How Sharp Are Ice Skates? Are Ice Skates Dangerously Sharp?

Posted on May 18, 2024 by Dan Kent
sharp hockey skates

The general population has a common misconception about hockey skates and hockey blades in particular. When someone hears the word blade, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a knife or sword. 

A knife is a sharp object that one should be cautious when handling to avoid serious injury to themselves or others. As we will go over, this is not true for hockey skates.

How sharp are ice skates?

Hockey skate blades are sharp enough to cut someone when swung at high speeds but also dull enough that you could softly run your fingers across without even breaking the skin. It is common for skate sharpeners to use their finger to feel the edge of the blade to make sure their ice skates are sharp.

Can ice skates be too sharp?

Ice skates can be too sharp. If your edges are too sharp, they will dig into the ice, making both skating and maneuvering difficult. You want your edges to be sharp, but you don't want them to be so sharp that you don't glide across the ice. Instead, you dig in.

The opposite is also true. If your skate blades are too dull, you will glide too much and not dig in enough. This causes difficulty in gaining speed and may cause you to lose an edge when turning, as your edges are too flat.

How do I know if my ice skates are sharp?

The rule of thumb, no pun intended, to test the sharpness of your skates is to use your thumb. Turn your skate upside down and run your thumbnail down the edge of the skate lightly. If the skate blade shaves a thin layer of your thumbnail off, you are said to have a good edge.

skate blades

If it doesn't take a layer off or it takes a large amount of pressure to do so, you likely need to get your skates sharpened. To keep your ice skates sharp and avoid damage to your hockey bag, use skate guards and avoid walking on hard surfaces like concrete with your skates on. It can quickly wreck your blades.

Are goalie skates the same as player skates?

Goalie skates are sharpened the same way as player skates. However, because the blades are wider, they require a bit of a different technique. Also, many goaltenders may opt for a different radius of hollow that allows them to play to their style.

In terms of edges, goalies will dull quicker because they play on a side-to-side basis more, resulting in the more aggressive use of the edges. So, make sure to keep your skates sharpened. 

Can you skate with unsharpened ice skates?

The duller your skates, the more difficult it is to skate on the ice. As you use your skates, the sharp edges will inevitably dull; once they do, it will be more difficult for your skates to "dig" into the ice. This will result in more falls, slower speeds, and generally lower levels of play.

Ice skate blades are sharpened by making a shallow hollow in the center of them, making the blade's edges longer than the center. The sharpness of these edges will allow you to skate and maneuver better as they dig into the ice. As you use them, the sharpness of the steel will wear down.

What about sharpening tools?

Often called sharpening stones, these tools can help you temporarily get your edges back, but they in no way replace regular sharpenings. These tools create a temporary edge by running the stone across the bottom of the blade, and beginners often overuse them.

However, it does not modify the hollow needed in the blade's center and is a short-term fix.

For cheaper beginner skates that have lower quality blades, it can also reduce the life of your skates 

Can you cut yourself while ice skating?

It is possible to cut yourself ice skating, yes. It is one of the more dangerous aspects of the game. Although skate blades are not sharp to the touch, at high speeds, they become razor-sharp and can cause significant injuries. 

One of the most recent injuries, when it came to cutting, was Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane having his wrist stepped on. The injury cut Kane's artery and tendons, and having medical staff on site was critical. I've added a video below of the incident, just a warning that it does have some graphic content.

These injuries are infrequent but still possible.

Hockey skate sharpening explained

Skate sharpening is quite deceiving as you are not sharpening the skate blade like you would be sharpening a knife. A skate blade is not a flat blade, as one may think. The blade is actually "U" shaped if you were to look at it magnified.

As we skate, that U shape will begin to flatten on the edges of the U, and then we will feel the "missing edge" or "slipping" feeling of losing an edge. 

Sharpening skates will pull that edge back from being flat. Only those edges are being sharpened. The sharpening makes these edges very thin and free from "nicks" or "burrs."

Many hockey players do not even know these things. It is common for hockey shop employees to hear things like, "Make sure these skates are extra sharp. I like them really sharp." This does not make sense. No amount of passes over the skate sharpener will make the outside edges sharper, only cutting through more steel.

What these players really should be asking for is a less deeper hollow. Based on the skate sharpener, that U shape can be deeper or more shallow. These hollows are measured in 1/16ths of an inch.

Many players will fall somewhere between 3/8ths and 5/8ths in hollow, with ½ inch being the standard at most hockey shops. Experiment with different hollows and see what works best for you. You will eventually find a personal preference.

The deeper the hollow (closer to 1 inch), the less the edge will dig into the ice. Better for bigger, stronger, heavier players, but not a lighter player. However, it depends on your skating style as well. So as mentioned, feel free to experiment. 

Find your own sharpening style 

Hockey skate blades are very complex, and there is much more to discuss than the basics mentioned here. Different skate sharpening techniques, myths to debunk, profiling, and more.

Finding the hollow where you are most comfortable is an excellent first step before getting into anything more complicated. Talk to the employees when you next go to your local shop for a skate sharpening.

A good skate sharpener would be happy to help explain some of these differences to you. Just make sure they are not too busy! It is tough to focus on sharpening and talking at the same time!

Wrapping it up

To recap – skates are sharp but not nearly as sharp as a knife or a blade. You can run your finger over them gently – but when moving at speed, skate blades can be dangerous and have been known to cause freak accidents.

However, skate blades are probably low on the list of risks and dangers a hockey player is exposed to – from checking and shot blocking to high sticks to the face.

Remember, when you're playing, make sure you're wearing the right gear and stay safe on the ice.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada,

Looking for more hockey content? Have a look at these articles