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Skate Sharpening 101: How Do Skates Work

© 2002-2012

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 hollow and also its glide from the hollow. Glide occurs because there is a 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 sharpened, a hollow 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.

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 causes 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 hollows, 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 that is selected based on many personal and external factors, and also a proper blade radius. Hollows 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 hollow 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.

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. It's the depth of the hollow, 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.

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 my 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.
Even edges are the most important element of skate sharpening process. Our Process
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. We explain hollow 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 hollow choices to you, and we will educate you on the pros and cons of each setting. We will then pick a hollow 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 hollow.

Before we sharpen any skates on your first visit, we 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 hollow you like, we will sharpen to your wishes. If you are not sure, we can also measure what your current sharpener has put on your blade and match it. Sometimes though, 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.
OK, I like my hollow, now what?
Now that we found your favorite hollow, 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 No-Icing Sports Customer Number (Card issued when you fill out your Profile Form). We have all the info we need on file. Some have asked why we don't write the hollow on the bottom of the skates like other shops. Simple, your hollow doesn't 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 develop as a skater, change positions, gain or lose weight, or as rink ice temperatures change, you may need minor adjustments in hollow to maintain optimum performance. Just let us know when the skates don't feel right and we can discuss hollow changes and other options.
How Important is Ice Temperature?
The ice temperature where you skate is an important part of the hollow 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. For example, if you are playing at Tri-Town, which normally has soft ice, and are skating on a 9/16" hollow that works well for you there, ... if you now go play at the Blue rink at Skate 3, which has very hard ice, you likely will be slipping out and not have enough grip.

So what do you do? While it is not always economically feasible to have your skates sharpened everytime you change rinks, if you do have an important game, tournement or tryout, then you may want to have your skates sharpened for that ice surface. NHL pro's do this for virtually every away game. At their game-day morning practice they test out the ice and their skate's performance. Then if necessary, have their equipment manager change the hollow to suit the ice condition.

Just let us know if you are changing from soft to hard ice or vice versa and we'll adjust your hollow as needed. You can ask the rink manager or even the zamboni driver what the ice temp is, they just read it off the compressor guages.
To make this process more affordable, check out our sharpening passes which lower the cost of sharpening significantly.
Performance Blade Finishing
For the serious hockey player, we offer a performance blade finish. 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. The results are amazing. 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. Ask for a demo when you visit the shop. Others charge $7 extra for similar finishing, we offer this optional service for only an additional $1.00. For those who don't believe it works, we'll apply it for free to just ONE of your skates. Go test it yourself. We'll bet you come back begging to have the other skate finished! Of course, that will cost you $1.00 :-) Ask for blade finishing, or what our customers have named, "Special Sauce" when you give us your skates.

Now available. Super Sauce! Our "Black Magic" formula will give you even more speed and last for a full 45 minutes of skating. That's 3 full games! 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 more per treatment. We recommend you reserve this for important games, tournaments or tryouts only.
"Let us "Pimp your Glide"!


How to choose a Hollow?

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. We write your "hollow" down for you on our Customer ID card, so 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. Finally, having the same ROH put on every time will extend your blade's life.
What Next?
So now you have a fresh No-Icing Sports sharpening, what do you do next?

Go skate of course!

If your hollow was changed, you WILL feel a difference. Every 1/8" change in hollow will change the bite angle by approx 2.5 degrees. Even a 1/16" change is noticable. It may take a skate or two to get use to the different hollow, but we are confident that in most cases you'll be very happy with the results. If not, don't fear, simply remember what you didn't like, or what problems you were having on the ice, i.e., slipouts, chattering, no speed, easily tired, etc, then bring the skates back to us for a free adjustment. We'll resharpen to try to find a "sweet spot" that will be your favorite hollow. We usually get in right on the first try and very rarely have to do a "free" resharpening, but if needed we'll gladly adjust it.

If you prefer, we can also simply put the initial hollow back on that you started with.

Also, please let us know when you have had your skates sharpened by another sharpener, it is likely they didn't give you your regular hollow, or get the edges even, so we may need to do additional passes to get it back to normal.
Our No-Hassle Guaranty
We've earned a great reputation for superior skate sharpening. Why, ... because we take sharpening seriously. It's not just something we do on the side or a task we leave to unsupervised minimum wage employees. Your blades are inspected, measured with gauges, an for our online customers, we test each of your runners on a sheet of ice we have here in our deep freezer to ensure the edges are grabbing perfectly before we package them for shipping.

Our Prices
At No-Icing Sports, we don't charge you anything extra for our personalized sharpening services. A customized sharpening is only $6.00, same price as most pro shops and arenas charge for their generic service. We also offer a pre-buy sharpening pass that lowers that price significantly. In addition, we don't charge extra for deep hollows or goalie skates like some shops do. As for grind quality, we don't use the cheap stones to cut our costs. We use the most expensive stones available which produce a clean superior finish. A smooth finish increases your glide and speed. We also clean the stone of metal shavings from the last customer's skates for EVERY new customer. Some shops cheat and try to get as many sharpenings as they can before they clean their stones. Why do they do this, well, to save money, stone wear, and time of course. But what you end up getting is an inferior finish on the blade, and this causes drag. If you are not one of our customers yet, do this examination... look at the bottom of your blade. If you can see stone marks, skip marks, squiggly lines, waves, brown or blue colors, or any other markings, then you have a poor finish. It should look nice and smooth with a satin finish. If not, then you aren't getting the speed or performance you should out of your skates. Visit us, we can fix that for you!

Our shop is equipped with a mix of eleven different skate sharpeners and radius/profiling shapers that allows us to select the right machine for the job. Our machines are calibrated and meticulously maintained by the manufacturers yearly and kept in top mechanical condition. We've even gone as far to replace the ball bearings in our motors with needle bearings to reduce vibrations and to obtain a smoother cut.

Many ask us what sharpeners we use or what so-called "method" we follow. Our answer is this, it's not the machines we use that gives you a perfect sharpening, it's our process and attention to detail. Some competitors have sent their spy's down to see what machines we use, then after spending thousands of dollars copying us, they still end up sharpening the skates just as poorly as before. We find it quite amusing. It's not the machine, it's the human that operates it. Our owner has developed his own process based on years of experience and having performed hundreds of thousands of sharpenings and custom radius's. He has also collected and recorded data and analysis on each skater and the results used to perfect his methodology.

Before you walk out our door, we check and verify the skates for proper grind and squareness. Rest assured, we will do your skates the same way, every time. This is very important. We don't use barely trained retail clerks as sharpeners. At No-Icing, unlike other shops, you don't have to plan your visit when the "good" sharpener is there, a good sharpener is always here! Our goal is to consistently provide top quality service. We are certain, if you try us, you'll make us your FAVORITE sharpener!

We don't spend just 20 seconds to sharpen your skates. We do it right and take whatever time is needed to produce superior results. We refuse to skimp or rush the sharpening process when there is a line of customers, so you may have a bit longer wait to get your skates serviced. We apologize, but it is the only way we can ensure quality is consistent. As always, if you prefer, you can drop off the skates and pick them up later, or if you are on a tight time schedule, call in advance to schedule an appointment. During hockey season, Fridays and Saturdays are our busy days, so the best time to come to avoid waiting is during the week. Internet customers, if you are interested in our express "Sharpen by Mail Service, click on link!
Sharpen by Mail
Why Us?
Other hockey stores and rink pro shops believe skate sharpening is very easy to do, so they don't put a lot of priority in how they offer that service. Some even hire teenagers or folks off the street as skates sharpeners, then only give them an hour or two of rushed training before they get to sharpen YOUR skates unsupervised. I can't even tell you how many customers I have seen who have had their skates ruined by these folks. You can even go to the new guy in town, who just a short while ago ago was one of my customers. He foolishly though he could just buy a machine like I have and profess he's a skate sharpener. Do you want to be the guinea pig and let him learn on your skates! (Newsflash, he's out of business) I wonder why? Others claim to be so-called "certified" skate sharpeners. What they don't tell you is that their "certification" consisted of about 15 minutes using a skate sharpener. Only a few skate sharpeners can really be considered full-time professionals. A professional skate sharpener will have thousands of skate sharpenings behind them and will have a complex knowledge of metallurgy, steel alloys, skate blade design, heat treating, as well as being a hockey player themselves. We've personally tested the realm of hollows and radius's that we offer to you and we have a pretty good idea exactly how they feel and perform. That's a professional sharpener. That's what you get when you visit No-Icing Sports. Oh yea, if you don't think sharpening is important, just ask Ray Martyniuk, a 1st round NHL draft choice why he didn't make it to the NHL. Lastly, if you are a home sharpener, remember if you are charging anyone, teammates or friends, anything to sharpen their skates, you are no longer a home sharpener, you are a business. As such, you are expected to possess all necessary federal, state and local business licenses, and also must pay all applicable taxes on your income. If you are doing this under the table, one word of caution, someone will report you to the IRS. The fines can be steep. Please follow the same rules that your local hockey store must follow. $1.50 of every sharpening I do goes to the gov't. I play fair, you should too. This web page is U.S. Federal Copyright Protected, Registration number TX 6-496-265. It is against the law to reproduce our material. We will prosecute web sites that pirate our information. Keep in mind, you cannot simply change a few words or just alter the sentences either. Our intellectual property is not just the words but the content as well. If you're unsure that you are stealing our property, consult U.S. Code, Title 17 for specifics. The fines can be steep, especially if pirating is done willfully for monetary gain. If you have already copied our site or information contained within, if it is removed ASAP we may not prosecute. We have sophisticated search software to discover who has copied our site. We know who you are. If you simply create your own information instead of stealing ours, you have nothing to worry about.