Sharpening ice skates with a file helps your steel stay sharp longer. Well, getting nicks, gouges, and burrs off of blades with a file isn’t too hard. It’s even possible to cut an actual hollow profile into the bottom of your ice skates with a needle file. But you need to have the requisite skills and enough patience to complete this task. And if your technique isn’t good, you won’t achieve your objective.
This resource is a step-by-step tutorial on how to re-establish your edge without traveling miles to have a skate technician do it for you at a fee.
How to Sharpen Ice Skates Using a File
With a sharpening jig, flat files and round/half-round needle files, the ability to follow simple instructions, some lubricant, and enough time, you can sharpen your ice skates with a file at home. Simply secure your skates in the jig and then make 15-20 passes heel-to-toe with a moderately coarse flat file. Next, do the exact same thing but now in the opposite direction. Repeat the sharpening process with the other blade. If there’s tons of dings and gouges to remove, use a file that’s a tad more course before switching to a smoother one to give the blades a flat profile. Finally, if so desired, use a half-round or round needle file of your preferred radius to create a groove on the flat profile.
Also Read: Decent Beginner Adult Ice Skates
That’s a summary of how to tackle the task at hand, and below is the step-by-step guide to sharpening your ice skate blades correctly using handheld files.
What You Need for the manual skate sharpen:
- An assortment of flat files and round or half-round files of different coarseness levels
- A pair of dull ice skate blades
- A firm, flat surface: a table or bench in the workshop or elsewhere around the house should do
- A clean dry rag: helps you give the blades a nice and thorough wipe-down afterward
- Lubricant (Last Pass Liquid Lube recommended): Prevents overheating and also helps capture metal filings coming from the steel being sharpened
- A pair of diligent hands and a set of good eyes
A Guide to Using Files to Complete a DIY Skate Sharpen
Step #1. Set a sharpening jig on a flat, firm surface: Place your manual jig on the table or desk. If you don’t already own an ice skate sharpening jig, it’s perhaps time to get one. You also get a bunch of files (flat and round ones) as well as some honing stones.
Step #2. Mount your dull ice skates on the jig. The correct way to mount the skates is with the blades facing upward. The blades are supposed to run parallel to the side plates of the jig as well as to each other. I suggest referring to the manual so you can learn how to correctly set up and adjust the jig before sharpening.
Step #3: Take a flat relatively smooth file, and put it perpendicularly to the blades. Then, start making full diagonal swipes down the edges, beginning from the heel and going toward the toe. Make about 15-20 complete motions across the blades for the best results.
Using lubricant while skate-sharpening: You may or may not use skate lube. The lube keeps the blades from overheating while also preventing grinding powder from flying all over the place.
You normally see it being used by professional sharpeners just before the last pass (machine sharpening), but you sure can use it when sharpening skates with a file. So, apply a little lube on the blades before doing the final swipes. And you’ll love how mirrory your steel looks.
But there are times when it’s best to start with a coarser file, such as when the blades are really dull and need more work than a smoother file can provide. But it doesn’t mean you should swipe aggressively down the blades. Be gentle at all times, because blades can behave weirdly post extreme pressure from sharpening. Once you’re done removing imperfections with a course file, get a smoother one and execute step #3.
Step #4: Repeat step #3 but in the opposite direction, that is, from the toe going toward the heel. When you do steps 1-3, you end up with a flat grind. Now, blades without a groove kind of float on the ice and you don’t get much bite on the ice. They have you gliding faster on the ice, but this comes at the cost of reduced edge control.
Step #5: Here’s where we use one of the round/half-round needle files on the blades. Pick a needle file designed to cut the kind of hollow grind you prefer. Needle files come in different radii, and you must decide how deep or shallow you want your edges to be and choose a file for that.
How to cut a hollow grind on the bottom of ice skates with a round needle file: Put your round needle file to the first blade, parallel to it. Then, move the round needle file from the heel to the toe, making full linear swipes. I suggest you send your skates off to a trained sharpener if you lack the skills to cut the desired concave profile on the blades.
Creating a hollow profile on a blade is the hardest part of sharpening skates with a file. It’s harder to do and takes longer to complete compared to creating a flat grind.
Step #6: This is the final step of the sharpening process. Use a rag to wipe off any oil or filings, leaving behind clean, smooth edges. And if there are burrs on the edges (feel the blade for the burrs), take them out with a honing stone. Hold the stone and run it down the blades to remove the glide-killing burrs.
When to Sharpen Skates: Signs Your Ice Skates Are Dull
Visual inspection: If there are nicks, gouges, and dings on your steel, that’s a clear sign that they need a sharpen. Flip the skates upside down and start moving them side-to-side, back and forth. If there are nicks on the blades, they’ll reflect the light somewhat differently. The difference is pronounced enough for you to notice it and correct the imperfections.
The thumbnail test: Give each blade an up-down swipe with the back of your fingernail. Position the fingernail at an angle of 45 degrees to the blade and make a gentle motion from the blade toward the boot. If the edges make a decent bite and shavings come off, the edges are still sharp. And if not, definitely sharpen the steel because it’s not optimized for great skate performance.
Alternatively, run a finger across the blades. Place the finger perpendicular to the blade. Make light motions across the edges. If you can’t describe the experience as “pretty crisp edges”, definitely sharpen.
Response quality: How does the glide feel when you’re on the ice? If the skates stop responding to your stride the way you like them to; if your turns and stops feel sloppy; if you’re not getting as much bite on the ice; it’s probably because the skates are dull.
It’s all about you and you like your skate to feel, which means you’re best placed to decide if they need a sharpen. It’s not the guys at the skate shop to tell you how your blades should feel; you to decide what you like.
Additional Tips and Thoughts on Skate Sharpening
- If the ice you skate on is pretty soft or slushy, your blades likely won’t need a sharpen as frequently as someone who skates on colder, harder ice.
- If you sharpen your skates too frequently, they’ll wear down insanely fast, and the best-quality blades aren’t cheap.
- If you sharpen your skates too infrequently, you won’t have access to the blades when you need them most: during a game or practice. Besides that, you’ll likely keep sliding around, which increases the chances you’ll fall more and possibly get cuts, bruises, or even broken bones.
- Don’t apply too much pressure on the steel or make super-fast passes when sharpening. If you go too hard or too fast on the blades, they soften up. Consequently, skate performance dips thanks to burrs and roughness in some parts of the blades.
- Make sure to touch up your blades between full sharpenings as this reduces sharpening frequency while saving you money.
- While sharpening your skates by hand using a file is a good thing, it’s best to pay an old hand to do the task. Because it’s time-consuming, plus it requires know-how to do right.
- Invest in good ice skate guards. These small but important pieces of skate gear protect your blades when you’re walking to the benches after a skate to take off your skates. Of course, you need a good skate bag for your session’s must-haves.
Wrapping Up: Sharpening Skates With a File
If you know exactly what to do, you can give your ice skates a smooth, full sharpening with a file. Use smooth and coarse flat files for flattening the blades and round files to make a groove on the bottom of the blades.
It’s not easy, and it’s truly a technical undertaking that requires a fair amount of care and skill. And if you’re not a patient person by nature, it’s probably best to just mail the skates/blades over to a tested-and-proven skate sharpening service.