5 Skate-Sharpening Secrets from a Seasoned Pro
But I started to notice that some people are really picky about skate sharpening. My son’s skating instructor sharpens his own at home. Some people hate the sharpening from the hockey stores, others hate the sharpening from this rink and some from that rink. A friend bought his own machine to sharpen his son’s skates. At Bantam tryouts this year, he said he was concerned he might be “holding his son back” because of the “radius.”
I didn’t know anything about the radius, but I scoffed at this. I was confident that my 8-year-old could outskate just about anyone with Kleenex boxes on his feet. (Like Bull Durham winning a golf bet while playing with garden tools, he’d been tearing up the ice for two years in skates handed down from his brother, his brother’s teammates, his brother’s teammates siblings…). Unfortunately, I soon found out that my little guy essentially was skating in Kleenex boxes.
In the last scrimmage of his U8-B year, he fell a lot. The coach mentioned his skates might need sharpened. A new pro shop had recently opened at our local rink—and this one featured a real pro with 20 years experience. Robert Hineline at the Skater’s Edge in Littleton, Colorado, took one look at his skates and said, “These have no rocker.”
If you looked at the profile of his blades, they were almost squared off in the front and back. Hineline demonstrated by trying to rock the skate from heel to toe on the counter. Without a rocker, he says, “It’s hard to rotate with so much blade on the ice, leading to falls during transitions.”
I had to believe Hineline—even though the rocker repair was . He has sharpened skates for many nationally ranked figure skaters along with the Los Angeles Kings. According to his website, “Robert is a machinist by trade. That skill makes his skate sharpening an art, and he is known for his precision.” His top skate-sharpening advice, with not too much jargon, includes:
1. Skates need to be sharpened after every eight to 10 hours of skating time. Depending on how many shifts you get and how long your games are, this might be after, say, four games and six practices.
2. The harder the ice, the sharper skates need to be. If a rink is known to have harder than usual ice for your area, let the sharpener know. If you’re traveling to Canada, the ice there is generally harder.
3. An unskilled skate sharpener can “thrash” skates, causing lasting damage to the blades. If the blades look brown, the sharpener is overheating the skate and taking out the temper (hardness) and the edge will only last for four hours. Plus, it will take five sharpenings for the skates to recover. If the blades look black, the edge will only last two hours.
4. To find an artistic—or at least skilled—skate sharpener, the best thing to do is ask around. Then test the sharpener’s work:
- Rocker: To check the rocker, stand the skate up on a countertop: Only 1/2″ to 2″ of the blade should touch the counter and the skate should rock.
- Hollow & Radius: The hollow is the groove between the two edges, the inside and outside edge of a skate blade. (Never noticed it? Get out those reading glasses). The hollow is measured according to the radius of a circle, with common hollows being 3/8″, 7/16″, and 1/2″. You can test the radius by placing a dime, quarter, or nickel in the groove, respectively.
- Squareness: To see if the hollow is straight, place a pencil on top of the blade. This should be square.
5. Only use a Sweet-Stick hand-held ceramic sharpener for taking the nicks out of blades; if you try to sharpen with one, you can change the entire shape of the blade and bite angle and could cause permanent damage.
You can learn far more about skate sharpening from Robert Hineline here. For more information, you can soon see videos of his work at www.skatersedgeco.com.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Kelly Kordes Anton for this article.
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