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Ron Chisholm's Skate Sharpening

Custom Radius Skate Sharpening

Presented by:   Ron Chisholm - a dedicated hockey fan, parent of four players, and past player and coach of many years.

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A precision system of shaping skates to the individual specifications of each skater.

A Technical Approach to Better Skating

Skates made today are the product of years of development, and now represent state of the art technology in materials and construction.  However, skates do not come from the manufacturer sharpened, much less being ready to be used on the ice, as it is economically impossible for them to provide a matched pair of blades, accurately profiled, balanced, and sharpened to meet an individual skater's preference.  The manufacturer provides an adequate amount of blade stock and leaves the final sharpening and shaping to the skate sharpener, and this is where most problems originate.

Most skate sharpening is typically done free-hand, and may cause problems for skaters, with their performance being lower than their expectations.  Custom Radius is a contouring system of shaping and balancing skates to provide increased performance for all skaters, both professional and recreational.  The contour radius of the skate blade should not be confused with the radius of hollow or hollow grind of the blade.  The radius of hollow is the concave cut along the surface of the blade, which creates the two distinct edges (inside and outside) on the blade.  A discussion of the hollow grind can be found by following this link or the one at the bottom of this page.  Both the contour radius and the radius of hollow or other form dressing of the blade are critical to the performance of the hockey player.

Good skating starts with properly cared for skates, and contoured skates help you skate better and easier. The most significant advantage of Custom Radius shaping of the blade is increased performance.  The increased performance is in the areas of improved stride and maneuverability, greatly increased skater confidence because skates will not break loose or chatter while making tight turns or stopping, and safety because the radiused skate blade does some of the work and relieves the strain on muscles and joints, thereby reducing the chance of fatigue induced injuries.


Blade Anatomy

Contouring or Shaping

Contouring is blade shaping, not sharpening, which must be done after shaping.  Skate contouring is a precision system of shaping skates to the individual specifications of each skater.  Accurate positioning of the balance point on the blade provides maximum stability and maneuverability.  The concept of contouring is to shape a skate for the proper lie (balance point) and radius of curvature.  After the skates have been contoured, they are sharpened while maintaining the established shape.  Skates direct from the factory may be inconsistent in shape from one blade to the other, and in most cases have the incorrect lie for the individual skater.  Both skates must have the same shape and balance point for optimum skating performance, so a matched pair of shaped and balanced blades is necessary.  The contour of the skates should be checked periodically (at least annually) to restore the profile which has probably been altered from repeated sharpening.

Rockering Concept

For years sharpeners have been rockering skate blades.  The idea was to put a radius on the blade to increase maneuverability.  Although the idea is sound, the operation is free-hand.  Consequently, there is no consistency of radius from skate to skate, and more importantly, no consistency in the lie of the radius.  The radius on a rockered blade extends from toe to heel, and too much blade is usually taken off both front and back.  The quality of the rocker is dependent upon the skate sharpener.  The results may be inconsistent from sharpening to sharpening, as well as from one skate to the other and can often be harmful.

Contouring on the other hand is not a free-hand operation. Contouring shapes and balances blades to match the skater's natural stance and style.  A contoured pair of skates has the same lie, and each skate has an equal amount of blade on the ice.  Additionally, the contouring system has the unique advantage of being able to shape your new skates exactly like your old pair, so you don't have to re-adjust your skating style or "get used to" your new skates.  Contouring takes out all the guesswork and gives you the same quality workmanship time after time.

Blade Radius

The Radius of a skate blade is actually a portion of a circle ground onto the blade.  The length of the radius controls the amount of blade touching the ice.  A skate with a long, flat blade is generally a fast skate, as in a racing skate, but provides very limited maneuverability.  A skate with a short radius, such as a figure skate provides excellent maneuverability but very poor control on long strides and not much speed.  The correct radius is a compromise between maneuverability and stability resulting in maximum control and reduced muscle fatigue.  The generally accepted radius for hockey skates is 9'.  This is the approximate radius that will come from the manufacturer, but as stated above, this is not precise and final sharpening and contouring are left for the skate sharpener.   Generally, new skates are not well matched from skate to skate and require proper contouring to remove any high spots on the blades and to adjust the lie or balance point to the skater's preference.  Depending upon the manufacturer, you may find that the skates actually are being made with a 10' or 11' radius.

A contoured pair of skates actually has three radii on it (as shown in the picture above).  The large, working radius extends across much of the center of the blade.  The back and front radii are blended into this working radius and are equally as important.  The front radius is used at the end of each leg thrust, and the back radius supports the skater while cornering.

The Contouring System uses the concept of radius to give you maximum maneuverability, stability, and balance.

Too Far Back
Too far back

  • Loss of power in shooting

  • Slow starts and turns


  • Maximum skating efficiency

  • Power on long strides

  • Shooting accuracy

Too Far Forward
Too far forward

  • Muscle fatigue

  • Loss of power on long strides

  • Loss of shooting and passing accuracy

  • Short, choppy strides

Lie and Balance

The lie of a skate is the pitch of the center Radius.  If the pitch or lie is incorrect, the skater will not feel comfortable and properly balanced.  The skater's posture will be poor, causing muscle fatigue.  The lie controls the body weight, which is important to the start of the skater's thrust position.  The correct lie ensures that the skater will start the thrust from the center of the skate.  As the semi-circle is completed, the leg is extended and the thrust travels down the blade.  With the correct Lie, the high point of the working radius is slightly toward the heel, and there is less blade along the front.  Consequently the skater's knees bend slightly, "unlocking the body.

When standing erect, a skater should be evenly balanced and comfortable.  If the lie is too far back, the knees and ankles will be forced to bend.  If the lie is too far forward, the legs are locked into a rigid position.

Benefits of Custom Radius Sharpening

  • More Power
    The blade is balanced such that on push-off the full thrust down through the hip and leg is directed to that portion of the blade in the ice.  This gives excellent grip in the ice, strong starts, and straight ahead power.  As the skate is angled to the ice on push-off, a greater length of radiused blade digs into the ice.  This further increases the grip in the ice and adds to push-off power and quick starts.

  • More Speed
    The blade is balanced to provide the right amount of rocker for a long stride.  This in turn increases the skating speed of the skater.  The correct blade profile enables the glide foot to ride up on the ice giving smooth fast skating.  There is no chopping of the ice as the foot comes down.

  • Smoother Skating
    With correctly profiled blades the hockey player can skate forward or backward in one continuous smooth rolling motion through the hips and legs from one side to the other.  There is no wasted or lost energy.

  • Quick, Tighter Turns
    As the skater leans into the turn, a greater length of radiused blade is put onto the ice.  This gives more support and a tighter turning arc.

  • Fast, Smooth Turns
    The radiused blade stays in the turning arc.  There is no chatter or need to keep lifting the blade out of the ice as with straight blades.

  • Top Skate Control
    The correct radius and balance give the skater full control on his skates.  He can change direction quickly, turn or cut fast, stop quickly and maneuver easily.

  • Longer, Stronger Skating
    Both blades with an identical profile eliminates the fatigue and possible injury caused by the unequal demands on a skater's legs from a pair of unmatched blades.

  • Consistent Skating
    Repeating the blade profile perfectly through all sharpenings enables the player to go out on the ice with confidence, without having to "relearn" his blades after each sharpening.

Additional Sharpening and Skate Information

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The information on this site has been collected from official scoresheets and from on ice observations.  As such, the final statistics are not to be construed as official or sanctioned by the Salem High School Athletic Department or by the NHIAA.  However, much of this information is not available from any other sources.

2015 Ron Chisholm & Associates
Salem, NH