Maintaining Your Edge

How To Decide When To Sharpen Your Skates

"When should I get these skates sharpened again?"

Skate sharpeners hear this question several times a day, but unfortunately no magic number exists. Some skaters make stops at the sharpening shop before each outing. Others keep their edges for months. In rare instances, skaters boast that they've never required a sharpening.

What causes these individual variations in sharpening requirements?

Many factors affect how often skate blades need to visit the grinding table. To help skaters make sharpening decisions, we take a look at some of these factors.

1. The type of Alloy in the Skate Blade

Some blades maintain their edges better because of the type and quality of alloy in the blade. For example, a high quality carbon steel or stainless steel produces a tougher blade which stays sharp longer. The tougher alloys are more resistant to abrasion -- rough surfaces won't damage this alloy as readily, perhaps allowing for fewer trips to the sharpener.

2. The Skater's Weight

It's no coincidence that light weight skaters line up at the sharpening shop more often than heavy ones. Why? Because the blades of heavier skaters dig into the ice, providing good grip and stopping power without the benefit of freshly ground edges. Skinny skaters, on the other hand need better edges to obtain that necessary grip.

3. The Skater's Ability

Some parents avoid skate sharpenings for their wobbly legged youngsters with the excuse "They're too young to know the difference." In reality, dull blades may hinder a child's skating development. They reduce acceleration ability, and cause novice to work harder to obtain short distances.

Experienced skaters who know how to use their edges ask for regular sharpening.

4. Ice Temperature

Freshly sharpened skates may be more of a hindrance than a help on warm, soft ice. That's because sharp-edged blades tend to cut into soft ice, leaving ruts and causing skaters to feel like they are ploughing along.

On the other hand, skaters require sharpened blades on cold hard ice. On this type of surface, the pressure of a sharp narrow edge causes the ice to melt slightly under the blade, thus providing the necessary flow.

5. Indoor Versus Outdoor Rinks

Skaters who regularly use outdoor rinks require more frequent appointments at the grinding table than those who use indoor ice surfaces. Outside, naturally occurring abrasive material, such as sand, salt, and dust particles find their way to the ice, and inevitably to skate blades.

In addition, outdoor ice tends to be harder because it lacks the luxury of temperature regulation. For this reason, skaters require sharper blades for more efficient glide.

6. Off Ice Abuse

The rougher the off ice wear, the more frequent the need for sharpening. Some skaters wander across parking lots and driveways using their skates for boots. Others make endless trips across arena floors to buy treats at the canteen. This type of wear dulls and damages the blades severely.

Improper storage is another form of off ice abuse. If skates are thrown carelessly into a box or corner, damaged blades are a likely result. Skates should be dried off after each wearing, and placed carefully into a designated storage spot to prevent damage and rust.

7. Use of Skate Guards

Edge wear can be reduced by protecting the blades through the use of skate guards. If skaters must go for frequent canteen cokes, wearing guards will prevent damage caused by abrasive particles on the arena floor.

The best type of skate guard is the step-in variety, Although these cost more, they are easy-on easy-off and allow users to walk around in their skates. Another alternative is the less expensive rubber or plastic guards; these are better than nothing, but can be difficult to don, and often fall off during walking.

Skate guards should be used for transport only, never for storage. If guards are left on indefinitely, rust will develop on the skate blade.

8. The Skate Sharpener's Competence

It's important to find and use a competent skate sharpener. If you find a good shop, stick with it. Jumping from sharpener to sharpener will cause problems with uniformity, since each one has a particular style. As for "deals", it's still caveat emptor, and remember, you get what you pay for.

See Also: Skate Sharpening Rip-Off

Skater Preference - The Bottom Line

These eight factors mean nothing unless skaters' preferences are considered. Skaters know when their blades don't work, and they'll ask for a sharpening. On the contrary, some skaters may feel more confident with fewer sharpenings, and they should be listened to as well.

Parents and skate sharpeners can't second guess a skater's preference when it comes to skate blades. It's the skaters who have to do the skating., so let them make the decisions.

Take Care of Your Blades -- It's the Best Defence

The worse the condition of the skate blade, the more metal the skate sharpener must remove to obtain a good edge. Blades can be maintained by using guards, and a hand sharpening stone can be used at home to clean (not sharpen) the blade. Ask your skate sharpener for this product, but leave the actual sharpening to him.

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