Were your blades sharpened correctly?
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen and heard skaters complain about their newly sharpened blades.
“Something doesn’t feel right“
“It’s like I’ve lost part of my edge“
“I cant roll up to the front of my blade anymore, I’ve cant do my… “insert lost jump or spin here“
In fact, I’ve said all of these things before myself, it’s time to get educated and learn how your skates should be sharpened.
Parents and skaters search far and wide for a good blade sharpener who knows about figure skating blades but why is this?
Why are people with this critical skill set difficult to find (in Australia/Asia – or everywhere?)
Blade sharpening is a precision skill that requires perfect technique and knowledge of figure skating
It takes practice and plenty of it. One of the best in the business is Canada’s Jake Brunott; you can see how much work he puts into each and every blade in this interview:
Jake describes a winning edge is a “closely guarded family secret”I find his attitude towards getting the perfect edge inspiring.
In many places around the world there is an older generation of professionals who are quickly disappearing.
The global figure skating community is relying on a new generation of skate sharpeners to take over.
For skaters who are traveling to compete, performing in ice shows or relocating this presents a challenge, how do you identify a person who knows their stuff?
Take this three-question quiz:
- Do you know what a well sharpened blade looks and feels like?
- Do you know how to spot blade sharpening errors?
- Do you know how long a figure skating blade should last?
I’ve seen $900 blades ruined on their FIRST sharpen.
Most of the time parents or skaters don’t know what is wrong, they just know something isn’t right. It’s time to change that and edify each other.
We can use Jake’s passion and example for creating the perfect edge to raise the standard on blade sharpening.
By educating ourselves we will be able to save a ton of money as well as make a real difference to the quality of our skating.
My blades were sharpened, how do i spot errors?
You develop an understanding of them! This is a comprehensive list of the most common errors made when sharpening figure skating blades.
Error 1 – A deformed Radius of Hollow (R.O.H)
A blade with a deep hollow will hold the ice better, but it will also grab and create more friction – making it slower. Skaters of different heights and weights will prefer a slightly different Radius of Hollow.
A deformed R.O.H is normally caused by incorrect or poor dressing of the sharpening wheel. The edges may still be square, however the blade can feel slippery or blunt on one edge and bite or grab on the other.
To understand what the profile of a Correct R.O.H and Deformed R.O.H looks like, see the picture below:
Error 2 – Incorrect Squareness of the Edges
This only ever occurs when the jig that holds the blade for sharpening is not correctly configured. This causes the center of the blade to be out of line with the center of the grinding wheel.
To understand what the profile of a Square Edge is vs a Non-Square Edge looks like, see the picture below:
Error 3 – An Incorrect Depth of Groove
The reference gauge for this is subjective to the skaters discipline or preference.
The ideal bite or ‘angle of the edge hitting the ice’ will depend but typically skaters who are lighter enjoy a greater bite and skaters who are heavier enjoy more of a shallow bite.
Additionally, more advanced skaters typically enjoy a shallower bite as they often bend their knees more which gives them more control, negating the need for a stronger bite.
A sharper bite angle will create more friction across the ice whereas a shallower groove will make the skating faster and easier.
To understand the ideal Depth of Groove you will need to experiment with what is comfortable as an edge can be too strong or too shallow depending on the skater.
The examples show a Depth of Groove that is too shallow for a skater on the left and a Depth of Groove that is too sharp for a skater on the right, see the picture below:
Error 4 – A Bent Blade
Occasionally a blade can bend, although this is rare it is normally due to extensive force being applied to the blade through elite level jumps or pairs lifts that didn’t go to plan.
Bent blades can not be sharpened correctly due to the bend or ‘woof’ in the blade. Sharpening will produce a dropped edge and new blades must be purchased.
Error 5 – A Deformed Base Plate
The base plate could be bent or soldered out of square (which is normally a manufacturing fault) this is highly unlikely if you are using a high grade competition blade.
It is best practice to thoroughly inspect new blades at the time of purchase.
Error 6 – Sole and Heel
If your boot is not level when the blade is set (screwed down) a bow or ‘woof’ could be produced.
Special care should be taken to ensure that when a blade is mounted it is done correctly.
Error 7 – Poor Fitting
If you blade is fitted incorrectly you will not have even edges and the weight distribution will the skewed. If your blade is not fitted correctly it needs to be adjusted until it is.
A good sharpen cannot fix a weight distribution issue.
WARNING: I am about to show you a shocking photo, this is a photo of a blade that i was asked to fix because it was mounted incorrectly:
You can see how crooked the blade is with your naked-eye.
Error 8 – Poor Setting
Your blade should be set only after it has been aligned correctly. Screws should be distributed evenly with holes to spare.
It is best practice to keep holes spare in case of the need for a blade change or adjustment.
Error 9 – Incorrectly grinding the Toe Pick
The toe pick should not be damaged during sharpening.
A good sharpener will adjust the toe height during the life of the blade so that an even toe height to Radius of Contour (R.O.C/Rocker) is maintained.
Error 10 – Rounded Blades
The blades are incorrectly rounded off at the heels. This is due to poor technique of the sharpener.
This will ruin a blades natural balance points and new blades must be purchased.
Error 11 – Dips or Flat Spots
To check this hold the boot upside down, catch the light along the blade from toe to heel. You will then be able to observe the dips and flat spots. These are caused by incorrect speed and or pressure applied during sharpening.
This can be fixed depending on how much blade you have left.
Error 12 – Alteration of the Radius of Contour (R.O.C/Rocker)
This is the most common and worst error of sharpening.
When a section of the blade behind the toe pick has developed a bump and then flat area (or worst an inverted curve) your ‘Rocker’ is gone – never to return.
The correct radius has been removed because too much metal has been removed where your ‘Rocker’ was during the sharpening.
This is due to poor sharpening technique (most often by skate sharpeners who only understand hockey skates).
Once this has happened the spinning and jumping radius (tangent point) moves further back along the blade.
For example a skater may describe a feeling of inability to roll forward off of the front radius for toe jumps or an inability to spin on the correct part of the blade (i.e. their ‘Rocker’)
To understand what the profile of a good R.O.C vs a ruined R.O.C looks like, see the picture below:
If this happens, new blades must be purchased.
How should a blade be finished?
At the end of your sharpen your blade should have a finish that looks polished.
This can be done through varying the grit used on the grinding wheel or using polishing cream to remove wheel chatter and/or burrs in the groove.
Good sharpening will remove metal burrs on the outer and inside edge of both blades.
Finally the blade should be layered flat on a block or similar apparatus and then gently honed with a flat, very fine honing stone.
REMEMBER: Determine if your skate sharpener actually knows what they are doing.
It is your responsibility to ensure you put your equipment in the hands of people who you can trust.
It is your own fault if you give your beautiful blades to a metal butcher
Do some research, take due diligence and ensure the quality of your blade is maintained by a professional (i.e. Have your blades sharpened correctly).