Commonly Asked Questions About BLADES

1) How sharp should my blades be?
2) How often should I have my blades sharpened?
3) Should I always have the nicks removed when having my skates sharpened?
4) When purchasing a new pair of blades, what should I be looking for?
5) When new blades are mounted should my skates be able to stand upright without falling?
6) What are some of the myths about blade choices?
7) Why do my new blades have so much rocker?
8) Is it wise to put new blades on old boots?
9) How do I test for a rocker?
10) What are some of the variables that affect how my skates should be sharpened?
11) Is the Zamboni my enemy?
12) Do my new blades come sharpened from the factory?
13) How close to the toe pick should the blades be sharpened?
14) How should I tighten the screws on my blades?
15) When should I use my skate guards?

1) How sharp should my blades be?
This question generally refers to the depth of hollow or radius of hollow (ROH) of the blade. As a general rule, most serious skaters should use a ROH in the 5/8" to 7/16" range. (Really advanced skaters may go as shallow as ¾ of an inch.) Through many years of observation and experimentation, these radii have proven to be most effective.

The theory is that the degree of hollow put on a blade is inversely proportional to the skater's fundamental skating qualities. In other words, a skater whose form was always perfect, who never made any mistakes, would have his skates sharpened with no hollow; a flat grind.

A blade that is sharpened with little or no hollow has much more flow, giving the skater an apparently effortless performance. The downside of a flat grind is that even a slight error in position upon landing a jump will result in a crash. Conversely, a blade with a very deep hollow will allow for jumps to be landed with much poorer positions, but the cost is greatly reduced flow or speed. Skaters will be much more exhausted at the end of their programs. Those who use very deep hollows are ones often criticized for their poor style receiving relatively low style marks: they often look awkward and forced in their performances. There are exceptions and I work with a notable one right now.

I suggest a strong discipline of training with shallower grinds to encourage the development of good, fundamental skating skills producing in the end a skater that gets good first and second marks. Consider having your blades sharpened with less and less hollow until you can no longer work with them: then just go back to a slightly deeper grind. This process should result in the best sharpening style for you.

2) How often should I have my blades sharpened?
Have your skates sharpened before they begin to feel dull. Waiting until the blades feel in need of sharpening means that you've already been wasting practice and lesson time. More importantly, waiting so long necessarily means that you'll have an adjustment period. Properly timed, there should be little or no difference in your skating after a sharpening. If you hate freshly and properly sharpened blades, then you've become accustomed to waiting too long between sharpenings. Skaters who procrastinate are setting themselves up for disaster should they damage their blades at or immediately before competition or testing. They'll have to skate on freshly sharpened blades and won't be able to do so.

As a rule, sharpening should occur between 20 and 40 actual hours of skating. Many top skaters won't go beyond 15 hours, though a few can go much longer.

3) Should I always have the nicks removed when having my skates sharpened?
Nicks are only of concern when they occur in the critical skating area of the blade. Many advanced skaters have serious nicking or mangling of the blade from the back stanchion to the end. This is the product of regularly jamming both blades together in a jump. The back part of the blade exists only to prop up the skater when out of position and should not be ground mercilessly in order to achieve a clean look. A few small nicks along the skating portion of the blade are also acceptable, but this is a judgement call.

4) When purchasing a new pair of blades, what should I be looking for?
Like new boots, new blades should be inspected before purchase. Ensure you have a left and right blade. (A few blades are not made in left and right configurations.)

Inspect the blade to ensure that the blades are perpendicular to the sole and heel plates. To do this, again find a flat surface and turn the blade over, pressing the sole plate onto the surface) with the heel plate extended over the edge. Using a business card held vertically and facing toward you, slide the card against the side of the blade. The card should fit flush against the side of the blade.

Test both sides of the blade to insure the blade is perpendicular. With side-honed blades such as Gold Seal and Phantom, the deviation from square on one side should equal the deviation on the other side. Repeat the preceding process with the heel plate pressed upon the flat surface. Demand near perfection from this test. Lastly, check to make sure that the blade is straight.

S electing the correct blade length will depend in part on your coach's preferences. Typically, free style coaches opt for the longest blade that will fit on the boot. Often, however, when maximizing blade length, one or more of the heel plate screw holes will fall directly over the cobbler nails of the boot's heel. Select the shorter blade in this case or the mounting position may have to be compromised in order to fin d a suitable location for the screws.

5) When new blades are mounted should my skates be able to stand upright without falling?
Positioning a blade correctly is more art and luck than science. However, after more than thirty years of practicing, I do have some general guidelines (not absolutes) to use.

Most really extreme mountings are counter-productive. Skaters more likely to need extreme blade positions are those with, knocked knees, flat feet, bowed legs or turned-in knees. These skaters will likely need several re-adjustments of the blade position, modification of the soles through shaving and shimming or orthotics.

It is my well-held position that skaters who require extreme positioning of their blades are candidates for joint and back issues in later life. Consider how important skating really is!

It is often thought that a properly mounted blade will result in a skate that will stand balanced when on a flat surface. This is myth! Only by chance will this occur.

No relationship exists between good mounting and the ability of the skate to stand on its own.

Too many variables exist in the blade mounting process to try to describe it on this page.

6) What are some of the myths about blade choices?
Blade choice has a lot to do with blade myth. First, you should understand that all popular blades have a similar radius (curvature) of rocker. What really affects skating style is the pitch created by the relative height of the heel stanchion to the sole stanchions. The higher the heel the more erect one will skate. The lower the heel, the more forward the skater will lean.

Blades like Gold Seal and Phantom have ‘side-honed' and tapered blades. The skating surfaces of such blades are widest at the ball area and narrow or taper toward the heel. The advantage this concept is supposed to have created may have had some legitimate value when we were doing school figures, but then only so long as the coach knew how to take advantage of it. The sides of these blades are typically inaccurately ground to create a concave side surface that was supposed to have created a better gripping edge. Bad idea, it only creates drag and does nothing to enhance skating performance. A side-honed blade does ensure that even under the best of circumstances, no two consecutive sharpenings will be identical. Under most circumstances, it results in sharpenings that soon render the blade near worthless to a competitor. You need only to take such blades once to a sharpener who doesn't understand these blades to have them ruined forever.

Ultima® offers a line of blades with detachable runners. With these you can have a spare set of sharpened blades in your skate bag ready to attach at the time of your choosing. If damage occurs, say at a competition, you have nothing to fear — just pull out the spare set and not worry about having some stranger sharpen your skates. I have numerous customers who mail me their runners and never have to be without their skates.

However, if you plan to buy these detachable blades and don't intend to get the second set of runners, you will gain nothing!

Talk with me about your next blade purchase.

7) Why do my new blades have so much rocker?
Predictably, when a skater replaces his old blades with new ones of the same model, he complains that the new blades have too much rocker.

What he is most likely feeling is the greater rock forward he finds before the toe pick touches the ice. As a result of many sharpenings, the boot necessarily sits lower on the ice. However, the toe pick of the old blade if left untouched necessarily gets closer and closer to the ice and the skater learns to adjust by staying back from the toe pick. This is especially a factor in the Axle jump. Periodic reductions in the size of the toe pick can reduce this concern, but creates problems elsewhere. The more frequently you replace your blades, the easier the transitions will be.

8) Is it wise to put new blades on old boots?
Sometimes, mounting a new or different blade on a used boot of your own works well. Most of the time, for the switch to work, it must involve a pair of boots the skater has recently used and that has had not more than one previous blade mounted to it. At least half of the screws would need to go into fresh leather, where no previous or plugged hole is nearby.

It is just not to be expected that a new blade of the same size and model will properly attach using the existing holes. Blades are made of three parts. Often in the assembly of these parts, the alignment varies. It is often far easier to mount a blade of a different make, model and size. Frequently, there can be a perfect hole match with a new blade but a blade alignment that is dramatically different.

Used boots may be too rotten for remounting of a new blade.

9) How do I test for a rocker?
Considering the critical area of the blade, you should test to ensure that there is a continuous curve front to back. An edge on the ice is created by three factors: body lean, speed and the radius of your blade's rocker (its curvature). Considering that body lean and speed are held constant, the curve or size of the circle one skates will vary directly with the radius of the blade's rocker. A speed skater will skate a very large curve because his blades are nearly flat, while a figure skater will skate a much smaller circle on blades that have an obviously smaller curvature or rocker.

To test for a rocker, on a smooth flat surface rock the blade from toe to heel. The blade should move from its first point of contact behind the toe pick to at least the back stanchion smoothly. Any bumps in the movement suggest that there is a flat spot or perhaps a re-curve. This condition must be corrected immediately.

A blade than can contact the ice surface at two points is like a blade that has no rocker or curvature at all: its tendency is to make the skate go in a straight line. Most often the remedy for blade flats is a new pair of blades. It is possible to re-profile a figure blade as is often done with hockey blades, but it is costly and only a few skate technicians can do so.

10) What are some of the variables that affect how my skates should be sharpened?
The person who sharpens your skates needs to be aware of the conditions where you train most of the time in order to customize the grind. Some rinks keep their ice at colder temperatures than others. Generally, the colder temperatures are used in the hockey facilities even though this is more costly and warmer ice is kept for figure training.

Even though most ice rinks are temperature controlled for the bottom of the ice, the surface temperature varies with ambient temperature and humidity. Typically the ice surface is harder (colder) in the winter and softer (warmer) in the summer months. To achieve similar skating performances all year round, a blade's depth of hollow should be somewhat shallower in the summer.

11) Is the Zamboni my enemy?
The Zamboni entrance can be the sharpener's ally and your enemy. The tire tracks of the Zamboni often leave small pieces of gravel just below the ice surface. Skating over these tracks just one time can wipe out a freshly sharpened edge. Work with your arena management to have the Zamboni's tires properly cleaned each time before resurfacing.

12) Do my new blades come sharpened from the factory?

Blades typically come sharpened from the factory. However, most factory sharpenings are poor. Even blades that happen to come with a good quality sharpening probably do not have the style of sharpening that is appropriate for every skater or ice surface. Therefore, it follows that one can not expect to know if the blade is positioned correctly on the boot until the blade has been properly sharpened.

IF ALREADY MOUNTED, DO NOT START CHANGING THE BLADE'S PLACEMENT TO MAKE IT FEEL CORRECT UNTIL YOU HAVE HAD YOUR OWN SKATE SHARPENER SHARPEN YOUR BLADES!

Moving blades before sharpening will usually result in unwarranted holes in the bottom of the boot and a lot of frustration.

13) How close to the toe pick should the blades be sharpened?
Hold a skate upright on a table. Rock the skate forward to where the bottom toe pick (drag pick) touches the table. The distance on the blade between the toe pick (A) and where the blade is touching the table (B) is not skateable . Were there no blade between those two points, it would have no effect on skating. Such close sharpening endangers the toe picks while gaining you nothing.

It is true, however, that how the blade is sharpened toward the toe area is suggestive of the control or lack thereof taken by the sharpener when grinding along the critical length of the blade. There should be no re-curve of the blade's rocker or profile between points B and C which is the blade's critical area; no flat spot in this area.

14) How should I tighten the screws on my blades?
Slightly loose blades often produce the same effect as very dull blades. Taking care not to become anal about tightening blades, periodically gently tighten the screws. It is best to grip the screwdriver with only your fingertips to help avoid over tightening and therefore stripping of the screw holes. It is just leather the screws have to hold on to, so again (especially when the leather is wet) be gentle.

If the screw holes are stripped do not, except as an emergency measure, plug the old holes. The area around the old holes will probably be rotten and the plug you might insert will probably pull out in short order. Assuming that the boots are otherwise in very good condition, the best solution is to return the boots to their maker for new soles and heels. Having the boots rebuilt by the factory is a cost effective way to extend the life of a pair of boots, but it will probably take a couple weeks for turn around time. The next best solution to stripped holes is to have a competent shoe repair shop do a 'half sole.' In this case, the bottom layer of leather on the sole is removed from under the ball area of the boot and a new piece glued in its place. To have this done properly, you must insist that the cobbler, after having removed the old sole, plug whatever remaining holes have extended into the sub-sole layer of leather, before gluing on the new piece.

In the same respect, the heel can also be rebuilt by removing at least 3/4" of the leather. Warning, most cobblers don't understand the importance of removing all this leather and tend to try getting away with removing only a fraction of what is necessary. The heel and sole must be free of all old holes in order to get a secure hold for the screws and to ensure that the new screws can go in straight.

15) When should I use my skate guards?
Skate guards and rubber floor tiles are used to safeguard your blades. Excessive use of either, however, is harmful to your skating. The rubber floor tiles are particularly bad because they encourage you to walk around with no guards. The dust that collects on the floor tiles acts as a grinding compound to smoothly, almost imperceptively dull your edges. Walk sparingly on these tiles without your guards.

Your skate guards can also be harmful to your blades. Excessive walking in guards causes the blades to develop scallops from toe to heel from the ridges in the guards. Sharpening does not correct for these scallops and in fact tends to exacerbate the condition.

The other more obvious problem with guards is the likelihood of rust occurring if left on the blades while wet.

The proper use of guards is to wear them from bench to the rink and back. If a skater wants to wander about the rink, he should do so in his shoes.

Go to Commonly Asked Questions about BOOTS


 

   
2007 Fred's Skate Sharpening