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A Parent’s Guide to Skate Sharpening

From the Minnesota hockey website

Every sport has unique equipment, but very few can match hockey players’ affection for their gear, especially sticks and skates. For instance, many older players grow fond of how certain people sharpen their skates and only want them sharpened by people they trust.

Younger players typically aren’t as aware of the sharpness of their skates or the quality of a skate sharpening as parents usually manage it. That doesn’t make it any less important, though. Using skating with dull, nicked or uneven edges can negatively impact players’ ability to skate significantly.

Here are a few tips every hockey parent should know about skate sharpening and how it will impact their player’s experience.

When to Sharpen

There are several signs skates need to be sharpened. The most obvious is players may begin to fall more frequently than usual, or their skates begin sliding on the ice instead of the edges biting into it. These signs are very apparent in the older age groups but can be more challenging to spot for younger players.

Parents can also hold the skate up and examine the blade. The three main signs to watch for are nicks or gouges, sharp edges and even edges.

If you notice nicks or gouges on the skate blades, it’s time to sharpen them.

A quick test for a sharp edge is to hold the skate upside down, place one thumbnail on the edge of the blade and gently pull down and away from the blade on three or four parts of the blade. A sharp blade will easily scrape a layer of your thumbnail, leaving the remnants on the blade.

If your player complains they “lost an edge,” it often means the edges are uneven. When looking down the length of the blade, you may see one edge is higher than the other, or if you balance a coin or other flat object on the top of the blade, you may notice it’s tilted. If the edges are dull or uneven, it’s time to sharpen them.

Each of these tests can also be used after having them sharpened to ensure they have been appropriately sharpened or in situations such as having players step on concrete or skating on outdoor ice that frequently impacts skate edges.

How often your child skates, indoor versus outdoor and your child’s level of play will all affect how frequently their skates should be sharpened. For younger players skating two or three times per week, a good guideline is once or twice a month, and you can adjust from there as players skate more frequently; once a week may be appropriate. Some older players like to get them sharpened before each game.

Know Your Hollow

When looking closely at a skate blade, you will notice the blade does not have a single edge like a knife. Instead, you will see a rounded (hollowed) upside-down U section in the middle that will give the blade two small edges.

The hollow, which refers to the depth of the U shape and is measured based on the radius of a circle, affects how the skate interacts with the ice. Deeper hollows will put more pressure on the blade’s edges and dig into the ice more, allowing for sharper turns. Shallow hollows distribute pressure more evenly throughout the blade, causing them to sit more on top of the ice and allowing players to glide more easily and skate more efficiently, which enhances speed.

Typically, most skate sharpeners will use a hollow of 7/16, 1/2 or 5/8 as a default if they aren’t given specific instructions. Generally, younger and inexperienced players utilize a deeper hollow of 3/8 to ½—older players who are heavier and have stronger skating skills trend towards shallower hollows such as 5/8. As players take more ownership of skate sharpening, they can experiment with different hollows to see what they like the best.

While skaters usually trend towards a shallower hollow as they gain experience, the opposite is often true for goalies. Young goalies often benefit from a shallower hollow (5/8 to 1) that provides better glide during basic goalie movements like shuffles and t-pushes. As goalies begin using butterfly movements more frequently, they often prefer a deeper hollow that gives them a stronger push while in the butterfly.

What to Watch For

There’s nothing worse than discovering an issue with your skates when you first take the ice. That’s one of the main reasons many players gravitate towards a trusted person or place to have their skates sharpened. It’s also good to try to skate at least once after sharpening them before playing a game.

Here are a few of the most common issues with skate sharpening and how to catch them.

  • Improper alignment happens when the sharpener doesn’t properly align your skate blade with the grinding wheel. It causes the edges to be uneven. Skates will have plenty of bite when turning/stopping in one direction but feel like slipping out when going the other way. This can be checked before leaving the hockey shop with the earlier technique.
  • Cross-grinding: Cross-grinding is an excellent way to prep brand-new skates for sharpening or to remove rust or nicks in the left blade. Unlike the finishing wheel, the cross-grind wheel runs vertically and is much coarser, allowing it to chew through the blade much faster, resetting it so it is completely flat. Occasionally, someone won’t do enough passes with the finishing wheel after cross-grinding, leaving the skates without good edges. When looking at the bottom of the blade, you’ll see two thin lines running down the edges with a slightly different “sheen” or colour. You may need to hold the blade to a light source and tilt back and forth to see.
  • Over-sharpening the tip & tail: A hockey skate is designed to be relatively (but not entirely) flat in the middle two-thirds of the blade and rockered or rounded at the ends for agility. Spending too much time sharpening the ends of the blade will cause it to gradually become more and more rockered over time, which limits the amount of blade on the ice and overall speed. This is hard to notice with a single sharpening but is something to watch over time or when purchasing used skates.

Ideally, you catch these issues before leaving the hockey shop or going to a game. Some re-edging tools, such as a sweet stick, may provide a temporary fix if you have an issue during or right before a game, but they don’t provide the same benefits as actual skate sharpening.