(Image from hockeytutorial.com)

(Image from hockeytutorial.com)

Almost four years ago I was explaining skate sharpening, hollows and rockers to a few people, and felt the need to write a blog explaining it all so I didn’t have to keep rehashing the info – it comes up on Twitter every couple months. When @NHLhistorygirl tweeted this today…

…I responded (implying he must use a shallow cut), and thought it might be good to take another look at skate sharpening and how it’s changing. So, start with my explanation of standard sharpening options, and I’ll meet you at the bottom to explain the rest.

***

My summer job for three years during my college career was at a hockey shop sharpening skates.  We were one of those destination skate sharpening places – the best equipment, pride in the job we did, the whole package.  So I know this stuff pretty thoroughly.

Here’s what you need to know:

Standard sharpening wheels

Standard sharpening wheels

Basically, your skate “hollow” is how deep the groove is between the edges of your blade.

If you hand your skates to someone for sharpening, and they don’t ask what hollow you get them done to, they’re probably doing them at “a half inch” (which refers to the wheel they use to sharpen your blades).  And hey, don’t feel bad if you don’t know what you get yours sharpened to - Jarome Iginla came in one summer and said “I dunno, my trainer just does ‘em”.

The sharper your edges are (which comes from the deeper grooves), the deeper you sink into the ice.  So you can get more push and accelerate faster, but also, during coasting, you slow down quicker because of the increased friction/drag of your blades in the ice.

And of course, the heavier you are, the deeper you sink as well.  Thus, being heavy with sharp skates is a bad idea.

You can get your skates sharpened anywhere from 1/8th of an inch to one inch.  1/8th would be the sharpest, and one inch would be the least sharp. The majority of pros use something with a shallower hollow, but preference does widely vary.

I used a 5/8ths hollow, but as I got older and heavier, I switched to the less sharp 3/4ths.  Basically, I like to stay on top of the ice and maintain speed, since I wasn’t really a stop-and-start penalty kill guy, I was more of a coast-and-float breakaway hunting guy.  At my weight (185 then, 200 now), I’m still able to get plenty of push from that hollow.  Plus, we had trainers to sharpen our skates as often as we liked, so there was no “get them too sharp and let them dull down” logic that a lot of rec players use.

Most of you probably get your skates done too sharp.

Standard non-portable sharpener. Pro teams have smaller versions for travel.

Standard non-portable sharpener. Pro teams have smaller versions for travel.

You want less of a hollow if you skate on soft ice, if you’re a heavier person, or if you want to better keep your speed during coasting.  I think you get less tired this way, but it may take you a second longer to get to top speed.

You want more of a hollow if you play on hard ice, if you’re a lighter person, or if you want to be able to accelerate quicker.  I think you need to consciously keep moving more, but you’re maxing out your potential quickness.

So next time you bring your skates in to get buzzed, I recommend 5/8ths.  Most of the guys I played with used that hollow, since it’s a nice compromise – a 1/2 inch is pretty damn sharp.  And if the place you take them too doesn’t know what you’re talking about, you need to take them somewhere else (preferably somewhere that they use a level to make sure your edges are  even. That makes a huge difference, and the lazy places don’t do it).

In general, stuff like t-blades are too gimmicky for me.  I’ll stick with what everybody at the highest level uses (more on this below), until something better comes along.  Unless it’s too weird, like Vern Fiddler and a few other guys testing the heated blade holder thingy’s. I’m out on that, thanks.

As for “rockering”, that’s totally a preference thing.  People say that forwards need to be more on their toes, and d-men need to be more on their heels, but unless it totally bothers you, you’re probably over-thinking it.  I took mine out of the box, had them sharpened, and wore them.  Don’t make yourself nuts.

Let me know if you tinker with it and like them less sharp.  I bet you do.

********

The bulk of What’s Changed since I wrote that post is the introduction of FBV – the “Flat-Bottom V” version of skate sharpening that’s more recently become part of mainstream hockey lexicon. I personally didn’t know the depth of its popularity or value, so I contacted the equipment manager of the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves (NCAA D1) – my boy P.D., who you should follow on Twitter if you’re into guys who like both rap and hockey – to find out all the details.

The consensus: elite skaters don’t notice much of a difference (if any), so you’re probably not going to either. That’s not just “NCAA elite” either, that goes for the NHL, where only a smattering of players around the league (a couple per team?) use the “new” sharpening style. Zero players on UAA use it, one or two on Fairbanks, and the majority of kids coming up from junior (the easily-influenced) aren’t asking for it.

“Flat-Bottom V” isn’t illogical – instead of the rounded hollow, they’re going for a flat-bottom with more distinct edges, with the sales point being “more flat blade on ice for glide, more edge for turning.”

FBV take one PAMPHLET_FINAL.indd

And I know, the sales pitch is great. Which is why you can go back to the 80′s to find different types of “edges” that make sense and are going to revolutionize skating, until they die upon hearing things like “elite skaters don’t notice a difference (if any).” A good sales pitch can go a long way (you get to charge more!), and it’s likely the reason I have people on Twitter telling me it’s the wave of the future, while an NCAA equipment guy says the reaction among the non-paying is “meh.” Placebos are a hell of a drug. (I’ve also reached out to the Isles equipment guy who should get back to me this afternoon, so I’ll share Isles usage numbers then.)

The brands selling FBV are Blackstone and Blademaster, and they both do it better than one another, if you ask them.

The consensus from P.D. and the trainers he’s spoken to is that it’s tough to dress the stone properly, it’s tough to make level, and when it’s off, it’s a mess.

So, the majority of players still use the old-school cut, as things stand. Now go get a more shallow hollow, will ya?

***

UPDATE: I forgot to mention radius, which is the amount of blade that’s actually on the ice. Blades round up at the toe and heel, and people have different preferences for the length of the flat part on the ice. More blade on the ice = faster straight-away (think speed-skaters), tougher to turn. Smaller amount on the ice = better for lateral movement, not as ideal heading straight. I loved a long portion of blade on the ice personally, but it’s just another one of those things that you can tinker with now that you know how it affects your skating.

Comments (29)

  1. Good post. I also used to work in a store. It really really bothers me when places don’t make sure that the blades are level. Some people don’t even look at the blade at various points throughout the sharpening. Instead, they’ll go with the “all skates take 1 minute to do, therefore I will do this pair for 1 minute.” If one edge was way higher than the other, the sharpening is going to be pointless if you aren’t paying attention. I tried the FBV a couple times and didn’t notice a difference. I have heard that if you step on something when using FBV, it makes a larger difference in terms of messing up an edge. However, I also heard that FBV stays sharper longer (assuming you don’t step on anything)

  2. Bourne/sharperners/store people: Any thoughts on radius? I skated on 5/8, then changed the radius to 11 feet and the cut to 7/8. I feel like I have more glide and better balance and still a pretty good edge to turn and stop with, but as you said, placebos are a hell of a drug.

    • Hey, I added a quick addendum. I can’t remember exactly what I used – I believe it was 11 foot as well, though for some reason nine is stuck in my head…dammit, I guess I don’t know. But if it feels better, it feels better, so don’t mess with it!

  3. When I was younger and playing, the “thing” was to have little inserts between the heel of the bladeholder and the boot for defensemen to get us “more on our toes”… to supposedly help with skating backwards.

    It messed me up for half a game before I adjusted and never noticed any difference until my next pair of skates and I had to re-adjust all over again.

    I’m around the same age as you, I think, so it’s funny to hear the stuff about rockering.

  4. A buddy of mine raved about FBV when it came out, bragging about his sharpenings lasting longer and getting more bite without the disadvantages of a deeper hollow (he’s a heavier guy). The funny part was that the closest shop that offered it at the time was about 30 miles away and they charged roughly double the amount of a standard sharpening. To me, it’s kind of like Facebook; I’ve held out this long, so no point in doing it now.

    Side note: I live in the Detroit area and I have only been asked three times in my life (that I can recall) what my hollow preference is. “Hockeytown” my ass…

  5. Is there a recommended way to ask the person doing the sharpening if they use a level or just plan to ride it out on the sharpener for x seconds like Slim Pickens on the H-Bomb?

    I don’t know what to say other than, “Hey Jerkstore, you gonna use level on these or what?”

  6. I’ve been doing the FBV thing for a while and really haven’t noticed much of a difference. I know a lot of people that notice huge differences, so I guess its a personal thing.

  7. Your original posting of this info is the reason I went from the default (1/2) to a 5/8 cut and I’ve NEVER looked back. I’m also obsessive about getting my skates sharpened (If I could afford it I would literally sharpen every game).

    • Absolutely, I was the same way. Before every game, at the very least. Especially since I used a shallower hollow.

      • I love the ‘bite’ I get in my stride from newly sharpened skates at 1/2″ that lasts for a couple games. If I switch to the 5/8″, am I going to lose that bite or just have to sharpen my skates more often?

        • you know, it’s totally what you’re looking for. I’ve been getting 5/8 for years, but normally at the pro shop at the rink (which is crap). I recently went to a new hockey superstore which was offering free sharpening for their grand opening.

          5/8 from them was a revelation…I play d, and I’m more stay at home, but backwards crossovers felt smooth, and I felt like I was flying all over the damn ice. Gliding very calmly when I needed to and going hard either up or down when I needed too.

          I should also mention, I’m a decently sized dude, 6’2”, 220ish.

  8. Former shop employee and sharpener, former FBV skater.

    I loved, loved loved the FBV – it’s awesome, the increased float / glide was awesome, however I never found the hollow that gave me the bite I wanted, I felt like I was on a goalie cut.

    I skated on 5/8th during the winter, 7/16th in the summer on softer shitty ice. It helps to be able to sharpen your own. I’d own my own home sharpener already if I didn’t move out to the PacNW and my ice time dropped.

    • Oh and one other thing – the real, practical reason to get a sharpening at something besides 1/2″ – it forces the sharpener to dress the wheel. Lazy shop kids can go a long time before dressing a wheel properly when they’ve got 20 skates in line.

  9. Odd that nobody notices the difference with FBV. I was using 11/16″ before moving to FBV and I noticed both an increased glide AND more predictable edges. Hard to describe the latter, but I could feel when my edges were digging into the ice better and seemed like it was harder to blow a tire.

    It took three tires though…the standard 100/50 or whatever was too sharp, 90/50 was too flat, 90/75 seemed just right.

    Once I got that, it seemed like the sharpenings lasted a lot longer. I just got my skates done this week with about 30-35 indoor skates on them.

  10. I always found it interesting that there isn’t more focus on the radius over there in North America. Here in Finland it’s been traditional to profile cut skates accordin to measurements. Something like a 40/40 or 30/50 or whatever, meaning millimeters of flat on the bottom from the midpoint of the skate. Shops have only recently started offering those radius cuts that are essentially the bottom part of a big circle.

    Back in the day at least Teemu used to get his blades cut for the whole NHL season every summer by his old equipment guy in Helsinki.

  11. I converted to FBV on the urge of the local. It took me warm-ups to get used to it but now I wouldn’t go back to traditional. I was a 1/2″ skater before and skate on the FBV equivalent now. I weigh in at 135 lbs. for reference. I like the better glide. The bite requires a little more angle to engage but when it does it’s “bitier”. I just invented a word!

  12. Any advice for or relevance to the Youth Hockey crowd (other than not to worry about FBV)?
    Does 1/2″ vs. 5/8″ (or even 1/8″ vs. 1″) matter for the pre-teen crowd, or should they just use whatever the cutter does?

    Also, the local place by us focuses on selling Figure Skating stuff but also sharpens hockey blades – any advice on what to specify (besides )?

    • I never treated figure blades any differently than hockey boots. The blade is appreciably wider, but so are goalie skate blades – shouldn’t make a difference to an experienced sharpener. – An inexperienced sharpener might cut the ends a little too much and end up with banana blades but I dont think a figure skate sharpener would do that any more often than someone else.

  13. Re: level sharpening, we were told that even if someone seemed to not care at all about the job we were doing, we should at *least* eyeball the front and back of the blade after barely touching each end of the blade briefly to the wheel, then to check the blade after a pass or two to make sure it was level. Not scientific, but better than nothing…

  14. Being 6’2″, 190lbs, and living in the middle of the desert (New Mexico) means I learned really quickly that there is an art to sharpening blades (and none of the pro shops or ex minor leaguers around here can consistently do it right). I didn’t start skating/playing hockey until I was 27 and it took me over a year to realize my development was being hampered by crappy blade jobs with my weight and soft ice. I bought 4 pairs of runners (yeah, that was expensive), which is enough to last me through a rec league season here and bulk mail order them to a company in NH and I have never had an issue with my cutso far.

    I tried the FBV 100/50, fell in love with it, and have been using that cut ever since. I guess it’s a bit expensive, but even after shipping, it costs just a little under $10 per sharpening.

    • One other thing, It may just be because I suck at hockey, the crappy ice here in NM, or my height/weight, but I definitely notice a difference between a regular hollow and the FBV.

      I wonder if the FBV hollow helps compensate for crappier ice, specifically among the 180lb+ crowd?

  15. I sharpened a few for a number of years.

    What I hate to see now is a guy just grinding away…. and grinding. I learned that watching the sparks you could see when the stone was at the edge. Any more was a waste of time.

    As for “checking level” ….. if you checked before you started that the blade was straight, not bent from a puck, then if your machine was set up the level was barely an issue. How many times have you seen a guy check then re-do?

    And the stone on the side… ok now I am mad. When the guy slides that up and down the blade he can actually be doing harm(rare I admit) If the stone gets a grove in it then he is not taking burrs off the side anymore.

    ahh, hard to explain in the middle of the night a couple Kokanee in after a game. sorry.

    And lastly, Whatever that stuff was that blade master had for the blades was great. A quick run then a nice slow finish for a smooth shine. Not the fast pass that made the blades look horrible.

    But this was the best article Justin you have had in a while.

  16. So you’re saying I should use a 2 inch hollow

    #seewhatIdidthere

  17. Great post. What are your thoughts on tools like the “sweet stick”. I find that it does a good job giving a fresh edge to my blades when I am forget (i.e too lazy) to take them to get sharpened. Can you mangle your blades doing it?

  18. 1) Sweet stick – works great to extend the life of a sharpening for another session or 3. It works by “bending ” the edges up to give you more bite. Doesn’t hurt the blades, but is a short-term solution and won’t work after a few times ( until you get them sharpened again ).

    2) For Justin – read this article and asked about switching from 1/2 to 5/8ths when I went to get my skates sharpened. Stan ( you might remember him from Stan’s Skate Shop at Dix Hills rink ) said “yea, you’ll get more glide” and then pulled out a sheet with the hollows of the last Canadian Olympic team. More than 50% used 1/2″ and then the others used all different. Do you think this is the “Iginla factor” – most guys just don’t pay attention? Btw, I chickened out of changing and just stayed with 1/2

  19. I have been sharpening skates here in Windsor, Ontario, Canada since 1969. I estimate that 90% of people that work on skates don’t have a clue as to what they are doing. There is a HUGE difference in skate sharpening techniques, TECHNICIANS and results.
    Most hockey players use a ‘radius of hollow’ (ROH) that is too deep for their weight and the ice conditions (hardness) on which they play. A shallower DOH will create more speed, less fatigue and even lessen the chances of groin injuries. The skating glide of a SMOOTH (mirror like) polished surface of a PROPERLY dressed grinding wheel and honed LAST PASS of a superior sharpening job is AMAZING to skate on.
    VERY few sharpeners give you that result. If you are fortunate to find that very rare Guru that sharpens EVERY skate as if they are their own (or Sidney Crosby’s !!!) then you are lucky indeed.
    Profiling blades (radius, pitch apex positioning) is a complete ‘joke’ when ‘performed’ at most locations. There is NO MAGIC profile to be made because of a player’s position, size, weight, age, etc. Profiles, compound profiles, apex settings, shimming, etc.are usually SOLD by people who know very little about the player, his or her body mechanics, stance, stride, etc. Almost ALL Bauer skates are supplied with 9 foot radius steels…….LARGE sizes come with foot steels. CCM/REEBOK and Graff use 10 foot steels. Knee flex, spine alignment (stance), are what a COMPETENT and KNOWLEGABLE technician will want to see before suggesting a profile, pitch or apex adjustment on your skates. A proper profile, pitch and apex for YOU will create a longer……..less choppy stride, more speed, less fatigue and help to eliminate spine, hip and knee problems from plating hockey.

  20. Also, personally I am not a huge ‘fan’ of the ‘FLAT BOTTOM VEE’ (FBV). This process uses a ‘form dresser’ to create the grinding profile on the skate grinding wheel. A traditional ‘radius of hollow’ (ROH) is created by the use of a SINGLE POINT diamond dresser. Single point (stylus) dressers, when used expertly, can create a SMOOTHER, mirror like, polished surface on the finished skate blade. A ‘form dresser cannot duplicate this result…….especially when it gets worn from repeated use. It spins on an enclosed bearing that wears out and the form dresser ‘EATS’ grinding wheels…….compared to a stylus dresser.
    You may find that a FBV will be FINE for a game or two, then ‘go south’ quicker than a properly sharpened traditional ROH sharpening. When FBV does ‘go south’ it degrades quickly. Many ‘travel’ players find that by their third game on a weekend they need ANOTHER FBV sharpening. Where do they go and to trust whom with their FBV process when out of town?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *