Do I have to sharpen my new skates?
December 29, 2009 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Do I really have to sharpen my new ice skates? If so, and I do it myself?

We just went out last night and bought ice skates for the family. There is a frozen pond two blocks over. But damn, the skate packaging says the skates must be sharpened before use, and the two places in town that do this are swamped and can't get the skates back for days.

What happens if we just put on the skates and go? Or alternatively, can I sharpen them myself? I have basic woodworking tools and an somewhat handy.

I want to skate now!
posted by LarryC to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
The skates are fine. The manufacturer wants you to sharpen them because the edges may have gotten dinged up from in-store handling/trying on.
posted by mkultra at 11:05 AM on December 29, 2009

first, check if they are sharpened, run your thumbnail perpendicular the edge, and if some of the nail ends up on the blade, its sharp enough. skates are sharpened so when you look down the skate upside down, the profile looks like a U. run the nail down the edge of both sides of the U. in the middle, front, and back.

you can get self-sharpening kits but it takes a bit of elbow grease. i dont recall whether they are expensive or not. they consist of a sharpening stone that you just grind back and forth.

if your skates are not sharp (and especially if you are a skating newbie) you will be slip-sliding all over the place and you won't be able to make good sharp turns, dig in to go, or stop well. you WILL fall on your ass, probably hard. have you called any ice rinks in the area? it doesnt take long in the shop to get them sharpened.

also, make sure that pond is really thoroughly frozen before you let your kids on it.
posted by Mach5 at 11:07 AM on December 29, 2009

Typically, new skates are sold/shipped with dull (very dull) blades, to avoid injury and reduce issues with packing. Trying to skate on them unsharpened will be, at best, a frustrating experience. At worst, you won't be able to dig in enough to stop properly and will fall and possibly hurt yourself.

Woodworking tools probably won't work - you'll be much more likely to damage the blade than to actually sharpen the skate. Its not the same as sharpening a knife. There are a ton of home sharpening tools in the market, typically in the $60 - $90 range ... if you're sure you're going to skate a lot this may save you some money over the long term.

Here is a decent article about the how's and why's of skate sharpening.

I would bet there are actually more than two places in your town. Is there an ice rink nearby? I'd stop by there and check their board - I bet there are ads on the board from people who have the machinery and who sharpen their skates at home.

My opinion is that putting dull skates on kids who have never skated before will turn them off skating for a long time. If you want them to love the activity, then treat the equipment correctly.
posted by anastasiav at 11:14 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I realize that this wasn't your question, but I really, really wouldn't recommend skating on that pond. Your location says that you're in Spokane, where the weather has been hovering around freezing recently, but has gone above 32F pretty much every day. That means that not only is the ice unlikely to be very thick, it's also melting and refreezing on a daily basis, which weakens the ice. Skating on weak ice can lead to fatalities. Please, please go to a commercial skating rink.
posted by decathecting at 11:16 AM on December 29, 2009

What happens if we just put on the skates and go?

It depends on how sharpened they were by the factory prior to shipping. (Usually they're left quite dull, to protect consumers during shipping.) Skates that aren't sharpened make the wearer feel like they're sliding sideways on the ice, or worse, they will pull to one side or another -- much the same way your car might if it isn't aligned properly. It's not a pleasant feeling.

You can sharpen your own, but I've never done it. I'm unsure if woodworking tools would be appropriate to use. See Skate Sharpening.

It's worth noting that some larger sporting goods stores and rinks will sharpen ice skates for you even if they don't advertise the service. (It only takes 5-10 minutes per pair.)

BTW, beware of anyone who uses an automatic sharpener. They do apply even pressure down the length of the blade as they grind, but they can cause problems. You see, skates should only be sharpened from the front of the rocker to the rear -- not the entire blade. Automatic sharpeners use a rotating grinding wheel that works on the entire blade, going beyond the rocker. This removes too much metal. With successive sharpenings, the blade will be weakened and its contour changed.
posted by zarq at 11:22 AM on December 29, 2009

Sharpen them. I have a scar on my chin from new unsharpened skates when I tried to hockey stop and they had no edges. Unless you like stitches and scars, spend a little bit of time to get them sharpened up properly. Your chin will thank you for it.
posted by fenriq at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can skate on them - if the ice is soft enough, it should be OK. You certainly aren't going to hurt the skates. (your bodies on the other hand....) But sharper skates are way better, and easier to use.

Almost every place I've had my skates sharpened at could do it while you wait. But I grew up in Minnesota, so... YMMV.

I doubt woodworking tools will work very well to sharpen them, and could damage the blade. I'd advise against it.

As for the pond.... make sure the ice is thick enough. The moderately warm temperatures can produce a nice skating surface (even if it is soft and not very fast, it should be smooth), but depending on the geography could be very thin indeed.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:01 PM on December 29, 2009

I think you should take them to a professional to get them sharpened (or determine whether or not they need sharpening) and you should not try to sharpen them yourself. Skate blades consist of two edges with a hollow down the middle and maintaining the hollow and sharp edges is a specialist job. I would never try to do it myself.

True story: a successful roller skater of the 1950s, Gloria Nord, converted to ice skating with, seemingly, no trouble. Then after a while she started falling down all the time - constantly. A journalist who was watching asked her where she had been getting them sharpened. She reportedly replied, "Sharpened? You mean I have to get them sharpened?"

I would also repeat what others have said about skating on a real rink and not a pond. In the first place you could fall through, in the second place if your blade comes into contact with an embedded rock or twig, or any kind of debris, you'll come crashing down in a way that will hurt. It won't be like a normal fall on ice. Seriously please don't skate on a frozen pond, it's very dangerous whereas a rink is very safe.
posted by tel3path at 2:32 PM on December 29, 2009

Sharpen them.

My mom bought new skates a couple years ago and thought she could get right on the ice. Despite being a skater since childhood, she looked like a n00b hanging on to the side of the rink, as she couldn't get any traction to move forward or stay standing.
posted by chiefthe at 2:37 PM on December 29, 2009

Figure skater here. Get them sharpened, properly at least the first time.

I went and bought a handheld sharpening kit which works great for those in-between times when it's hard to get to a sharpener. Not ideal for my high-end blades but absolutely fine for standard blades. In between grinds they're good for a top up. Blunt blades of any kind suck.
posted by wingless_angel at 3:21 PM on December 29, 2009

You probably should get them sharpened, but there liekly isn't much danger in using them the way they are. It sounds like you just want to take the family out for a casual skate around the pond for a bit. If this is the case, then by all means don't let some dull skates ruin a family moment; you can always get them sharpened later.

I bought a new pair of skates and used them for a year before getting them sharpened (around 40-50 hours of use) and they worked fine. That said, they were MUCH better once I finally got them sharpened.

You may also want to take a look around for some other places that sharpen skates. Any kind of sports/sport equipment store, hockey rinks (which may even have a vending machine-style skate sharpener), and maybe even Walmart should offer skate sharpening. It only takes a few minutes, so waiting for a couple days doesn't sound quite right. You "could" do it yourself (you'd need a grinder), but it's probably more work than it's worth. Plus you will almost guaranteed not get the skates straight meaning you may as well have just left them dull.
posted by Kippersoft at 4:27 PM on December 29, 2009

Thanks, friends. I was hoping to hear "go ahead and skate!" but I know better than to go against the green. I took them to a skate shop and sweet talked the nice lady and will pick up the sharpened skates in the morning. They really were extremely dull.

And thanks for the concern about the pond. I have been walking on it the last two days with skaters whizzing past. The ice is 8 or 10 inches thick. I can see the advantage of learning to skate on the groomed ice of a rink, but then again the rinks are quite crowded this holiday season. I think having some room to learn is a big benefit, and I do see quite a few families out with kids who are obviously learning to skate. We'll give it a try!
posted by LarryC at 8:58 PM on December 29, 2009

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