Take Care of Your Ice Skates, You Don't Want to Break in a New Pair.

Mar 30, 2004 (Updated Aug 18, 2006)

The Bottom Line Keeping your skates in good condition is a lot less painful than a new pair will be.

Skates aren’t cheap. A good pair of hockey skates sells for over $400 and a pair of competitive figure skates can easily top $1000. Even at these prices, skates that aren’t carefully maintained will deteriorate in a very short period of time. I have seen a pair of $450 skates last just over six months; that has to be a painful investment. Even if the cost of the skates doesn’t make you blink, breaking in a new pair in that period should.

So what can you do to make your skates last longer?

Take Care of the Blades
The cheapest steel costs about $20 a blade. Some hockey skates entail replacing the carrier with the steel at $50 each. You will almost always have to purchase them by the pair. Unless you break on after only a couple of sharpenings, they will be different heights and contours. For a figure skater, the price can easily be $300 to $500 for a pair of blades.

First and most importantly, dry your blades. Any time you are done skating get the steel as dry as you can with a towel and put them in terrycloth blade guards. This is the only way you should ever store your skates, in terrycloth. Terrycloth guards will wick the moisture away from the steel.

Plastic blade covers are for walking in, not storage. Any moisture left on the blade gets trapped by plastic guards further promoting rust. While these are highly recommended for walking in, they should never be used for storing skates.

Once blades start to rust, there is often no stopping it until the steel resembles dirty, metallic Swiss cheese. No matter how many times you sharpen a blade penetrated by rust, it will be rusty. This gives the blades a much slower glide. The rust actually sticks to the ice until it gets good and wet. If you do get rust on your blades, you will need to have them sharpened and the sides of the blades stoned as soon as you can. If you catch it quickly, sometimes you can grind it off before it gets too deep in the blades.

Keep your steel tight on hockey skates, but don’t over tighten it. Almost all types of hockey carriers are prone to stripping out if over-tightened. As a general rule on TUUKs, TUUK Light speeds, and Graf Cobras, tighten the blade until you feel it seat and then no more than one turn more. If the screw turns inside the carrier, you will need to replace the entire holder. CCM Externos and Pro-lites, and Easton carriers are not prone to this problem, however the screws will break if over tightened. TUUK light speeds will stay together better if you put a drop of lock tite on the nut (make sure to use removable lock tight or you will never get it back off).

Choose Who is Sharpening Carefully
This brings us to the next item on caring for your blades, choosing a good tech to sharpen them. Ask some questions about the shop.

Do they use an automatic sharpener? Automatic sharpeners seem like a good idea as consistent pressure is an important aspect of a quality sharpening. However, automatic sharpeners are the quickest and most effective way to ruin a pair of blades. Skates should be sharpened from the front of the rocker to the rear, which is not the entire blade. Automatic sharpeners go beyond the length of the rocker, actually ruining the contour by making it progressively smaller. If you have a pair of skates that are sharpened down to the holder at the front and rear, the odds are they were sharpened consistently on an automatic machine. This method will destroy your steel in a matter of two or three dozen sharpenings. Find another shop.

Do they cross grind skates? This is a European method which is something of a shortcut. Skates are ground flat for a reference marker before putting the hollow on. The advantage to this method is that even an average tech can get the hollow perfectly centered each time. However, this is done at the cost of your blades. Cross grinding will take an average of twice as much steel off the blade as conventional sharpenings. I would avoid shops that cross grind. There are other ways to find the center of the blade that don’t cost you extra steel.

What other skate services do they offer? A full service shop is somewhat more likely to offer quality sharpening. Techs that are more experienced in other aspects of skate repair are generally a little more conscientious when sharpening. Look for a shop that can mount carriers and figure skate blades, rebuild boots, and offers custom-fitting services before you settle for one that only sharpens.

How busy do they seem? Are lots of people bringing in skates to sharpen?A busy shop is going to have more sharpening experience than a slow one. Obviously if they have a good flow of sharpening business, they must do a fair job. However, if they are so busy that they have to rush their sharpenings, it could be a problem. My advice is to find the busiest shop in your area, but go to have your skates sharpened at a non-peak time. Sharpening of hockey skates generally should take about 5 minutes a pair. For competition figure skates, expect about fifteen to twenty minutes for a quality sharpening.

Don’t over-sharpen your skates. I’ve known people to get their blades sharpened every week even though they might only put an hour on them. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to even think about sharpening until you have skated for five hours. If you are playing hockey, you probably get twenty to forty minutes of actual ice time in a game, so playing five times a week, you are still looking at three weeks between sharpenings. Of course if you lose an edge before that, get them sharpened, but once a week is too frequent for most people.

Figure skates generally use a carbon steel which is softer. However with the wider blade, typically shallower hollows and less sticks, goals and other skates to strike, most figure skaters will go several weeks between sharpenings. Ask your coach what a good period is for sharpening, but I would hazard that twenty or thirty hours is the average amount of time between normal sharpenings for competitive figure skaters.

Maintain Your Mountings
Loose rivets on hockey skates and loose screws on figure skates can wreak havoc on the rest of the boot and blade. One or two loose rivets on a hockey skate might not seem like a major issue. However, the forces that one loose rivet normally takes have to be redistributed throughout the entire carrier and boot. Where there is one loose rivet, more will follow. With each successive loose one, the force on the others increases.

The worst-case scenario is that whole rivets will start pulling through your boots leaving bigger than normal holes. While these will not likely be so large that they will not hold a new rivet, they will never hold a rivet as long as the smaller hole did. The larger hole allows the rivet to move a little and wear out more quickly than it should.

Now I’ve never seen a carrier actually fall off, though I suspect it has happened on rare occasions. With a large number of loose rivets something eventually has to go. Most skaters will feel like their blades are not sharp when they have enough rivets loose that the carrier begins to twist. Make sure to check the rivets before this happens. Once a month, or more often, simply pull on your carriers to make sure that they are firmly in place. If any movement is detected you will need some rivets replaced. If any rivets are sticking out, they are bad. Rivets are about $1 or $2 apiece.

On figure skates, the screws will sometimes simply be gone. Most blade mountings will have more screw holes than required to firmly attach a blade, so don’t panic if you have a few holes on your mounting that don’t have a screw in them. Typically the toe plate will have 4 or 5 screws and the heel will have 3. In very small skate there may be less. If there is a hole in the base of your boot and no screw, that is an indication that one is missing and should be replaced.

Just as in hockey skates, the missing screw will cause forces to be distributed to the remaining ones. With a leather sole, every time a screw comes out, it will be less effective when replaced. Make sure to dowel the hole before replacing screws that have fallen out. It is also advisable to add another screw to a nearby empty slot on the mounting plate if possible. (Make sure to pre-drill a small hole on Graf figure skates and other composite sole brands before putting a screw in). Be Careful to never over-tighten the screws, they strip out fairly easily.

Care for your Boots
Many competitive skaters in both hockey and figure skating don’t wear socks when skating. While I won’t try to talk anyone out of this, it is much harder on skates than wearing even a thin pair of socks is. Any type of sock will absorb some of the moisture from your feet and keep it from entering your boots. Moisture is the number one enemy of skates.

For anyone, but especially barefoot skaters, I recommend always removing the insoles from skates as soon as they are taken off after skating. In dry climates, leaving the skates out of the bag between uses will normally be enough to allow them to dry. In humid places I highly recommend the use of a boot dryer. This URL has a half a dozen types ranging from $30 to $700 - http://www.cozywinters.com/bootdryers/?referrer=go

Drying your boots out will lower the stink factor, keep the materials from premature decomposition, and in hockey skates, greatly lengthen the life of your rivets. I have also seen cases in Bauer skates were the amount of perspiration in the skates actually caused the TUUK hardware in the holders to rust and seize.

Also, it is good practice to wipe the outside of the boot after each skate. Especially important for figure skates and non-synthetic leather hockey skates, this ensures that the moisture on the outside does not penetrate the boots. Leather that remains wet will eventually harden and even crack. Leather soles on figure skates should always be snow sealed to keep moisture out.

If you have a loose eyelet, get it fixed right away. Waiting to get a repair made will almost always make it worse. Eyelets that are not repaired quickly cause the hole to become enlarged to where they will not hold a new eyelet any longer. At about $3 an eyelet and two minutes to fix, there is no reason to wait. If you have to have your eyestay rebuilt because the hole is too big, you are looking at $30 or more, plus the cost of rivets and not having your skates for a couple days at least.

Tears will continue to grow until repaired. I have seen people wait until the entire tendon guard was ready to fall off before bringing a skate in for repairs. What might have been $5, in stitching the initial tear, runs $60 to re-stiffen the tendon guard and reline the entire boot.

Most new hockey skates have a solid plastic toe. Some brands however, still use a fabric-covered toecap on their boots. This is one of the weakest links on the entire skate, prone to cutting and tearing from other people stepping on them. I highly recommend a product such as Bauer Protec Toe to keep them looking nice.

Lastly, never ever wrap your laces around your ankles. This creates a pressure point on the boot that will cause a crease to form there. If you aren’t getting enough support from your skates, buy a new pair. If your laces are too long, buy a shorter pair. Wrapping the laces is a common cause for tendon guards to break and will invariably shorten the life of your boot upper. Watch the pros some time - none of them wraps their laces.

Most Hockey players will get at least a few years out of their skates if properly cared for. Figure skaters doing double jumps and above might only get six months before a boot breaks down, but blades should last for years.

The main thing is to keep the skates dry and don’t let them fall into any disrepair. With skates, one problem begets others it seems. While it might be difficult to part with your skates for a few days for minor repairs, it is always easier than breaking in new skates and much cheaper as well.

Scott Noble – Unauthorized use prohibited

You might also enjoy my book on hockey, Hockey for Weekend Warriors. Click here to read the reviews.

A few of my other articles that you might find helpful:
Fitting Goalie Gear
Fitting and Selecting Hockey Protective Gear
Hockey Stick Buying Guide
Hockey Skate buying demystified
How to Care for Skates
Hockey Stick Buying Guide
Hockey Mask and Cage Buying Guide

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