your skates.  One game you may be gliding perfectly, the next game at a different rink or maybe just a warmer day you may feel like you are sinking through the ice. The ideal solution is to be able to adjust your skates to the ice surface after you go for your warm up skate.

Remember this simple rule for your skates. The harder the ice...The sharper your skates will need to be!  So if you know you are going to play in a really cold rink and its 30 below outside, make sure your skates are sharp!!!!

The only way to adjust your skates, once the games starts, is to have a wooden block and a Raptor (ceramic sharpener) on the bench. If your skates feel too dull, give them a stroke or two with your Raptor.

If your skates feel too sharp, take your wooden block and pass it along the bottom of your skate blade, two or three times.  The wood won’t hurt your blades….but they will dull them a little bit giving you some extra glide in that soft ice.

Radius

When you hear a skate sharpener refer to the radius on your skates, they are actually referring to the sharpness of your skates. The smaller the radius, the sharper your skates will be. A 3/8” radius will produce a very sharp skate and 5/8” radius will produce a skate that is not as sharp.

Radius

Looking at the drawings above, you will see that a 3/8” radius produces a combined angle of 105 degrees. A 5/8 radius produces a combined angle of 100 degrees. That difference of 5 degrees is huge and will give a completely different feel when you skate. That’s why most skate sharpeners will sharpen your skates with a 7/16“ radius.  3/8" or less seems to be too sharp, 5/8" and up seems to be too dull, while 7/16" seems to be just right!  Just to confuse you a little more, the sharper the skate is, the quicker the skate will dull.  Think in terms of a pencil. A sharp pencil will wear down or break its point quite fast. Where as a pencil with a rounded point can take a lot more abuse.  So the next time you’re at the hockey rink and you see someone rubbing their skates on the boards……to try and dull them (because their skates are too sharp), you can tell them that they should ask the guy that sharpens their skates to select a larger radius.

A quick note should be added on ceramic sharpeners. The reason I am mentioning them here….is because they work in combination with the radius producing a sharper edge.  Ceramic sharpeners use ultra hard ceramic that fold the edge of your blade inwards producing a combined angle that results in a sharp skate. Ceramic sharpeners give you a little flexibility, you can vary the sharpness of your skate depending on the pressure and the number of strokes that you do. This way you have complete control over how sharp your skates are. Revol Hockey sells two types of ceramic sharpeners,

Raptor….. Players skates, Excalibur….. Goalie/ figure skates.  Both are really easy to use and will save you money as well.

You will find our competitors try to make one ceramic sharpener to do all skates.  The angle for player and goalie skates are very different and require different sharpeners. Yes you can use one angle for both skates, but we do not recommend it.

Skate Sharpening Problems

Uneven edges

This is the number one problem that shows up on skates. When your edges are uneven, they feel like they are dull on one side and extremely sharp on the other. The most common way people check for this is by placing a coin on the bottom of their skate blade and seeing if the bottom is square to the side of the blade.  You need at least one good eye to do this! The bigger the coin the easier it is to see if your edges are even.  Not a very scientific way to do it….but it will work. If your edges are really uneven…the coin trick will show it. (Tell your friend you can check his edges for him, if he provides the coin…..then add another trick and make the coin disappear!) Great way to get some change for that coffee!  The only way to fix this problem…is to get your skates sharpened again…or use a hand held sharpener that hand finishes the bottom of the blade. Hand finishers are great for fixing this problem. They will remove the high side of the uneven edges and make your edges even again. They take a little muscle power to use…but work well. Revol Hockey sells our product “MiniTastic” which will even up edges. Use it in combination with “Raptor” to do a great skate sharpening job!

Incorrect Radius

Wrong radius for the weight and size of the player will result in skates that feel too sharp or not sharp enough. There are a couple of solutions you can do. If your skates do not feel sharp enough…you can use one of Revol’s ceramic sharpeners. These are great for bringing back your edge…they will definitely make your skates sharper.  If your skates are too sharp…you can rub them on the boards to make them duller or have a wooden block in your hockey bag.  (Going for a walk on the concrete will work as well….but not recommended)!

Lost Edge

How many times have you heard….”I lost my edge”. I’m not sure where they lost it.  I am sure that no matter how hard they look ...they will not find it! When someone loses an edge…they are referring to a dull spot on their skate blade. This can happen before or during a game…when your skate comes in contact with another skate, the goal post or for that matter, (and I have seen this when I was coaching 9 year olds) in contact with the steel posts under the seat of the bench…because it made a cool sound when the young player kicked it.  Contact with another piece of steel or something else harder will damage that critical edge …which will result in a dull spot on your skate blade. When you are skating the contact point between the blade and the ice is always changing. So when the damaged part of your blade comes in contact with the ice…….down you go!!!!!

When looking for the damage edge, look for a dull spot on the blade. You can also use “The Stick” (Revol Hockey’s skate sharpness tester). Using “The Stick” check all along the blade, when you slide the tester on the dull spot, the tester will slide off the blade and will not remove any material from The Stick.  We are the only company that makes this type of tester!!!! We sell them in ten packs, so you can always check the sharpness of your skates.

Repairing a lost edge can be tricky; it really depends on how bad the damage is. If the edge is folded over completely, you may have to have your skates reground. You can use Revol Hockey’s SharpTasTic or our new table top sharpener to grind your blades to remove the damage edge.

You can also try to renew the damage edge by applying a combination of our hand sharpeners; they will work unless the damage is too much. If so, then you will have to grind your skates.

Skate Sharpening Machines and Hand Held Sharpeners

Revol Hockey is the only company in the world that manufactures and sells every type of skate sharpener. Skate sharpening machines/hand held sharpeners come in all different shapes and sizes. There is the traditional table top machine, the vertical machine, the automated machine, some are even computerized, hand held skate sharpeners that hand finish the bottom, ceramic skate sharpeners that work your outside edge, our popular Sharptastic that uses a hand drill as its power source (we are the only company to sell this style of product) and our new tabletop sharpener. Sharpening skates is a huge business. Without skate sharpening a lot of sport stores would go out of business. If you are in the business of selling hockey equipment….you must sharpen skates! The better job you do…will result in your customers coming back to your store. While your customers are waiting for their skates to be done….hopefully they will buy a new stick …gloves….skate laces …etc.  I’m sure you get the picture! These big professional machines do a lot of skates…and they will do a great job.  But they do have some problems.

Training…Proper training is key to having your skates done correctly.

Maintenance … These machines do a lot of skates….and can wear out…which can result in a poor job.

Too many customers….People get tired, want to just make money and sometimes rush the job.

Uneven edges… Skate blades come in different widths…each skate needs to be setup in the center of the grinding wheel, if not, uneven edges can happen. 

Incorrect radius… Not the right radius for the skater.

 Poor finish…Bottom of the blade is rough…this will result in less glide. This can happen due to smoothness of the hand or bad bearings in the motor. 

If you find a store that does a great job …….stay with them!!!!! If you are not happy with the results you have been getting or you are thinking of making a little money on the side, take a look at our product line. We have every type of sharpener in every price range that will do an excellent job on your skates.

Hand Sharpeners

Some are good…some are not so good!  As the title implies, these are sharpeners that have no power source and use muscle power.  We are the only company that offers two types of ceramic sharpeners, one for player skates (Raptor) the other for Goalie/figure skates (Excalibur).

Hand Finishers

Hand finishers usually have a slot with a round stone or abrasive sleeve located in the center of the slot and are good for correcting uneven edges, and for polishing the bottom of your blade. They can be used as a maintenance tool and can save you a few trips to your local sports store as well. If you have lost your edge…they may or may not solve this problem….It will depend on how badly your edge is damaged. These sharpeners do not remove a lot of material!  Most have a fixed radius size. Minitastic works well and has a grinding sleeve which is replaceable.

Ceramic sharpeners

These sharpeners use ceramics that fold the edge of your skate inwards. They work great. In fact, I believe a lot of sports stores are worried that these little sharpeners are taking a lot of their business away.  They do not do any damage to your blades and will definitely save you a few trips to your local skate sharpener. If you lose an edge, the chances are they can bring your edge back. (If your skate blade is really damaged…you will have to visit your local skate sharpener or use our product Sharptastic or our new tabletop sharpener). The only problem with these ceramic sharpeners…is they can make your skates really sharp. The first time you use one …only do one stroke…then if you want your skates sharper….give them another stroke! (Don’t do like some people who think one is good….then 5 is better). This will result in you being launched over the boards the first time you hit the brakes!!!!!!!

As stated above, some are good and some are not so good. So, if you are thinking of purchasing a hand or ceramic sharpener. Check out our web site and you will see that we have been in business for a while (12 years).  You will also see that we sell more than one type of sharpener which indicates that we have a sharpener that will meet your sharpening needs in a price range that will be affordable to you. All of our products are manufactured in Canada, all of our components used in our products are made in the USA or Canada.  Try to stay away from anything that’s not made in North America. Diamond sharpeners are nice to look at…but are way too expensive for what they do.

Rocker

Putting a custom rocker on your skate may or may not improve your skating. It is something that you will have to try. To my knowledge …not too many people know whether or not it has helped.  A defenseman will want his skates rocker forward because he spends most of the game skating backwards.

A forward would want a more center rocker for balance and quick turns. If you like going fast and don’t mind giving up agility…you would have to have your skates rockered with a larger flat on the bottom of you blade. You are going to have to try it see if you like any of the above. I have skated with a defensive grind and a forward grind and have found that I adjust to the skate blade quite quickly. Did it make me a better skater…my teammates tell me no (of course they tell me that every game!!!).

Summary

The best person to do your skates is someone who has consistently sharpened your skates the way you like them (this could be you or your local skate sharpener). Talk to your local sharpener and ask some questions. Tell them what you liked and disliked about the last time he sharpened your skates. Check out all of our products on the web. We have great hand held and ceramic sharpeners.  Check out our SharpTasTic that uses a drill to power it. It works great!  Check out our new tabletop sharpener.  If you have any questions, suggestions or would like to agree or disagree with me on anything…send me an e-mail. Send me an e-mail if you enjoyed the article. I enjoyed writing it! I can be reached at dsmith@revolhockey.com

 

Happy Hockey!!!!!

Dave Smith
Revol Hockey
One Stride Ahead

 

 

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