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Sharpening your blade removes knicks and makes the edge of your blade even so that you can stop and dig into the ice at speed and with fewer falls. Are you a hockey player wondering how often you should sharpen your skates to improve your game?
As a good rule of thumb, you should sharpen your skates every 15-20 hours of ice time. If you’re pushing hard on your edges you’ll want to sharpen them more often. Always sharpen your skates if there are obvious knicks or breaks in the line of the blade.
In this guide, I’ll go into depth about how and when and how to sharpen your hockey skates and what to be aware of so you can always be at the top of your game.
15-20 Hour Rule
There is no specific time frame for skate sharpening as it depend on a few different factors like:
- How hard you use your edges
- Your size and weight
- How protected your blades are off the ice
- How hard the ice you skate on is.
As a general rule though, 15-20 hours works great for most hockey players. It means your not constantly shelling out unnecessary money on sharpening but also makes sure your skates are kept in good condition.
That said, follow this hockey coaches advice:
“if you think you need to get your skates sharpened, you should get your skates sharpened.”Hockey Coach @ Nine Hockey
Just don’t go around blaming your skates, every time you catch and edge!
Here is when you should get your skates sharpened:
- You’ve skated in them for 15-20 hours
- You can visibly see or feel knicks in the blade
- Your blades feel blunt when your skating
Why Skates Need Sharpening?
Ice skate blades have two edges that run parallel together with an inward dip known as hollow which lies between them. As you push off with your legs and skate, the metal edges dig into the ice, melting a thin layer or ice and allowing you to glide through at speed with very little friction.
Over time as the blades have more and more contact with the ice, the edges become rounded and dull. The blades don’t dig into the ice as much meaning it takes longer to stop and change direction.
Aside from general dulling, it’s really common for the edges to become knicked or uneven in specific areas. This can be from hard impact with ice, the puck or being hit by other gear in your bag.
Always using your skate protectors when off-ice is the best way of combating this -- but no matter how cautious you are, knicks happen. That’s just part and parcel of skating.
Main Reasons Skate Blades Get Knicks:
- Hits from the puck, sticks and other skates.
- Knocking in your hockey bag.
- Blades hit a hard surface like concrete or tiling.
- Repeated use on the ice.
Feel the knicks
The best way to see if your skates need sharpening is to take off the cover, inspect your blade and feel for any knicks.
Gently and slowly (with almost no pressure) rub your finger along the length of the blade on either side of the hollow and feel for any knicks or deformaties in along the line.
Right after your skates have been sharpened is a good time to feel your blade, so you can see how it is when there are (hopefully) no knicks.
After a few session on the ice, feel your skate blade and you’ll notice that in some areas of the blade there will be sections of roughness that you’ll feel with your finger.
This roughness is a knick or a ding in your blade -- when you feel a few of these knicks it’s time to get your skates sharpened.
Sharp vs Blunt Blades
If your a new player starting out and learning to skate, you’ll want to get your blade sharpened when you feel multiple knicks or ever 3-4 weeks. You want your skate blade sharp, but it’s not as crucial for new players.
For more experienced hockey players, sharpening your skates more regularly becomes more of a priority. You’ll also want to get good at skating in freshly sharpened skates rather than learning to adapt to blunt blades.
Blades do behave differently when they are sharpened and they’ll feel differently. You’ll need to learn how to hockey stop at a slightly different angle to react to the sharper more aggressive blade edge.
When blades are used for long periods of time without sharpening, a player will get used to the feel of skating on this dull blade and not only will their skating performance suffer, when the blade is sharpened it will take them much longer to adjust to the difference.
The key is to keep your skate sharp with a clean edge by sharpening your skates every 15-20 hours of use and whenever knicks might appear.
For instance, I play hockey twice a week for 1.5 hours sessions. That’s 3 hours a week or 12 hours a month. Which means I get my skates sharpened every 4-6 weeks.
How Knicks Affect Skating Performance
You can skate just fine with some knicks or dings in your blade, but you will be more likely to fall and lose your edge when skating at speed, turning or stopping.
Knicks and dings for beginner players are not as noticeable in terms of skating performance as edge work won’t be used as frequently. The better player or skater you are, the more the knicks will affect your performance and ability to maintain your edge on the ice during the game.
Where to Sharpen your Skates?
Most ice rinks offer a skate sharpening service. Skate sharpening is a skilled art and a bad job of sharpening can ruin your blades.
If you’re new to an area, ask your hockey coach or fellow players where they get theirs done.
If you live far away from a skate shop, there are some home sharpening kits that you can get, which will help the blade last longer between professional full sharpenings.
These range from the simple re-edger tool to remove knicks to more advanced systems.
The hollow on a skate is the space between the two edges of a blade. Each state skate blade actually has two points of contact with the ice.
The edge on the inside of a skaters foot is known as the inside edge while the edge towards the outside is called the ‘outside’ edge. The hollow sites between these two edges and its size affect how the skates glide and digs into the ice.
Smaller hollows dig deeper into the ice and are more responsive to turns but compromise speed while larger hollows glide faster but do compromise grip.
If you’ve ever just had your skates sharpened and you’re having trouble stopping, that’s the hollow at play.
How Hollow Effects Your Skating
- Smaller radius of hollow (eg. ⅜”)
- Deeper cut on skates
- Better suited to lighter players who dig in less to start with
- More energy lost into ice
- Extra effort required to skate
- Lower top speed
- More responsive turns and stops
- Quicker, more explosive acceleration
- Larger radius of hollow (eg. ⅝”)
- Flatter cut on skates
- Better suited to heavier players who have no trouble gripping the ice
- Less energy lost into ice
- More efficient skating
- Faster top speed
- Turns and stops will be less quick or sharp
- Acceleration is more limited
Some of the most common hollows from wider to narrower are: 1″ 5/8″ 1/2″ 3/8″.
Most recreational hockey players will have the same hollow as their local rinks ‘house cut’ -- the default to how that skate shop sharpens their skates. This house cut is different from rink to rink and from area to area.
Speak to your coach or skate sharpener if you’re interested in a custom hollow.
How Skates are Sharpened
Skates are sharpened by cutting out the steel of a blade between the two edges using a spinning grinding wheel. The wheel moves at high speed and cuts away the material to make the blade sharper and more pointed -- giving it back it’s sharpness.
The area that the grinding wheel moves around with each pass is the hollow. By altering the face of the grinding wheel you can change the hollow of the skate blade, making the gap (or radius) either larger or smaller.
Here is a great video showing the process of skate sharpening by the Florida Panthers skate technician.
What is Skate Profiling
Skate profiling allows you to change the radius of the blade. Which is the amount of blade that comes into contact with the ice while your skating.
The more ice contact you have with the blade, the better stability you have which is going to give you better control. Just like stickhandling, with a tighter grip, you’ll be able to control the puck more efficiently -- the same is true with your blades.
Skate profiling is an advanced way of fine-tuning your blade and is a separate service to sharpening that is offered by some pro shops.
Skate profiling is distinct from sharpening which changes the hollow of the blade.