Your new ice skates just shipped in, and they arrived dull. Or, your beginner ice skates came factory-sharpened, but after skating for a while, they’re beginning to feel somewhat sluggish. Which is taking the fun out of your play. But tell me: why do you want to learn how to sharpen skates at home?
Is it because the local rink lacks competent sharpeners? Maybe it’s because there’s no pro shop nearby? Or, maybe it’s because the new, clueless guy at the pro shop messed up your ice skates the last time you went there and now you’re looking for options.
You can sharpen ice skates with a machine at home, but this might not make much economic sense if you’re the only user since these devices can be pretty pricey. You can also use a V-shaped Sweet Stick to re-edge your skates. Alternatively, grip the blades parallel to each other and file the dullness out using a flat file. Finally, use your finger to feel the blades. And if there are any burrs on the edges, use a good burr stone to deburr them.
Also Read: How to Sharpen Ice Skates Without a Machine
3 Methods to Sharpen Ice Skates at Home
Beginner skaters wonder whether they can sharpen their skates at home. Maybe it’s because there’s no skate technician nearby. Or you’re tired of making those frequent trips to the sharpener and want an alternative solution.
Or perhaps a not-so-detail-oriented person at the rink or at the pro shop screwed up your skates recently, and you’re not going back there no matter what. The good news is that you can straighten the edges at home. You can any of these three methods to sharpen ice skates at home:
1. Use a Sharpening Machine
You can invest in a sharpening machine and save yourself trips to the pro shop. When sharpening with a machine, clamp your blades nice and snug in a jig. The blades are usually gripped horizontally so that the grinding wheel/finishing wheel stays in perfect alignment with the groove.
If there are dings, rust, and nicks, you may want to make a few passes with the cross-grinder. The cross-grinder step is optional. You normally use this piece of sharpening tool to prepare the blades for the actual sharpening using the grinding wheel, aka finishing wheel.
BTW, the cross-grinder isn’t positioned in the same direction as the blades. Instead, it’s placed perpendicularly to the blades. The cross-grinder’s job is not to sharpen the blades. Rather, it’s to flatten and dull them for the final re-finishing.
Also, if you take your ice skates to be sharpened for the first time ever, the skate tech typically preps the blades using the cross-grinder before doing any actual sharpening. This tool also comes in handy when a skate pro needs to correct someone else’s mediocrity at sharpening edges (badly sharpened blades).
You should set the sharpening wheel in a way that enables it to cut the right hollow profile into the bottom of the blades. Finally, you run a burr stone down the sides of your blades to smooth out any burrs. Use a finger to feel the burr before beginning the deburring phase.
Also Read: How to Sharpen Ice Slates With a Machine
Does Splurging on a Machine Make Sense?
Decent sharpening tools cost $600ish, but if you want the very best home skate sharpening device, be ready to splurge. The best sharpening machines on the market cost as much as $1,000 or even more. And there’s a learning curve to using certain sharpening machines, a sacrifice I guess you’re willing to make.
From a strictly economic standpoint, buying a sharpening machine doesn’t make much sense if you’re a solo skater. But there are situations where acquiring a sharpening device makes sense. Like when you’re a coach and have 20 learners at each session who can use rented skates.
Or, maybe you have a team of 20 and each hockey skater sharpens skates in the locker room as they change. In these situations, buying a sharpening machine makes sense.
I plan on sharing what I learn about sharpening ice skates using a machine with you once I buy the machine and test it out.
2. Use a Flat File to Sharpen Ice Skates At Home
You can use a flat file to sharpen your blades at home. However, you’re going to need to have a certain level of skill and expertise before you can correctly do this. Even though pretty much everyone can learn how to handle this activity, it takes a long time to master the craft. Here’s a more detailed post on how to sharpen skates with a handheld file if you’d like to learn.
If you’re a beginner or have never used a file to sharpen ice skates, doing this at home might not be a very good idea. You might damage your ice skates. Or, worse, you might get injuries.
Here’s how to sharpen ice skates by hand using a file: Secure both blades by clamping them in a sharpening jig. Cut the bottom of your blades exactly the way for a predictable, uniform fee. To do this, hold the blades in the exact same way each time you want to sharpen. Correct setup positions the blades parallel to each other. And the top of each blade is at the same level as the top of the other.
Sit somewhere comfortable and place the jig and the tightly held blades between your legs to stead it. With a flat file placed perpendicularly to one blade, make 10-15 diagonal passes depending on how much sharpness you needed. Once you’re done filing one blade’s edges, turn your focus on the other pair of edges and repeat the process. Finally, use a burr stone to deburr the edges. Then, use a clean soft towel to wipe off the metal filings.
This edge-maintenance method works, but it takes quite a bit of practice to get good at.
3. Use a Sweet Stick to Hand-sharpen Skates
You can use a Sweet Stick to sharpen your ice skates at home. Well, this isn’t so much a way of sharpening skates as it is a way of re-edging them post-sharpening. You do it between sharpens mainly to maintain the edges while reducing the frequency of sharpens at the local pro shop.
Lots of skaters use the super popular V-shaped Sweet Stick to keep their blades nice and sharp, but no one relies on a Sweet Stick as the main method of skate sharpening.
Strategies outside of using a sharpening machine are merely ways to give your blades a pre-play touchup. Or, maybe you want to smooth out some nick mid-play and need a tool for the task.
Actually, using tools other than a well-designed sharpening device can cause more problems than it solves. Such tools tend to wear blades down, which is counterproductive. In the end, you have to replace your ice skates sooner.
Why Do You Need to Sharpen Ice Skates?
It’s because properly sharpened ice skates enhance the skater’s overall performance on the rink or outdoors, making ice skating a whole lot more efficient and enjoyable. Dull ice skates have a very hard time digging into the ice and holding an edge, and this makes gliding forward, moving sideways, zigzagging down the ice, or making turns and stops extremely difficult.
If you’re playing around on the rink on skates that need sharpening, other people notice. With dull skates, it seems like you’re walking when you’re supposed to be actually skating.
Which Edge Radius is Right for You?
During ice skate blade sharpening, it’s the grinding wheel on the sharpening machine that determines the depth of the hollow. Generally, the larger the radius of the hollow, the shallower it is and the smaller the radius, the deep the hollow.
Shallow Vs Deep Hollow, What’s Right for You?
Shallow-hollow ice skate blades or hollows with a large radius have less pronounced tips and less of an edge after sharpening. Additionally, such a blade has less grip on the ice, which means it’s easier to maneuver and experiences less drag. Result? You go faster. If you skate on such blades, the overall feel of the blades isn’t remarkably sharp.
In contrast, blades sharpened to a small radius end up with a deeper hollow and more pronounced tips. And the blades have more of an edge, and more of the blade stays in contact with the ice. Because such a blade cuts deeper into the ice, the blades offer more grip, which means less maneuverability but more controlled edges.
With a large-radius blade, you’ll glide faster and stop with ease. And stopping is critical to skating especially for beginners.
Cutting the blades to a deeper hollow results in more drag or friction between the edges and the ice. You get less glide overall with such blades (less speed), and the gliding part of each stride feels somewhat less efficient. The upside is that such a grind enables the blades to hold pretty tight turns and there’s a sharp feel to this hollow profile. In other words, a deeper cut gives you more edge control and less speed.
Generally, advanced-level skaters generally prefer a smaller radius while beginner ice skaters and intermediate-level enthusiasts favor shallowly grooved blades. But here’s the thing: the perfect cut for one skater feels like inefficient drudgery to another
Tip: if you give your skates to a sharpening shop and they don’t ask how much radius you need, go somewhere else. They probably don’t know what they’re doing and think everyone needs a 5/8″ hollow or a ½” hollow.
Actually, a friend of ours who lives in Toronto tells me that sharpening places have 5/8″ as the standard hollow. Another person tells me that their local pro shop sets one sharpening machine 1/2″ and the other machine 5/8″. I’ve found the vast majority of skaters want their blades cut to somewhere between these two hollow depths.
Different skating levels work best with a certain sweet spot as far as radius. For many competitive ice dancers, the sweet spot tends to hover between 3/8″ and 7/16″ while ½” works beautifully for basic or instructional hockey.
For beginner-level skaters, 5/8″ or 1/2″ is more like it while some recreational players like even shallower hollows such as a ¾” radius. As for a hockey goalie, that optimal performance spot sits between 1″ to 1.25.”
The Flat Bottom V Sharpening
Not every skate shop offers flat-bottom-V sharpens, but this is another way you can have your blades cut. The great thing about a FBV cut is that this hollow profile balances grip or bite with glide.
Hockey players love this sharpening technique because blades sharpened this way enable the skater to move fast and make sharp turns without blowing a tire (without the edges sliding out). Learn more about the Flat Bottom V cut here.
Weight and Groove Radius: Weight Matters
Most heavier skaters find that a larger radius works best for them while many smaller/lighter ice skaters find they like sharper blades better (a smaller radius). But it doesn’t mean if you’re big and heavy you’ll automatically prefer a shallower cut.
I know of at least one burly skater (6’2″ and a 230 pounder) who prefers deeper edges. This Dude says he prefers a 1/2″ cut to a 5/8″ hollow even though everyone says heavier guys like him should go for a swallower cut. He’s quick to defend his decision saying, “I want to access my edges quickly at all times, that’s why I want the cut deeper, not swallower.”
Before finally settling on a 5/8″ cut, this guy described the previous 1/2″ cut as too floaty, and he was gliding way too fast. If blades feel a tad too floaty, they’re probably too shallow, or you’re too light for that sharpen.
In the end, every skater makes up their mind as to the hollow profile best suited to their skating style or level. You may have to try out a few hollows and then go with what feels like the best fit.
When Should I Sharpen My Ice Skates?
How often should you sharpen your ice skates? Generally, a hockey skater or figure skater can skate for up to 20 hours without needing to give their skates a grind. The heavier you are, the more often you’re on the ice, the harder the ice, and the worse the ice quality, the more frequently you need to sharpen your edges.
Ice Skater Weight Determines Sharpening Frequency
A heavy ice skater needs to take care of their skates more often than a lighter skater. When a heavy skater stands on their blades, they dig deeper into the ice, and that gives the blades more bite. So, a lighter person skating sharpens their edges less often.
Rink Ice Conditions Matter
If the ice is hard probably because your local rink chills the ice at extremely low temperatures, your blades are going to need more frequent sharpening.
But if the ice is soft because the ice at the rink stays chilled at higher temperatures, your blades have a much easier time cutting into the ice. Consequently, such blades don’t work as hard melting the ice in their hollow.
So, if you don’t want to sharpen your edges that often, make sure to use a rink with ice conditions that help you achieve your goal. Generally, the higher the ice temperature, the less sharpening frequency.
How do I know my skates need sharpening?
It’s when turns become slower and not as sharp as they usually are. It’s when your blades keep biting into the ice and refusing to glide. It’s also when there’s a couple of nicks, cracks, or scratches in the blades.
Also, if the blades feel dull when you touch them with your hand, it’s time to darken your local pro shop’s door. The best way to know whether hockey skates or figure skates need sharpening is declining performance. Unless your skating ability has deteriorated due to other reasons.
Sharpen My Ice Skates or Pay Someone Else to Do It?
That’s up to you, really. But there’s a good reason even pro skaters have a sharpening pro take care of their blades. And no, taking your skates to a general sports goods store isn’t the smartest approach. Nor is taking your skates to the guys at the rink shop always the best advice.
Where Can I Get My Skates Sharpened?
The best strategy is to take your blades to a recommended pair of sharpening hands at a pro shop. I’m not saying employees at pro shops sharpen right each time. But career sharpeners are likely to be great at it because they do it the whole time for skaters. They’re specialists, and that means something, huh?
So, next time you’re having small talk with that friendly pro skater at the rink, ask them, where do you get your ice skates sharpened? They’ll most likely recommend a highly competent skate tech who’s skated for years before setting up a business.
How much does it cost to sharpen ice skates?
Sharpening costs vary from place to place and from one skate shop to another. Generally, expect to pay anywhere between $7 and $30 depending on who does it and where the sharpening happens.
Someone from an expensive location such as New York may pay $15 for the cut while another person in a cheaper city could end up paying up to $30 per grind. Keep asking around until you find a sharpening expert who does excellent work while charging great prices.
You sure can sharpen ice skates at home with a machine, a file, or a honing stone, but it’s easy to damage your blades if you lack the skills needed to do it correctly.