Red Deer Lions Speed Skating Club
Speed Skates and Sharpening: Caring for Your Skates
Speed Skates and Sharpening: Caring for Your Skates
Note, Speed Skates can normally be heat molded so that they fit feet better. For instructions on how to heat mold your skates, check our Heat Molding Posting under News.
Speed Skates: Overview
There are two basic types of speed skates: one for short track and the other for long track skating. The short track skate is usually of a heavier construction as stability and durability are more important concerns than weight. The short track blade is generally thicker than the long track blade because of the sharper turns and consequent higher stresses imposed by short track. Short track skates have higher cups and boots than do long track skates. These design features aid in cornering at high speeds and in stabilizing the foot and ankle. The blades on short track skates can be set over to the left of each boot so that the skater can lean into the turn without hitting the edge of the boot. Long track skate blades are not offset on the boots and are thinner and flatter to reduce friction and allow more glide.
Speed skates (short track type) are available for rental from the Club. For most skaters the short track skates can be used effectively as long track skates. This service eliminates the need to buy skates while skater’s feet are still growing. It also provides a great way for new skaters to try the sport without a heavy financial commitment. A complete set of new skates can cost anywhere from $350-$1000, so the savings to the family is significant.
When you rent skates, the equipment volunteers will check to see that your skates are in good condition, that they fit properly, and that they have the necessary insoles and laces. The skates should be returned at the end of the season in good condition.
Short Track Skate Rental Fee: $150.00 per pair, per skater. Families are expected to pay online or supply a cheque (fees noted above) for each pair of skates and an undated cheque in the amount of $125 for a damage deposit.
- Long track (fixed blades) skates are available for Masters Skaters and are included with membership.
- Rental skates are entitled to one free sharpening before going out.
- All skates must be returned to the Club by April 30, 2016.
Caring for Your Skates
A few simple precautions will suffice to keep new speed skates in good condition over the years. First and foremost, the blades should never be allowed to get dirty or rusty. As a speed skater, your skates are your most important piece of equipment. You must know how to look after them in order to skate your best. Remember never to walk on cement, pavement or other abrasive surfaces without hard skate guards (provided with skates). Doing so will dull the skate blade and require extra effort when sharpening.
Sharpening Your Skates
To sharpen your skates, you will need (see photos at left):
- a jig (see photo, left, of a Maple Jig -- the Club has jigs you can use)
- proper sharpening stones
- a deburring stone to deburr the edges of the blades (stones are smaller and available in a number of materials and formats. Stones are fine-grained and often 3: x 1”).
- rags for cleaning up / holding the blades
- cut-proof gloves (optional)
Speed skates must always be sharpened by hand using a jig. NEVER sharpen skates by using a machine.
If you have them sharpened by a power grindstone just once, the blade will be permanently damaged and you will be responsible for replacing the blades. The Club has jigs and stones available for your use if you don’t have your own. Ask one of the coaches where the equipment is kept. For consistency of results, try to use the same jig on your skates every time. Jigs can be purchased for approximately $150 - $250.
Club stones are mostly diamond and therefore only need to be brushed off with a rag. Such stones cost about $50 a piece. Stones should be kept clean so that the steel shavings and grit do not clog up the pores and reduce the cutting effectiveness of the stone. Sharpening stones are available in a number of sizes. The best one to use is an 11” x 3” or 10” x 3” because they are easier to hold and the extra weight will decrease the effort needed by the sharpener. Most stones have a course and a fine side.
A stone is worn when valleys develop on its cutting edge. This will cause the stone to round off the skate blades and hamper the formation of a burr. Stones in this condition can be ground flat on a grindstone and re-used after a thorough cleaning. Valleys which can be detected visually are usually too large for effective sharpening.
A small burr stone for removing the burr built up during the sharpening and an optional marble or diamond polishing stone are the other pieces of equipment needed.
If rust develops on the blades, put some oil on the blade and rub the spot with a burr stone. Rusts acts like a cancer on the steel, eating at the surface and weakening the blade, so it is best to get rid of rust as soon as it develops.
How to Sharpen Your Skates
The first order of business is to watch someone who is good at sharpening: get them to show you how to do it. Then, try it yourself. It is much easier to sharpen skates that have not become too dull between sharpenings. Small nicks will disappear over the course of several sharpenings, but should be ground out for meets. Always keep all metal parts clean and free of rust.
Speed skate blades are flat ground as opposed to the hollow ground hockey and figure skate blades. A flat ground blade reduces the friction on the ice and is a major reason why the speed skate will glide farther than the hockey skate for the given force.
There are many ways to set up the speed skates in a jig. The most important thing is to be consistent in whatever method you learn. If possible, always sharpen skates on the same jig so that the skate adapts to the idiosyncrasies of that jig. Changing jigs may sometimes necessitate several sharpenings before the skates adjust to the new jig.
With the blade holder jig, the simplest method is to loosen the wing nuts on each jaw, insert the skates and tighten the nuts so that the jaws of the jig are gripping the blades and resting in the metal lip at the base of the tube. Check to ensure that an equal amount of each skate is showing behind the jig. This can be done by measuring with a ruler or making a visual estimate using a stone.
The skates must be set up so that both blades are parallel to one another and level at the top. The simple check to see if the blades are set up correctly is to take the stone and run it across the tops of the blades. A thick etch mark completely across both blades indicates that the blades are level, hence, when grinding starts, the blades will be worn down equally. If the etch line only covers a portion of one blade, adjust the skates until a subsequent check shows a complete etch mark across both blades.
The importance of sharp skates cannot be emphasized enough. Sharp skate blades are as important for young beginners as they are for Olympians. A young skater is unable to learn the basics of skating if he or she is slipping or sliding because of dull blades.
You should learn how to sharpen the skates yourself. There are skate sharpening learning sessions scheduled by the Club, so look at the Club calendar to determine when the sessions are being held. Other parents are often good sharpeners, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
How often you sharpen your skates depends on how often you skate and the condition of the ice. A good rule to follow is to sharpen your skates for every six hours of skating.
The idea behind sharpening is to build up a very slight “lip” or “burr” on each side of the blade. Naturally, the less burr that is built up, the less steel needs to be ground down. Ideally, the same amount of burr should be developed on the entire length of the blade. This will ensure that the skate is being worn down evenly. To achieve this, it is best to develop a pattern of sharpening which covers the entire blade equally.
The big 10x13 or 11x13 stone can be held with one hand at either end, thus removing the fingers from any danger and providing even pressure on each side. The stone should remain perpendicular to the blades at all times so that the same part of each blade is being sharpened.
With the stone held flat to the blades, we advise making five (5) strokes in one direction and then five (5) in the other, sliding the stone across the blades so that the entire surface of the blade is covered.
After three or four cycles of alternating direction, turn the jig around so that the stone is traveling from the toes to the heels of the skates and repeat the same number of cycles. This will ensure that any pressure differential in one direction is cancelled out, therefore promoting even wear of the blades.
It is also important to try and run the stone to the tips and the tails of the skate blades. If this is not done, the tips and the tail will gradually assume an out-of-proportion shape. Another major mistake of beginners is to over grind both ends of the skates with the result that a big portion of the blade becomes too round for efficient pushes. In order to prevent this from happening, make sure to grind the total length of the blade evenly without turning the stone toward the ground at both extremities. This measure is necessary to ensure equal wear of the blade. Make sure that you verify the curve of the blade before each sharpening.
When a burr is present, make a few passes with the smooth side of the burr stone to remove obvious crosshatch marks. Then take the burr stone and, placing it on the tube sleeve and flat against the blade, run it up and down the entire length of the blade a couple of times. The burr should disappear. Again, even pressure is very important during this procedure.
When the burr has been removed from all four edges, take the fine side of the big stone or a marble stone and lightly polish the entire length of the blades a few more times. If any burr builds up, it can be removed in the aforementioned manner.
The duller a skate gets, the more grinding must be done to produce a burr and the greater the chance of changing the position of the high point of the rocker.
Rockers, Flat Spots and Hollows
The rocker of a skate is the amount that the blade deviates from being perfectly flat. A hockey skate has a far larger rocker than a speed skate, and a short track skate has a larger rocker than a long track skate. The amount of rocker can be measured by placing a straight edge along the blade of the skate and checking to see the clearance at each end, or by holding skates together by the blades.
For most speed skates, the straight edge and the skate should contact each other for about one inch. If they contact for more than this distance, the skate has a flat spot, and if, upon holding the skate and straight edge up to the light, light can be seen between the ends of the flat spot, the skate has a hollow. Flat spots and hollows are to be avoided because they interfere with the natural action of the skate blade on the ice, causing lack of control and an inefficient push.
Hollows and flat spots can be both visually and audibly detected. If a straight edge makes a clicking noise or jerks when it is rotated over the surface of the blade, it indicates that the normal curvature of the blade has been altered. A normal blade will allow the straight edge to pass soundlessly along its length.
The rocker should not be affected by sharpening in the process outlined above. What will affect the rocker is repetitive grinding over a blade which has no burr. Never grind over one spot. Always maintain the pattern of strokes and, in due course, the bare spot will develop a burr. Burrs can be detected easily by using the fingernails which will click on the tiny lip of steel.
If you are concerned about your blades, talk to one of the coaches.
Drying/Storing Your Skates
Dry your blades with a dry cloth after each use. You should have guards to cover the blades going on and off the ice, then use ice “booties” to keep them dry between practices. If you leave skates overnight with drops of water on the blades, you will find rust on them in the morning. If you don’t have “booties”, leave the (hard) guards off of your skates until they are completely dry. Also, try to prevent the blades from banging together if the guards are off. Hanging them in a dry area is best.
Always wear hard skate guards when you are in your skates but not on the ice. Never walk on your skates without guards. It can take an hour or more to restore a blade edge that is lost by not using guards. Also, keep the inside of your guards clean at all times. Even a little speck of dirt on the inside of your guard can damage the blade. As for the boots, keep them polished. When they become wet, dry them slowly away from direct heat. In terms of laces, if the laces are too long, remove a piece from the middle and tie the cut ends at the toe. Check your laces before you skate, and replace them if they are frayed. Always carry an extra pair of laces.