Getting your skates sharpened is part of the routine for ice skaters. And it is an important part as if it’s not taken care of properly and on-time, it can have a negative impact on your skating or even worst, lead to an injury.
Believe me, I’ve experienced it myself. There were times when I didn’t sharpen my skates for about 2.5 months (and during that time I practiced 6 times a week) and then I would completely lose my right outside edge on a loop take-off and fall very hard on my back. Or another “good one” is if you lose an outside edge going into the camel spin and smash straight down with full force into the ice (I hit my chin like that one time).
You really want to avoid these kinds of falls or any slipping, feeling uncomfortable or insecure while ice skating. That’s why it’s important to sharpen your skates on-time and not wait until a disaster happens. Also, if you are taking skating lessons and serious about the sport, it’s always good to understand what sharpening is about and to know some details such as radius of hollow and how sharp should your blades be.
Below, you’ll find practical answers to some of the most common questions regarding sharpening figure skates. If you have any other questions on this topic, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below this article.
1. How often you should sharpen figure skates?
This is probably the most popular question asked by many skaters and their parents. Most skaters normally get a sharpening after skating between 20 to 40 hours.
I, personally, used to never keep track of the hours and did sharpening only as I would start slipping or feeling like I can’t put my weight over without falling. I didn’t do it right as I would wait way too long until my blades were completely dull. On the other hand, it was good practice for me because when skating on dull blades, you really have to be aware of the edges, balance, do the proper technique and bend your knees a lot more – or you would slip and fall otherwise.
That’s why what I would recommend is to do keep track of the hours skated since the last sharpening. And don’t wait too long like I used to – don’t go over 40 hours without sharpening. If your skates are starting to feel dull earlier, then take them to a professional sharpener as soon as you starting to notice any changes.
Also, it’s better to have your blades sharpened as soon as you can feel any nicks in the front or middle of the blade, for example, if you accidentally stepped on something like concrete, tile or metal threshold when you get on or off the ice.
You definitely have to take your skates to a sharpener if you find any rust on the skating area of the blades. This can happen, for example, if you forget to properly dry off your blades or leave your hard guards on for an extended period of time.
2. How sharp you should have your skates done and which is the best radius of hollow?
Skates sharpening is a technical process and I don’t want to bombard you with a lot of confusing terms.
The most important thing you need to know about sharpening is that figure skating blades can be sharpened with a different measure of the radius of hollow (ROH). The radius of hollow has an effect on speed, grip, and how sharp your skates are going to feel when you are skating.
Below is an example of a sharpening machine for figure skates. Here you can see the diamond dresser which is used to create a curve (it will shape the radius of hollow on your blade later) on a rotating grinding wheel by passing over. This is the first step of a sharpening process.
The second phase is an actual sharpening – grinding blade’s surface. A sharpener will pass a blade over the rotating grinding wheel which will create the same shape as it was set earlier by the diamond dresser. This curve between the edges is what we call the radius of hollow.
The smaller the radius of hollow, the sharper your blades are going to feel because there will be a deeper curve between the edges and your skates will be digging deeper in the ice (which also means you’ll have a stronger edge but less speed).
If you do sharpening with a bigger radius of hollow, a curve will be flatter and you won’t feel the sharpness and bite as much, your glide will have more speed and flow. It doesn’t mean that skates that are done with bigger ROH aren’t as sharp. If sharpening is done properly, blades will actually be sharp regardless of the radius of hollow but they’ll feel differently.
Most figure skaters get their skates sharpened with a radius of hollow in a range between flatter 10/16 (or 5/8) and deeper 6/16 (or 3/8) of an inch.
But how do you know which ROH grind suits you the best? It depends on many things such as your personal preference, skill level, weight, and ice conditions at the ice rink that you skate.
At colder rinks which are big on hockey, the ice is usually pretty hard (it feels more slippery than soft ice) and on that ice, you would want to have sharper skates with a little bit deeper hollow. For example, most rinks in the Chicago area are cold and they have very hard ice which is great for hockey but not ideal for figure skating.
At warmer rinks, the ice is usually a little bit softer. When you are skating on soft ice, the edges feel more secured and controlled than on harder ice. So if you are skating at one of the warmer rinks, you can have your skates done with a shallower ROH – I wouldn’t go any deeper than 1/2″ even if you are a lighter skater.
Speaking of my personal preference, I like my blades sharpened with a 5/8″ ROH; on soft ice, I can comfortably skate with even bigger hollow – 3/4″. I tried deeper cuts, for example, 1/2″ and didn’t like it because I had deep edges but didn’t have the same speed, flow, and maneuverability.
For the beginners and recreational skaters, I recommend to start out with a shallow ROH between 3/4″ to 5/8″ because with a deeper hollow you may have a hard time being able to stop. If you are an advanced skater, you can try to go with a deeper hollow – 1/2″ is probably the most popular grind among competitive figure skaters. But generally, I don’t recommend deeper cuts than 1/2″ because you don’t want to rely too much on your “sharp” edges. Instead, a skater should put their focus on working more with their knees and ability to control shallower edges which will lead to a cleaner, faster glide and an overall better skating skills.
You also don’t have to stick with the same radius of hollow forever. You can try 1/2″ grind at first, and next sharpening, for example, ask to do your skates with a 5/8″ hollow. You’ll feel the difference for yourself and this way you’ll find out which style of sharpening you prefer.
3. How to take good care of the blades?
As I mentioned earlier, make sure to always dry off your skates after you are done skating. First of all, remove snow from blades before putting hard guards on when you get off the ice. Then, wipe your skates/blades with a towel once you take them off. In the end, slip-on soakers on blades before you put your skates away in a bag.
Soakers will dry-off any remaining moisture and protect the edges from potential physical damage. Don’t wait to do all these things until you get home – there is a very good chance you may forget it later. Make it part of your routine after every practice!
Also, try to avoid too much walking on floors in your skates even with hard guards on. If you walk without hard guards on a rubber floor at the rink, it’s better to carefully walk on the toe picks in case you step on something that can damage the edges. Even one step with a “naked blade” on tile, concrete, or anything metal can do some damage and will most likely require an immediate sharpening afterward.
Do you have any other questions on sharpening figure skates or maybe you would like to share your personal experience? Your opinion and feedback are always welcomed in the comments below this post.