Skate Sharpening 101: How Do Skates Work
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Before we discuss sharpening, we must first look at the BASIC principles of ice-skating and how skates work. While on skates, the skaters body weight places pressure on the sharp edges on the blade, and the blade “digs” in. This gives it both grip and glide. The skate gets its grip from the bite angle set by the setting and also its glide from that as well. Glide occurs because there is a quasi film of water under the skate that acts as a lubricant. Many factors effect how much grip/glide you can achieve, including weight on the skate and ice temperature. However the most important factor in achieving the optimum balance of grip and glide is the quality of the skate sharpening, the rocker radius and the bite angle set into the edges.
The above describes just the "gliding" stage of skating, there are 3 others, acceleration, stops, and turns. How your skate is sharpened and how your rocker is shaped and balanced will effect these stages as well.
When skates are hollow sharpened, a groove is ground in between the two outside edges. A skate with a deep hollow has very pronounced and aggressive edges with a bite angle that is more direct into the ice. Deep hollows have pro's and con's. The deeper hollow gives the skate more bite, but the skate controls the skater. If you want to be in control of your skates, a deep hollow is not for you. In addition, while deep is great for sharp turns, the edges sink in the ice more, causes drag and slows you down. So, while the player may see performance gains in turns, they will loose some performance in speed and may also have difficulties in stopping, controlling the skate in lateral movements.
Shallower hollows produce faster speeds but don't grip the ice as well as their edge bite angle is not as direct into the ice. A loss of acceleration, agility and tightness of turns could result, that is, until the skater learns edge control. A hockey skater needs a balance of speed (acceleration & glide) and agility (turns, pivots and stopping). Finding the proper hollow that will give each individual player this balance can only be achieved through trial and error, and perhaps even several adjustments.
Please note, FBV sharpenings have totally different physics than hollows and are discussed on the FBV page.
A perfect example of how just skate sharpening alone can make performance differences is to compare an Olympic speed skater with a hockey player. NHL players have reached speeds greater than 20 miles per hour, but some speed skaters can exceed 37 miles per hour! Is the speed skater a better athlete? Not really, but the reason for the speed difference is simple. The best way to trap more of that "gliding" water under the blade is to have a shallower or flat hollow to reduce drag, and to have more blade touching the ice to disperse the weight which is the cause of drag. For Speed skaters, their blades are long and optimized where virtually all of their blade’s surface is touching the ice. This, combined with flat bottoms, gives them great speed. However, speed is only one part of skating, maneuverability and agility is the other. That same Speed Skater has to take it very easy on the corners or he could fall. With all that blade on the ice and no hollow, he can achieve great speed but at a big sacrifice in turns and agility. For the hockey skater, a mixture of speed and agility must be achieved. How this is best obtained is with a proper hollow or FBV that is selected based on many personal and external factors, and also a proper blade radius. Hollows FBVs are put on your blade when you get a normal skate sharpening. Radiusing though is optional, something that serious hockey players will have done once a season to obtain maximum performance. Simply changing the sharpening setting can improve performance significantly, but it does not produce the same end-results as a custom radius that is matched to suit the skater’s individual style of play. Check out our Skate Profiling page for more information on custom radius's.
If you look at the illustration above or look straight down your skates blade, you can see the edges and the hollow in- between. How deep or shallow the hollow is depends on the radius you select. A 3/8" radius will create deeper and more pronounced edges than a 1" radius. The depth of the hollow effects your play, sometimes positive, sometimes negative.
No single hollow setting is right for every hockey player. A pro shop with a house cut or "regular" that sharpens every skate the same way is doing a disservice to the skater. There are many hollows to choose from, and several individual factors need to be considered before a hollow is chosen; age, experience, weight, position, ability, strength, skill, ice temperature and more. I'd say approximately 80% of our new customers have a hollow on their skate that is not the best for them. So, whether you get a conventional sharpening, a Flat Bottom V, a Z-Channel or a A-TRAP Goalie cut, we are sure we can help you find the setting that works best for you.
Basic Sharpening Explained
A common myth is that one sharpening can be sharper than another. Untrue! All skates are sharpened to the exact same sharpness. Trust me, I get cuts no matter what setting is in a blade. So, while they are all sharp, it's the setting in the blade, and evenness of the edges that makes a skate feel sharper or duller. Basic sharpening places a hollow or groove in the skate blade. To do this, the sharpener must first shape/round the edge of his grinding stone to a specific radius. Radius of Hollow are not complex to understand, it's simple basic math. Everyone who completed elementary school knows what a 1/2" radius circle is, right? You remember, you take the compass instrument, pull out the pencil part 1/2 inch, place the pointy part on the piece of paper and twirl it around till you have a circle. Bingo, you have a 1/2" radius circle. The sharpener uses a similar instrument to the compass to shape the outside of his grinding stone to 1/2", except his instrument has a diamond cutting tool on the end instead of a pencil. His stone now has the same shape on the outer edge as that 1/2" radius circle you drew on the paper. Now when he applies a skate to the stone, the 1/2" radius is transferred and cut into the skate blade. The curve of the radius creates a groove or hollow between the two edges on the outside of each blade.
There are many hollows to choose from, not just the few in the illustration above. Forwards, offensive defensemen, defensive defensemen and goalies will all have different hollows. How come you didn't know this? Well first of all most shops don't take the time to explain the choices available. They simply take your skates into the "secret room" and you don't have a clue what they are doing to them. Some shops will never ask you how you want your skates sharpened, others may offer a simple choice of either deep or regular, and perhaps some might even have multiple choices, often numbered 1 to 5. One caution, one shop's number 3 or "deep" can be different than another shop's No. 3 or deep cut. At these shops, YOU still never really know what radius of hollow (ROH) was put on your skates. There is no such thing as a "regular" sharpening. That's just the lazy man's way of saying you get the house cut. At "No-Icing", we only use true ROH measurements in 1/16 inch intervals, and can even cut as precise as "64ths" for the finicky skater. When you leave our shop, you'll know exactly what we put on your skates. No guessing, no mystery. If you have to go to another shop for sharpening, you can then tell them specifically what hollow (ROH) you want replicated on your skates. If they won't do it or try to charge you more, simply walk away and try another shop. The big advantage of knowing your favorite ROH is that you can control your preferences and ensure you get the grind you want every time you visit a sharpener. This is important. Since you won't be getting random changes of hollow, you'll no longer have to make huge skating adjustments every time you get on the ice. There's nothing worse than getting your skates sharpened before an important game, and then step on the ice and not be able to skate like you do normally. You should never be hesitant to get your skates sharpened right before an important game. Some NHL pros get their skates sharpened between periods. They have no fear because their equipment man knows what hollow to put on their skates. You shouldn't be afraid either. Always tell your sharpener what hollow you want. Lastly, having the same ROH or FBV put on every time will extend your blade's life.
When we wrote the info on this page16 yrs ago FBVs and ZC sharpenings were not even invented yet. There are differences in how we would select one of those, so be sure to read about our FBV and ZChannel as well!
How to Choose a Hollow
A properly sharpened blade can make a noticeable difference in overall skate performance. Have you ever had your skates freshly sharpened then step on the ice and can't skate very well? I think we all have at one time or another. What we got was a poor, rushed, or inadequate sharpening. Before actual sharpening, several steps must be taken by the sharpener to ensure the sharpening will come out correctly. First, the blade must be fully inspected for straightness, edge damage, surface condition, and width (blade widths vary quite a bit and if not checked by caliper the edges WILL turn out uneven). Failing to perform all these checks usually results in a poor sharpening. At "No-Icing", we thoroughly examine every skate, and adjust our machine's settings for perfect alignment.
The next step is to determine the depth of hollow or FBV setting. We explain hollows and FBV selection in more detail on this page, but did you know that if you are a lighter weight player, you can use a deeper hollow than a heavier player, or that shallow hollows can increase your speed? Don't feel bad, most old-timers don't have a clue either. Be prepared the first time you bring your skates to us for sharpening to spend a little time discussing your options. At No-Icing Sports, we will explain sharpening choices to you, and we will educate you on the pros and cons of each setting. We will then pick one that we feel is best for you, rather than just giving you the one-size-fits-all generic grind that other shops cal their "regular". We don't have a regular at No-Icing, everyone gets a customized sharpening.
Before we sharpen any skates on your first visit, we might ask the skater to fill out a Skater Profile Form, which is a short questionnaire about your skating style and hockey game. From the information you provide, we help you determine an optimum setting for your ability and style of play. If you are a new skater or parent, we will recommend one for you or your child to try. We will evaluate what we think is right for you by first evaluating your weight, hockey position, experience level, age, leg strength, personal preferences, and ice temperature. After you select your hollow, we will sharpen your skates (both to the exact same specification).
If you already know the sharpening setting you like, we will sharpen to your wishes. If you are not sure, we usually can also measure what your current sharpener has put on your blade and match it. Sometimes we can't figure out what your previous sharpener had done as we often get several different hollow measurements on the same blade, likely from a poor sharpening job. In these cases we'll pick the most likely hollow and have you go try it.
Note: some skaters are using magnetic edge checkers to check their edges for level. Keep in mind these are not precise measuring instruments and are not very accurate. They can be off by .001 or more. Home sharpeners will use these to set up their machine, but what they are doing is adjusting their sharpener to a gauge that has a margin of error. So what happens is their gauge may read level but in reality the edges are not. We do not use crude magnet checkers to set up our machines or to check your edges. We use a precise sight checker along with feeler gauges. There still may be a small deviation but we strive for less than .0005". If they are off a little don't worry though, ice skates do not require micron level perfection. Skaters will not notice any problem or deficiency while skating even if the edges are off by up to .003 (3 thousands). Even this is a minute amount. In fact , after you've skated 15mins on a freshly sharpened set of blades, they will be out of level. Most of your skating is on un-level edges and you don't even know it. It really doesn't effect skating at all. Unless of course, it's over .003, that could.
Now that we found your favorite hollow or FBV, the process is not quite over. Yes, it will be much simpler now, we will retain your setting in our records so every time you visit you get the exact same cut for consistency. Plus, all you have to do now is when you, your wife, or whomever, brings in or drop off your skates for sharpening is to give us your name and we'll look it up in our database. Some have asked why we don't write the hollow on the bottom of the skates like other shops. Simple, your setting may not stay constant and must be adjusted occasionally for weight gains/losses, skill improvements, position changes, summer ice temps and more.
As I said, the tuning process is not completely over. As you or your child develop as a skater, change positions, gain or lose weight, or as rink ice temperatures change, you may need minor adjustments to maintain optimum performance. Just let us know when the skates don't feel right and we can discuss changes and other options.
The ice temperature where you skate is an important part of the selection process. There are two types of ice, "Soft Ice" and "Hard Ice", also referred to as "Slow Ice" and "Fast Ice". Slow ice is generally any temp over 23 degrees and fast ice is 17-23 degrees. On soft ice, your edges sink deeper into the ice and slow you down and make you tire easy. With hard ice, more edge is needed to get a good bite into the ice. If you are playing at different rinks, your skates will feel very different from one rink to another. We can make adjustments for that. Just let us know if you are changing from soft to hard ice or vice versa and we'll adjust your setting as needed.
What is Sauce??
For the serious hockey player, we offer a performance blade finish treatment. While our regular skate sharpening produces an excellent finish, the blade's performance can be improved even more with this optional treatment. Similar to what Olympic speed skaters use, we apply a special space-age compound to your skate's blades during the sharpening process. Unlike oils and waxes, we actually grind this special compound into the blade where it bonds with the metal, kind of like a Teflon coat. The compound significantly reduces friction and drag and will increase your glide and speed about 15%. This means you'll be 2-3 strides ahead of your opponent, they'll have a hard time catching you and you'll beat them to the puck. You will also be able to catch them from behind! Plus you'll use less energy and won't tire as quickly.
Also unlike oils and waxes, it will not wear off after a few minutes, it will last 2-3 skates. Make Blade Finishing part of your regularly scheduled sharpening routine. We offer this optional service for only an additional $1.00. You can select it as an option when you check out.
Over the years we also developed a Super Sauce! Our "Black Magic" formula will give you even more speed and last for a full 45 minutes of skating. You will not find a better finish on your steel, nor any treatment or polish that will give you less friction and more speed. For example, on fresh ice all you need is two strides to propel you from one end of the rink to the other. How's that for glide! Price is $2 per treatment. We recommend you reserve this for important games, tournaments or tryouts only.
Wind Ice Surfer blades, sharpened with FBV!
Special Sauce was nicknamed by one of our customers because he couldn't remember "Performance Blade Finish". It quickly caught on. Over the years it's been called everything in the book, grease, mojo juice, liquid lightning, motion lotion, slick stuff, and much more. Whatever it's called, it makes you faster!