I grew up in a store that was a hangout for the “aspiring” athletes in our neighborhood. If you go back to when I started playing sports, we didn’t have the volume of options that today’s suppliers offer. So in an effort to make our gear better, we often attempted everything and anything to get an advantage. Needless to say after being involved with equipment for over 20 years, I have learned some do’s and don’ts.
A good skate sharpening is one of the those advantages that should be a given every time you visit your skate tech, much like dialing a specific phone number gets you the same person on the other end of the line. Often overlooked, skate sharpening has become generalized for many reasons – some good, some bad. I’ve dealt with many players over the years and the first question I ask is “How sharp do you like your skates?” Responses vary from a look of confusion to, “Oh, just the regular.”
With the variance in sharpening depths, ice hardness and player weight to name a few, what one person may consider regular could be another person’s disaster in the making.
A View of Depths
Skates are sharpened with different types of “hollows”. A sharpening wheel is dressed with a specific hollow, usually u-shaped or v-shaped. The more aggressive the angle made after dressing the wheel, the deeper the hollow. The skate is passed over the wheel forcing the bottom of the steel to take on the shape of the dressing and ultimately leading to different performances on the ice.
More grip – therefore more east to west agility – is gained using a deeper hollow and more aggressive edge angle. This deeper hollow however leads to increased drag in the ice and requires more effort to build and also sustain speed.
Shallower hollows allow for improved gliding and also require less energy to maintain speed due to blade sitting more on top of the ice and edges not sinking in so deep. However, side-to-side maneuverability is compromised and turning may not be as tight unless the skater has very well developed edge control.
Some Things to Consider
When dealing with the different skate sharpenings however, these two scenarios are generalizations. Sharpening depths can range from an 1-1/2″ to 1/4″. This leaves multiple options for the average skater so here are some items to think of in order to base your final decision.
If the hollow is the shape of the bottom of the blade, then the profile is the shape of the blade from heal to toe. Over time, the steel will inevitably change shape due to sharpening and the original profile will shorten. The less steel you have on the ice, the sharper you have to go to maintain your grip.
Better skaters demand more control of their edges. Watch a professional skater warm-up and you’ll see what I mean. Long, exaggerated outside and inside edge work is not a problem to them because they control so much of their movement from their core and hips. These guys use much shallower cuts so they can conserve energy and glide more efficiently.
If you failed to lose that 10 lbs from last Christmas and this has happened over the last 3 Christmas’s, you are heavier on your skates. This means you’re putting more weight over the profile of the blade and you are digging in more. You can decrease your hollow depth to get more glide now and you can also say this was all in the master plan to becoming a more efficient skater. (see above example)
People think ice is ice. It freezes, turns hard and stays white. Not the case unfortunately. Our local hockey complex has 4 pads of ice, each with it’s own characteristics. The hardest ice plays fast, snow buildup is light and if you’re coaching on it you can’t feel your feet after only running a few drills. The warmest pad chips easy, snow is more granular and the puck moves slower. What this means for skate sharpening though is that on the hardest ice, a 3/8″ sharpening may feel dull while on the warmest ice, that same 3/8″ hollow is going to be very aggressive. It’s best to get an average based on your home rink and try to sharpen for that scenario.
A deep hollow will no doubt keep you standing and locked into the ice at the novice levels. This could be a good thing while you’re trying to figure out your balance points on skates. Shallow hollows require a lot of work to keep one edge or the other engaged with the ice so shallow hollows tend to cater to more experienced skaters. As you progress and become faster north to south, drop your hollow to get more glide.
Signs You’re Too Sharp or Too Dull
A good rule of thumb is if you turn your skates to stop and find yourself gliding over the ice or you are losing your footing in a turn, you should increase the depth of your hollow thus creating more bite. On the other end, if your skates chatter or skip over the ice when you attempt to stop or you find yourself losing too much speed when cornering, you should decrease the depth of your hollow. Again, this is pretty general based on the factors I’ve outlined above but can be a good, quick indicator of where you’re at on your blades.
At the end of the day we all just want to have fun out there and that means maximizing your experience on the ice. Whether your skating in NCAA Div 1 or on a Thursday night at 10pm in your local beer league, there is nothing like a good skate!
About the Author
Chris Levis grew up the son of a goalie mask maker in southern Ontario. Owner of Levy’s Source for Sports – an independently owned and operated sporting goods store located in Langley, BC – he focuses on a range of sporting goods including hockey and lacrosse gear. He has played goal in the Western Lacrosse Association (WLA) and National Lacrosse League (NLL) since 1998. Chris has also served on the negotiating and competition committee of the Professional Lacrosse Players Association (PLPA) since 2000. In the 10 years preceding Levy’s, Chris was a Strength and Conditioning Coach focusing on sports performance and corrective movement.