Blades

Here’s a formula for Perfectly Sharp Blades:

Ingredients:

Speed skate sharpening jig

A small, de-burring stone

A combination stone at least 9″ long (11 – 1/2″ is best),

Honing oil

(Alternatively, you could use a diamond stone and a spray bottle of water instead of a combination stone and honing oil.)

Paper towels

Newspaper

Jigs can only be purchased through speed skate retailers or purchased used from other skaters.  Often, clubs have jigs for lending.  Stones and honing oil can be purchased through these same retailers or through your local hardware store.  Look for an 11 – 1/2” Norton (Brand) Combination stone.  This is pretty standard.  Burr stones are basically fine pocketknife sharpening stones about 1” x 2” x 3/16”.  These dimensions are not critical.

First, a warning: even dull skate edges can cut you.  Be very careful because skate sharpening is kind of hazardous, especially de-burring and checking for a burr.  You will probably cut yourself a few times as you learn.  Supervise kids.  Keep Band-Aids on hand!

Lay the newspaper out on the floor and put the jig on it.  Keep some paper towels handy.
Before you start, you’ll want to check the blades for bend, dents and flat spots in the rocker.  Eyeball it from one end and look for these imperfections.  Straighten out any kinks and bends if you can, and note any flat spots where uneven pressure during sharpening has flattened out the rocker.  Use a blade-bender and a dial gauge or rocker-bar to check and correct the rocker and bend.  Look for especially dull spots or areas where the edge has been “stripped”.

Next, check the skates for sharpness by lightly drawing the back of a fingernail down, moving perpendicular to the edge.  If the edge is sharp, you’ll see a tiny pile of fingernail shavings on the edge.  If you don’t, the edge is dull.  You shouldn’t have to press your fingernail hard against the blade as you draw it across (and it’s not wise to do so, in case the edge is still very sharp).  If it’s sharp, the edge will want to shave and cut into your fingernail, shaving off a neat little pile.  Be careful not to cut yourself!  You’ll probably notice that the inside edges and the left outside edge are dull, but that the right outside edge is still quite sharp.  This is because in speed skating, we turn left a lot more than we turn right.

Place the skates in the jig.  Make sure the blades are as vertical and parallel as possible. Push the ends of the blades the long way against the stop in the jig if it has one.  Tighten the jig’s thumbscrews so the clamps hold the blades tightly.  Grab your big stone and VERY LIGHTLY draw one of its long edges (corner edges, not flat faces) perpendicularly across both edges to make a very fine scratch across the bottom of both blades.  Look at the thin, flat surface of the upward facing blades and look for the tiny, lateral scratches you just made in each blade.  If each scratch goes from one side(edge) of the bottom of the blade to the other edge, then the blades are ready to sharpen.  Make a scratch at each end of the blades and one in the middle.  If the scratches only go part way across the bottom of the blade, then you can save yourself some time by removing the blades from the jig and putting them in some other orientation.  Try flipping the heels and toes around in the jig or switching left for right skates.  Always have the toes of the skates pointing in the same direction as each other, though.

When you find a configuration where the test scratches make it all the way (or at least most of the way) across both edges, you are ready to start sharpening.  After the first time you sharpen a pair of skates in a particular jig, you won’t have to look for test scratches again in that jig, with that pair of skates.  Each jig should set the same pair of blades up in approximately the same way.  This is a good reason to always try to sharpen your skates in the same jig.  It saves you time.

Drizzle some honing oil on the big stone or mist some water on a big diamond stone with a spray bottle.  Place the stone flat on both blades so that the long axis of the stone is perpendicular to both blades.  The long axis of the stone must always be perpendicular (90 degree angle) to the blades at all times during your stroke.  Now, if you just go back and forth, you will eventually wear grooves in your stone or just wear out the middle of your diamond stone.  This would not be groovy.  For this reason, we grind diagonally instead of straight out and back.

Start with the stone at the end of the blades nearest you, and with the stone offset to the left or right so that it overhangs one of the blades by about an inch.  Now push the stone away from you diagonally across the blades so that it winds up overhanging the other blade by only about an inch.  Keep the stone perpendicular to the blades all through the stroke.  It helps me to visualize that I’m sweeping out a parallelogram with my stone.  Next, bring the stone back along the same path until you are back where you started.

It is very important that you only use the weight of the stone to sharpen the skates and not press down on the stone with your fingers.  This is because at different parts of the stroke, you would push down with different amounts of force.  The result would be that you would push harder at the beginning or middle of your stroke and you would flatten the rocker of your blades.  It can cost about $50 to re-rocker blades so you don’t want to wreck your rocker prematurely.  All blades should be re-rockered after about four or six seasons of hard use.  Some people feel that they can press down lightly on the stone as long as they sense the pressure with their fingers instead of with their arms and not wreck their rocker.  Others say the stone doesn’t cut significantly faster under greater pressure anyway.  I haven’t done the experiment.

Repeat this motion five or ten times and then start grinding along the opposite diagonal.  When it feels like the oil or water is gone from the stone, pick up the stone, wipe off the dirty oil or water, apply new oil or water and keep grinding.  Every once in a while check to see how far the burr has formed along the edge of the blades.  Do this by drawing the pointed end of a fingernail straight up along the side of the blade until your fingernail falls past the edge.  If your fingernail hangs up briefly as it goes past the edge, then, congratulations!  You’ve got a burr.  That’s good.  It’s a sign you’ve removed enough material at this point in the blade.  If you check all along the blade, you’ll find that the ends will develop a burr before the middle, except for the right outside edge which will form a burr pretty quickly along its entire length.  Continue until there is a burr all the way along all four edges.  A small burr is all that it necessary.  Don’t waste a lot of time and energy developing a really big burr.

The last dozen or so strokes should be made with the fine side of the combination stone or a fine diamond stone.  Make the very last few passes with the stone non-diagonally. This leaves the final micro-scratches in the blades running the long way, the same way the ice moves past the blade. Just a few passes this way probably won’t put too much extra wear in the center of your stone.  Polish the blades with a really fine stone or other blade-polishing device if you like.

Now it’s time to remove the burr.  Without removing the skates from the jig, take your burrstone and put it flat against side of the steel part of the blade.  Never run the burr stone along the aluminum rail or steel tube of the blade’s frame.  The burr stone must lie flat on the steel of the side of the blade and it should slightly overhang the edge.  Run it back and forth along the length of the blade a few times while pressing with moderate force and you’ll grind down the burr.  You’ll also be turning up the burr slightly.  So get your big stone out again and make another few light, non-diagonal passes.  Repeat the de-burring motion until you have 95% of the bur removed and then make the last, light passes with the big stone.  This makes sure that you leave no “up-burr.”  Now you can take the skates out of the jig.  Check the edges for any remaining burrs and remove the last few with the burrstone.  Finally, run the back of a fingernail perpendicular to the edge again, and see if you shave a little bit of fingernail easily.  If the blade shaves or pulls nicely and the blade feels sharp all along the edge, then you’re done!

Now put on the storage guards.  Never store skates in the walking guards. They hold moisture next to the blade and cause rust.  If you are going to store the blades over the summer, coat them with a light layer of light household oil like 3 in 1 or sewing machine oil or blade sharpening oil and store them in a dry closet, not in a moist garage or basement.

Finally, make sure to always use the walking guards while walking and not on the ice, and only step on the blades while they’re on clean ice.  Don’t do hockey stops or “snowplow” stops unless it’s an emergency.  Do the “Ugly Speed Skater Stop” (basically a backward stroke) or learn to do a T-stop using only the right outside edge.  (Stand on your right skate and twist sideways while releasing the right skate’s outside edge.  You should skid sideways on that edge.)  Keep a clean, spare rag in your skate bag and as soon as you get off the ice, dry your blades until they are bone-dry.  Don’t put the wet walking guards back on again and remember to remove the skates from your skate bag as soon as you get home.

Follow this formula and you’ll have sharp blades that will hold their rocker longer, help you go as fast as possible, and have a good, long life.  In the long and the short run (no pun intended), it will save you time and money; time you can spend on the ice and money you can spend on things other than re-rockering blades.

Happy Skating!  More info on Blade Maintenance