How Often Should You Sharpen Your Ice Skates?
Ice skating is about as much fun in the winter as you can have. The combination of laughing your way around the ice surface of the rink or pond, hanging out with family and friends, and the hot chocolate by a roaring fire afterward is sure to make for an enjoyable experience.
Once in a while though, usually on a pair of rented ice skates, you find yourself having trouble getting any momentum or turning and it turns into kind of a chore. These are sure signs that it is time to get those skates sharpened. This does beg the question of how often should you sharpen your ice skates?
Why Sharpen Ice Skates?
For some people, keeping ice skates sharpened feels like an expense without any benefit. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
3 Reasons for Sharpening Skates
1. Sharp blades carve predictable lines in the ice. Dull blades give you less grip making it tough to know when an ice skate is going to grab the surface. This is especially bad for figure skates where the skater is preparing to launch a trick.
2. Sharp blades help create confidence in a skater. Sharpening ice skates allows the skater to go where they want, when they want to.
3. Regularly sharpening the blade's edge will actually save you money in the long run. When you sharpen ice skates you remove nicks and burs and, yikes(!) any corrosion present. If these conditions go untreated, you run the serious risk of making the skate blades useless requiring you to replace your expensive figure skates or even hockey skates.
Is it expensive to keep ice skates sharpened?
Not really. Most professionals will charge $10 to $30 for routine skate sharpening.
Can I sharpen ice skates at home?
Unless you are prepared to invest in some pretty expensive equipment like an actual sharpening machine you really ought to let the pros do it for you. Tools like a grinding wheel, sharpening stone and sharpening jig take skill and practice to use well and the average skater will not typically have the inclination to invest that much effort in the sharpening process.
Sharpening Figure Skates
The pros who sharpen ice skates know it is one part science, one part art, and one part geometry. While beginner ice skaters are less fussy, figure skate sharpening is a much more particular activity as figure skating blades have to operate the same way every time so figure skaters can depend on their blades to execute the spins and jumps that carry so much risk.
Hockey skaters inflict tremendous punishment on a skate blade. Rapid starts and stops and abrupt turns that are normal for hockey players can make a skate blade wear out quickly.
Many skaters will buy a burr stone for a one-off flaw in their blade. With some practice they can fix a simple flaw and maintain an overall sharp feel.
How often do ice skates need sharpening?
While the rule of thumb for when to sharpen skates is somewhere between 20 and 30 hours of use, sometimes as little as 10 or as many as 40 hours of use will mean it is time for skate sharpening. Here are some of the variables.
5 Important Variables for Sharpening Frequency
1) Ice Conditions
Not all ice is created equal. Harder ice is often found in venues where hockey is the dominant activity as, for these players, the need for speed is front and center.
Harder ice is also found in outdoor rinks in northern climates in the winter. In general, this ice will be tougher on edges and cause you to need to sharpen your skates more often.
Skating on ponds and lakes is a great time. But unless there is regular attention paid to the surface of outdoor ice, the bumps and grooves will take their toll on blades and sharpening should take place more often.
2) Type of Activities
If your interests are simply recreational, you will probably place less stress on your edges so you will get blades sharpened less often. Contrast that with the need to sharpen figure skates where jumps and spins will mean more frequent sharpening.
3) Skater's Weight
A lighter skater will not impact skate blades as much as others. They can maintain an edge longer - all other things being equal.
4) Better Blades vs. Lesser Quality
There certainly is a connection between the quality of the steel in blades and their ability to preserve sharper blades. Paying up for a better-quality blade should mean you sharpen your skates less often.
5) Other Factors
Lots of other factors can come into play such as how you store your skates (see below) in determining how often you should sharpen your skates. For example, let's say you are skating on outdoor ice at your friend's homemade rink.
When you leave the ice surface, perhaps you have to walk to pick up your guards causing your blades to come in contact with stones or a sidewalk. A blade simply is not designed to navigate these surfaces and you should check them afterward.
How to sharpen ice skates
An ice skate blade has two edges: one inside and one outside. The area in between the edges is called the hollow and the depth of the arch of the hollow is called the Radius of Hollow (RoH) or sometimes the hollow groove.
A professional sharpener will be concerned about the RoH since it directly impacts what happens as the edges engage the ice. For example, sharpening the blades to a deep hollow will create more bite allowing sharper turns. This is also referred to as having a smaller radius (RoH) as you can imagine a complete circle formed by the blade hollow.
The opposite is true of a blade with a larger radius (RoH). A shallow hollow like this will create less bite and less drag making gliding easier and turns requiring more effort than a small radius blade.
What is the best RoH when sharpening?
This is the art form of skate sharpening. The answer is, it depends on who is doing the skating and how they do their skating.
While the most common RoH is either 1/2 or 5/8, skates can vary significantly. Think about a hockey skate. A lighter player may want a deeper hollow to make it easy to make sharper turns. A lighter figure skater may feel the same way.
But a goalie may want the blade of their skates easier to glide to make their job going side to side a little less difficult. This is why hockey skate and figure skate sharpening are such an individual decision.
How to store your skates
Long term exposure to moisture is the enemy of a skate's edges. There is nothing good about skating on blades with even the slightest hint of corrosion. Sharpen them immediately if this happens to you.
But the better bet is to store your sharpened skates correctly. Three steps should be taken every time you are done skating for the day and especially at the end of a season.
1) Put on your hard plastic guards as soon as you step off the ice. Your blade will not be very happy with you if you drag it across any hard surface.
2) Towel off the blades and the blade brackets to dry them as best you can.
3) Place your skates in your bag after protecting them with soft, velour lined guards called soakers to draw any remaining moisture away from your nicely sharpened blades. They can then be indefinitely stored with confidence preferably in a dry location. This will benefit both the blades and the boots.
Keeping your edges sharpened will absolutely help you be a better skater with more control when you want it and more speed when you need it. If you are wearing figure skating skates, sharp blades, if done well, will help you pull off all those artistic moves that are so much fun to execute.
If you are a hockey skater, having your blades done just right will help you charge the net and help you turn around in the opposite direction and play defense. Your teammates will be almost as glad as you for the outstanding contributions to your team.
And for the recreational skater, the benefits are clear. You will have an easier time gliding around the rink with your favorite partner as you enjoy the experience of a crisp winter evening at the rink or on the pond.