Speed skates cannot be sharpened by your local ice rink pro-shop or sports store. Learning to manually sharpen speed skates is vital. These guidelines can be used as both an introduction to the speed skate sharpening process, as well as a reference for ongoing sharpening.
How often speed skates are sharpened varies with a skaters preference and experience. Generally, speed skate blades should be sharpened every 2-6 hours of use, depending on the assertiveness and style of the skater. Younger, and lighter, skaters can sometimes go for up to 8 to 10 hours between sharpening.
Once a skate blade gets very dull, it can take a long time to sharpen therefore consistent upkeep is best. It only takes five minutes to sharpen skates that are slightly dull and it can take over an hour to sharpen dull or stripped blades.
The equipment used in the sharpening process includes:
- a sharpening jig
- sharpening stones (course & fine)
- honing oil (or baby oil)
- de-burring stone
- rag, newspaper, or thin mat.
- A solid working surface at waist height and good source of light is also an important requirement.
These instructions are intended to be used for people who are just learning to sharpen speed skates and would like to understand the process, tools and tips prior to seeing a demonstration or getting hands-on instruction.
1.1 Choose the same sharpening jig that your skates were sharpened with initially, and continue to use this jig each time you sharpen.
- It is critical that speed skates are held in an identical position each time they are sharpened.
1.2 Place the jig on newspaper or a thin mat. Make sure it is a comfortable distance from you on the work surface.
1.3 Check the blades for bends and dents. “Eyeball” the blades from one end and look for any imperfections along the length of the blades.
- Contact a coach or technician if you need help/expertise to straighten out any kinks and bends.
1.4 Check the skates for sharpness by lightly drawing the back of a fingernail downward, moving perpendicular to the edge.
- If the edge is sharp, you’ll see fingernail shavings on the edge. If you don’t, the edge is dull.
- While checking for sharpness, 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). Be careful not to cut yourself!
- You may notice that the inside edges and the left outside edge are dull, but that the right outside edge is still quite sharp. This is normal because in speed skating, we turn left a lot more than we turn right.
Skates in Jig
1.5 Place the skates, with toes always the same way, in the jig upside down and in the proper standing/skating position (arches facing each other).
- Ensure that the front of the skates are against the stopper bar at the font of the jig.
1.6 Before tightening the clamps on the jig, raise the skates upward so that the underside of the blade holder is up against the clamp rail.
- Be sure that the top of the blades are on the same plane (i.e., not one end higher than the other) for an even sharpening.
1.7 Choose the stone or stone side based on how dull the skates are—course or fine.
- If the skates are dull, use the coarse side (usually the darker one) of the stone. If you only need some slight sharpening then start with the fine stone.
1.8 Add a few drops of oil on the stone surface and spread it out with your fingers.
Raising the Burr
2.1 Gently place the stone across both blades and slide the stone back and forth from one end of the blades to the other using a consistent speed. The long axis of the stone must always be perpendicular (90 degree angle) to the blades at all times during your stroke.
- The purpose of this step is to create a slight burr on all four sides of the blades—thus “raising a burr.”
- Use only the weight of the stone for pressure on the blades—do not push down on the stone.
2.2 As you slide the stone forward and back along the blades, also slowly slide the stone from one side to the other at the same time.
- This provides an even wearing of the stone and proper formation of the burrs on the blades.
2.3 To check for the burr, slowly and lightly drawing the back of a fingernail up, moving perpendicular to the edge. (see step 1.4) If there is a burr, your fingernail will catch slightly on it.
2.4 Continue sliding the stone the full length of the blades, stopping to check for the burr developing at different spots along the blades every few strokes.
2.5 Keep checking again in the places along the blade (both sides) where the burr previously was not until there is a slight burr along the length of the blades—on both sides.
- Do not over sharpen—this will create a large burr. A large burr is a problem because when you go to the next step to remove the burr it is possible that you will chip some of the metal off the blade.
- If you have to slide the stone many times—more than 25 or 30—you may need to add a few more drops of oil to the stone.
2.6 Clean the stone periodically with a rag, the small metal filings from the blade can cause damage to the blades and also reduces the life of the sharpening stone.
Remove the Burr
3.1 Start by putting on the leather gloves (or use a leather rag).
- Removing the burr is probably one of the most important parts of sharpening a speed skate.
3.2 Remove one of the skates from the Jig and hold the skate on its side with the blade edge lying flat on the edge of a flat surface (the work bench).
3.3 Take the burrstone and place it flat on the edge of the blade, length ways, (with glove on the hand holding the stone) and move the burrstone back and forth along the length of the blade a few times while pressing with moderate pressure.
- This will grind down the burr that you created in step 2.
- Remember to flip the burrstone on different sides periodically in order to make up for imperfections in the stone and/or blades.
Option: Alternatively, the burr can be removed while remaining in the jig—however this is suggested to be considered once you have master the skill of sharpening as it is more difficult to keep the stone flat and apply even pressure.
3.4 Check periodically (every 10-20 strokes) for the progress of the burr being removed. This often does not remove all of the burr, and sometimes portions of the burr gets flipped/transferred back to the top of the blade.
3.5 Repeat this process for the other skate.
4.1 Place both of the skates back into the Jig the same way as in Step 1.5 & 1.6.
4.2 With the fine side of the sharpening stone this time, add oil as in Step 1.10 and use the same technique as in Step 2 “raising the burr”—usually with less strokes—about 10 to 20 strokes this time.
4.3 This may create a slight burr again, so the last step is to remove the burr (sometimes called top burr or de-burr). Use the burr checking technique in Step 2 “raising the burr.”
5.1 Repeat the Step 3 “remove the burr” technique, however usually only running the fine stone back and forth along the blades once.
5.2 Just like in step 1.4, 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.
Clean-up and Storage
6.1 Remember to clean the stone(s) by wiping them off with a clean cloth.
- This removes the small metal filings that you have taken off your blades and are now sitting in the oil on the stone.
- A dirty stone can ruin equipment and reduce the sharpening ability of the stones.
6.2 Now put on your storage (soft) skate guards. Never store skates in the walking guards.
- The walking “hard” guards will hold moisture next to the blade and cause rust to form.
- 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.