Subscribe to Bourne's Blog Grab My Feed!Subscribe to Bourne's Blog Subscribe to Comments

Skate Sharpening And You



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.

Standard sharpening wheels

Here’s what you need to know:

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 what’s called a “1/2 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 - 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.

Good lookin' tools, right?

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.

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. 

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, 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.


45 Responses to “Skate Sharpening And You”
  1. mikeB says:

    Have you tried this before?

    I’ve always wanted to try it but the only spots in Ottawa that sharpen them aren’t in the rinks or stores I normally get my skates done at (not having a car makes it harder to get your skates done not at the rink). I know a couple of guys who have done it and they like it better.

  2. ms.conduct says:

    So I took mine to get sharpened, and as I was trying to remember what hollow I wanted on my goalie skates, the guy suggests I write “standard goalie cut” on the order tag.

    After I slice his head off with my laserbeam eyes at the sheer stupidity of that comment, I tell him 5/8ths and he says, “I use metric.” Luckily he’d just started there and hadn’t signed his liability waivers or whatever to be able to sharpen for that pro shop yet. Someone else who knows fractions did them, I guess.

    My point here is two-fold: whatever cluelessness there is around player skate sharpening, double it for goalie skates. And second, I’ve never heard of the metric thing… is that legit or is he full of crap? All I REALLY know is that he’s a cherry-picking douchebag at drop-in, which casts doubt on his worthiness as a human in general.

  3. jtbourne says:

    Two thoughts:

    @MikeB – A good rule of thumb is, if they don’t use it in the NHL (and they don’t) it’s not better. Those guys get first crack at any new technology that comes along, so if they deem it unworthy, don’t bother. I hear about that stuff in rec dressing rooms a lot, and rarely pick my head up. I wouldn’t go out of your way to change from the usual man.

    @msconduct – We always did goalie skates to one inch (or 7/8th), because you guys generally like to have a little more slide from side to side. I know a couple pro goalies who went 5/8ths, but most went less sharp than that. As for “I use metric” I literally don’t even know what he could mean. I WAS IN CANADA doing it in Imperial.

  4. Doug says:

    The only time I played with something other than a 1/2″ was at an adult tournament. I handed off my skates to the pro shop and didn’t even think twice about it. Once I got on the ice, something just felt off. I felt slow–well, slower than usual–and that my edges had too much bite to them. After the game, I went back to the pro shop, where the guy there told me that this rink had hard ice and the pro shop standard was 7/16″ (nice of them not to make that information available before taking my money). That 1/16″ made a huge difference to me (I was around 240 lb at the time, I didn’t need sharper skates). I had them put it back to 1/2″ and felt fine again.

    I’ve had various people recommend to me switching to 5/8″, or even 3/4″, because of my size, but I feel like I have a comfort level with 1/2″ that I would have to take the time to develop with a different hollow (I learned to compensate for being slow by being able to change directions quickly). After experiencing the difference that 1/16″ can make, I’m hesitant to to make a change again.

  5. Jarick says:

    Latest craze is the flat bottom V (FBV) sharpening. Instead of a semicircle cut out of the bottom of the blade, it’s a shape kind of like this: |\___/|. The idea is that the flat spot helps your glide and the edges are pointier, so you can vary the amount of bite and glide independently.

    I personally use that and went with the 100/50 (equivalent of 1/2″). Before I was skating on 3/4″ or 11/16″ depending on the season, but with the FBV I really liked the additional bite and glide.

    I also had my skates profiled at 9′ radius, since that’s the standard for Bauer and my newer Grafs came with 11′. That was a real pain until I had it fixed.

    As for the pitch, the Grafs are WAY on the toes, which was fun at first, but I’d like something closer to the Bauer pitch, which is pretty neutral. Shame I don’t have any more money, I’d love to throw a pair of Tuuks on the Grafs.

  6. jtbourne says:

    I’m fully convinced you’ll like it, Doug. Maybe just start with 5/8ths – if you’re still over 200 pounds, you’ll appreciate being able to keep moving longer. With our size, that edge is more than enough to still be able to change direction quickly. That said, we all have our preferences. But you definitely have to try it before making the ruling on which you prefer!

  7. mikeB says:

    They do use it in the NHL, or at least there are news articles saying that they use it. The only player I can see named is Cory Stillman. But they do say that 20 teams have the machines installed.

    Its not really a selling point to me but early reports (if I remember correctly) had almost all of the Panthers and Leafs skating on them.

  8. Goody says:

    I prefer a 3/8-hollow. I’m a big and slow. I was big and slow when I used a 1/2-inch hollow too. I’m curious how much difference it really makes speed wise. I’d guess for those who have had a lot of skating instruction it makes a bigger difference than for those of us who skate standing up.

    It amazes me how many places there are that sharpen skates poorly. And not just ‘places’, but people. As Ms.C noted, some places if you get the right guy – fantastic, but the wrong guy or the wrong day – may as well do them yourself with rock you found outside the rink.

  9. jtbourne says:

    Interesting, there’s obviously something to it. While I’m not interested in going out of my way to get faster for my rec league, I’ll give it a go if it’s nearby. My thoughts:

    Wouldn’t the gradual curved groove be easier than turning on two actual little blades? I mean, I have no idea, just wondering aloud. And does it make much of a difference? I can’t see it making much difference and not causing a tidal wave of response. Either way, it’s on my radar now. Thanks.

  10. Mike P. says:

    Interesting. I have been using 1/2 inch and have been thinking of trying the 3/8. Thats the two sizes the rink offers. Im a small and relative fast skater. Maybe I will stick with the 1/2.

  11. ms.conduct says:

    You might be surprised if you ask around among your goalie buddies these days. The two pros I’ve talked to about it (though oddly I haven’t polled Brusty on it) have said they get them as sharp as possible. And as I do mine sharper, I see why. Much crisper movement, better agility,. etc. Shuffling is harder, but you get used to it and really, that’s such a small part of movement as a goalie, it’s not significant.

    Here’s where Mike McKenna talks about it:

  12. jtbourne says:

    Ms. C – Yeah, that change had been happening with more of the pro goalies over the last few years for sure. Do you think a rec league goalie is still better off with the sharper skates? I would think that would require a (somewhat) higher level of competency, no?

  13. Jarick says:

    If you ever wander over to Mod Squad Hockey, there’s a hundred page long discussion on FBV and it’s use in the NHL. Apparently it’s just getting more and more common, still not sure on a percentage of players though.

    The actual raised points on the FBV are really, really short. Like barely visible, which is odd. But it’s incredibly sharp. When you’re gliding on both edges, it’s practically like a completely flat blade, but when turning, it really does dig in. I thought for sure I’d lose edges left and right but you actually get a good amount of grab.

    I do know some pros like David Perron for instance needed a deeper grind, and not just sharper, but literally deeper because they needed the traction when being shoved around the crease.

    Anyways, it’s worth checking out. Some people think it’s night and day difference, others think it’s subtle. I thought it was okay until I dropped from the equivalent of 5/8 to 1/2, in which I had a bit more bite and a bit more glide. After 1-2 skates it feels great and then no sharpenings for me for usually 8-10 skates.

  14. Deirdre says:

    As a skater first learning I was told to go with 5/8s and I did – and it was fine…but after doing it for a while I decided to play around and when I tried 1/2 it was like the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight came down on the ice. That is *my cut*. Sometimes I have to reiterate that to sharpeners, cuz they say “Oh no, trust me X would be better for you”…they don’t get to sharpen my skates any more.

    As a goalie I was told to start with 7/8s and I did – and it was fine…but after I messed up my ankle and couldn’t wear my goalie skates so played in my players skates for a few games I realized that the same cloud parting/sunlight streaming effect happened there.

    I’m 1/2 all the way baby, the grip is awesome, my laterals are SO much better, plus I can no totally do that just lean your legs together and suddenly you’re standing up cool goalie thing that I couldn’t do before.

    If you haven’t played around, definitely try it – honestly you’ll know after a single game or good long practice whether you like the cut and if you find your miracle cut it’ll totally be worth the 20 bucks you wasted on the three you didn’t like.

  15. Trevor Beaton says:

    I used the flat-bottom V this year and loved it. It really is the best of both worlds. I always liked a small hollow to make coasting easier. You still get that feel with flat bottom V but turning, you get the feel of really sharp edges.

    I’ve heard some players complain they lose the edges quicker on this cut, but I haven’t experienced it yet.

  16. ms.conduct says:

    I believe the benefit applies to rec goalies, too. In fact, being probably worse skaters and less strong and agile, it’s even more important as those edges do a lot of the work that otherwise your thigh muscles have to do. It makes everything easier (except shuffling. stopping, etc. but I like I said, you get used to that and develop the strength and “touch” with your edges pretty quickly to accommodate for that). I just generally feel stronger now that I’m going sharper. Working my way to 1/2″ by this summer (though knee injury may slow that down). Only reason I wouldn’t go sharper is our ice is soft here and sharpening is expensive and doesn’t last very long with a deep hollow.

    The only question I have about it as I look at building my web site for adults-new-to-goaltending is when to suggest starting to ramp up that sharpness. Do you start with them sharp and go thru the growing pains that way, or do you start with a shallow hollow and go sharper as you build strength and confidence using your edges for goalie-type movement? I’m not sure, but it was a big time eye-opener for me and if it helped me, I’m assuming it would help pretty much anybody.

  17. Steve C. says:

    This why we keep coming back…great article Justin!
    I’m a 1/2″ guy, but what the heck, I’m going to try 5/8″.

  18. Four to Five says:

    Haha when I get my skates sharpened I don’t ask them to do it in any special way.

    But now I’m going to. Thanks for this great post on how to sharpen skates!

  19. Joe G. says:

    I never thought it made a difference until a buddy of mine starting doing my skates, and it was like night and day. I would just take mine to the shop in the rink I was playing at, usually when it was really dull (I’m a bigger guy and really dig into the ice), they’d do the 1/2″, and then weren’t too concerned with how level it was. Once my buddy did it the first time, he suggested the 5/8″, and before he sharpened them the first time he showed me how uneven the goof left it. Quite an eye opener. Another bonus I have is my buddy pretty much can do them whenever I want, and stressed that I needed to get them done more because even though the hollow was okay, you pick up little nicks here and there that need to be taken out. Hell, I’ll take every little bit I can since I’m not exactly a speed demon to begin with.

  20. Goody says:

    Thinking on this speed thing more… skate blades are 3 dimensional objects. The hollow is only 2 dimensional. The other dimension (length) has a radius as well. “Speed” is a simple function of skater weight and surface area contacting the ice. Given two skaters of the same weight:

    big hollow, long radius = low lbs/in^2 of contact = less friction = faster.
    low hollow, short radius = high lbs/in^2 of contact = more friction = slower.

    So perhaps that is why I prefer the 3/8 hollow for my size 12 skates with a 13 foot radius? Whereas someone the same weight with smaller feet (say a size 10 skate with a 10 foot radius) might prefer a bigger hollow?

  21. Joe G. says:

    By the way, Jason, good stuff. Like Steve C. said, this is the kind of stuff thatgot me to search out this blog after reading some of your THN stuff.

  22. jtbourne says:

    @Goody – I use Bauer skates that are a 1/4 size different, (10.25/10.5) with the standard Bauer radius on both – I literally don’t even know what mine is (though I changed the radius on plenty of other people’s skates). I just like how Bauer’s show up in the box. Somewhere along the line I was told that the more blade on the ice, the better, and for me – and this a personal thing – I noticed a HUGE difference when my steel would wear down and my radius would get that little bit shorter. I like as much blade down as possible.

    @Joe G. – Thanks man. YOURS is the 5/8th story I thought I’d see more of today. I feel like I can barely play with anything sharper these days, and most people (except little speedsters) I know who makes the switch say the same thing.

  23. SDC says:

    In minor hockey, I started as a 3/8″ guy, and then eventually morphed into a 5/8″ guy by the end of college. It was a great move. 3/8″ you could definitely turn sharper and things like that, but you’d get bogged down in a foot-race. 5/8″ encouraged a lot more floating until speed was necessary. I’m on board with the new FBV, and whatever equivalent 5/8″ is in that new system.

    Probably the only intelligent thing Mission did was make a skate holder (Tuuk) called Pitch 3 that allowed you to manually alter the blade pitch as you wanted, instead of having to drop a pile of money on a profiling session. They came standard on my Kor’s.

    Also, anyone who ever wore t-blades on any team at any level that I played for got abused daily for comitting such a travesty. Aside from looking like rollerblades. they actually made you skate “louder”, which was a huge annoyance.

    When Nike-Bauer came out with the One90, it featured a clear-blue Tuuk with a longer steel runner that technically meant for blade on the ice/speed/push, yadda yadda yadda, but something actually pretty smart. The biggest problem though, was that it only fit in the CLEAR BLUE Tuuks that not one NHL’er was on board with wearing, and thusly, no one else either. So all the science went out the window, and every player changed their Tuuks back to white asap. There’s a bit of a snobbery in NHL’er/all players that won’t allow variances in equipment, no matter how scientifically sound they may be, if they stray too far off the beaten traditional looking path. I guess the sooner manufacturers finally figure this out, the better for their bottom lines.

  24. Pat says:

    I played through high school in Wisconsin as a goalie, but now I play out most of the time. I sharpen my own skates, and I sharpen both my goalie skates and my regular skates exactly the same way. If I know the ice is going to be harder I give the goalie skates a little shallower hollow so I can actially push off instead of having the blades chatter over the ice.

    Bourne is right though. 5/8″ is a fairly universal hollow and should be fine for pretty much anybody. I also sharpen other peoples’ skates and most people don’t know the difference. He’s also right in that you ABSOLUTELY need to make sure that whoever sharpens your skates makes sure the edges are level. If they don’t, the edges can be sharp but it may feel like either the inside or outside edge is gone. It happens when one edge is significantly taller than the other, causing the 2 edges to not be level. This is caused by having the skate blade not being properly aligned with the sharpening wheel.

  25. Pat says:

    Also, ShereOf wasn’t the color of the Tuuks that caused people to switch them when the One90s came out. There was actually a design flaw in the original One90 holders. The plastic hook on the front of the LS2 Power holder (the clear blue ones) where the steel attached to the holder was faulty and caused the steel (the actual blade) to loosen and jiggle around when skating and walking. There was a distinctive clicking noise with mine whenever I was walking from the room to the ice. I had original One 90s and I could actually wiggle the front of the steel back and forth to either side of the front of the holder. A friend of mine works in a hockey shop and said it was a very common problem with the first generation of LS2 Power holders. This is what caused people to put LS2 Tuuks (the white ones) on One90 boots.

  26. Pat says:

    That’s supposed to be SDC at the beginning of my previous post. Stupid phone…

  27. Jeff K says:

    I sharpened skates for years. I learned on an old Fleming Grey pos machine. If you could sharpen on that you could sharpen anywhere. Made the Blademaster a piece of cake. HATED the guy who asked for a specific hollow. took time.

    Anyway, it is an art form. Consistency all day is taxing but essential.

  28. jtbourne says:

    Ha, really? I don’t even know what that is! We had a couple preset to standard hollows (1/2 inch and 5/8ths) and we’d adjust the same one if someone wanted to get crazy.

    BTW, a mom once broght her own level to double-check my job (which I levelled in front of her) on her 8 year olds skates. I wanted to sharpen her retinas on the 1/2 inch wheel.

  29. TimmyHate says:


    I’m sure I’ve seen a variation on this blog somewhere from you before…I remember the Iginla comment and the mother with her own level.

    I’ve never been lucky enough to get my skates done anywhere that will let me choose radius,hollow etc – we just got a new store that opened that will offer that so I’ll be going there now. I honestly have NO idea what hollow I’ve had until now…just the store cut. Sucks living in New Zealand…we have 5 rinks total.

    Gonna try the 5/8″ths next time.

  30. Barney says:

    Might want to check that out for another niche sharpening product, this time from Sweden. Apparently, Oilers’ first-rounder Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson uses the Channel Z, and other NHLers (mostly other Swedes from what i can tell) use the robot sharpeners they make.

  31. neil says:

    Awesome thread, lots of great info from Bourne and the many experienced commenters. I’m definitely gonna try out 5/8ths, I get mine done at 1/2 and I hate how they feel for the first couple of skates (too sharp, and I only weigh 160lbs).

    I’m curious, is that FBV system something that is unique to a specific blade, or can you get it done on any blade as long as the person doing it knows how?

  32. mikeB says:


    its a different machine. same process though. Its not everywhere. Go to the website and see if they have one in your town.

  33. SDC says:

    @Pat – interesting about the blade defect in the clear holders, I wasn’t aware of that. I will hold fast to my argument that hockey purists fear change though. You get the odd guy experimenting with new gear (I’ve seen a blue and a yellow visor once, RBK’s O-stick, and maybe a handful of other gear that probably has had some scientifically sound advantages, but as you can tell, never made it into the general rotation or popularity. It’s even tough for an upstart brand like Kor, Sande, Flarrow, MIA, or any other of the zillion small-time companies you’ve probably never heard of to break through with innovative products in a market dominated by 3 or 4 major companies.

    On a side note, those One90′s were pretty much junk all around. an $800 price tag got you the most commonly broken skate on the market — at least it was good looking.

  34. Pat says:


    I got mine for free though so I had no complaints. They survived for about 3 years until the bottom of one of the boots literally fell apart. Now I have Vapor XXXXs. Once I got used to the shorter blades, they became my favorite skates. They feel like slippers while still maintaining stiffness. I’d love to try a pair of TotalONEs but I won’t be getting them for free so that won’t be happening. And you’re right on the fear of change thing. If it’s not black or white, or a team color for the rest of your equipment, prepare to be ridiculed. You can always tell if a rec leaguer actually played competitive hockey by looking at their equipment. If there are any funky colors, odds are they never did.

  35. Marc says:

    Gah! Bad Terminology! A freshly sharpened pair of skates is always “sharp” regardless of what hollow you put on it. Saying you have a super sharp skate (shouldnt) imply you have a deep hollow. A deep hollow however is different than a shallow hollow even though they could both be very sharp. Just because someone skates on a shallow hollow doesn’t mean they have dull skates people!

    Also – it looks like it’s been covered pretty throughly already but the FBV sharpenings are utterly amazing, have infiltrated the NHL teams shockingly well for being such a radical change in only about 2-3 years. I’ve skated on FBV sharpenings myself and it really does give jaw dropping glide. However they only come in preset configurations because of the way they have to dress the wheel, if you don’t feel one setting has enough bite and the next step is too deep well… its back to a standard sharpening for you.

  36. MWL says:

    JB, did your decision on what skates to wear have more to do with the feel of the boot or the blade holder. It seems like not a lot of people meander away from one or the other. I have always work Tuuk’s therefor i wear bauer for the most part. Just currious.

  37. AiH says:

    I wonder if I can get a 5/8 hollow on my inline skates.

  38. Frank says:

    thanks for the valuable information and insight, Justin. These articles on sticks, sharpening, etc have been awesome.

    So do you sharpen skates at the Fantasy Camp? :)

  39. JC says:

    I’ve been a 1/2″ guy. Didn’t actually know I was but I asked the guy at the shop today what “standard” was and he told me 1/2″ for players and 1″ for goalies. They have a blackstone machine so I had him put a 5/8″ FBV on my blades and I skate in a couple of hours so I’ll report back. Great article and thanks for the info.

  40. JC says:

    Just got done with my second skate on the 5/8″ FBV coming from a 1/2″ standard cut. I don’t know how much of my experience can be attributed to changing to the 5/8″ or to the FBV. I probably should have done them one at a time but my experience with the change was positive and I’m keeping the new cut.

    First couple of laps on a clean sheet and they felt slippery. Noticeably faster on the glide but when you went to push out at casual speed there was very little bite. Not scary slippery but different enough that you had to pay attention. Picking up speed they were faster on the glide, bit enough on the stride, and felt every bit as good on tight turns as what I used to have. I might be imagining it or I got used to the cut but where they seemed to be a big improvement was once the ice was carved up a bit and there was some friction. Based on the performance with some snow on the ice I recommend you find a FBV shop and try it.

  41. Nikki says:

    The person sharpening the skates makes a difference. If you find someone that you like, stick with them. Also, the better the machine it seems the better the sharpen. I prefer a Blademaster or Blackstone machine.

  42. zunner says:

    For the past few years I’ve used a portable sharpener from Blackstone that myself and a few buddies went 3 ways on – really liked it, but I’m moving away and will need to pick one up for myself now. Anyone ever use this machine from Wissota?
    I know someone who has one and he likes it very much. Would love some feedback from others if any of you are familiar. Thx!

  43. JT says:

    Well I’m at 200 lbs. and have been skating at 7/16 for years, but since college (and college conditioning), I feel like I’m skating through molasses. Thinking about going to 5/8 after reading this…. But do you think that’s too big a change? Should I just go to 1/2? I welcome anybody’s suggestions…

  44. Blade-Tek says:

    Yes the FBV is pretty popular, and I am convinced that most if not all NHL locker rooms have it as a give-away by the company as in a large promotion. . . 30 machines is cheap when compared to the thousands of sales that follow.
    There is enhanced glide, but also edges are easily lost and/ordamaged more easily. I offer both either to clients. My observations are that most beer leaguer love the cut, while most of the competative AAA or Jr hockey players prefer the standard radius hollow. ?
    I have no real preference, I am only the guy doing the skates.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] Justin Bourne former player with such a great insight has a interesting piece about skate sharpening. [...]

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!