The hockey player's guide to skate sharpening

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

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.

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.

Standard sharpener

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.”

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?

The hockey player's guide to skate sharpening
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