Pros: If I may borrow from Bauer, these really are Stronger, Lighter and Faster
Cons: Take some getting used to, proprietary tools
How I got my tblades
A little over a year ago I received a pair of Salming F1 skates complete with tblades from Salming to review. My first thought was that I would give them a couple of weeks, review them and put them on the shelf for thirty years until they could be ebayed as vintage, barely used skates. It didnt quite go that way.
The skates themselves are decent, but could fit me a little better. Still, Ive been skating on them since I got them. I tried going back to my old pair which fits better once, just to realize that I was quite attached to my tblades. I thought about switching the tblade system to my other boots. Long story short, they are still attached to the F1 skates which are still my primary pair.
What is different about the tblade system?
The main feature is that you dont sharpen your tblades; you replace them. An ultra thin steel blade is actually molded with the edge already on it.
Are they economically feasible?
It sounds like tblades might get expensive, but in fact they end up being about the same as sharpening traditional skates. A new pair of tblades runs about $15 and lasts a bit longer than a sharpening on a traditional blade.
On traditional steel I was sharpening my skates at least once a month, more commonly every couple weeks. I ended up using about 3 to 5 pair of t'blades a year. At the typical price of $5 a sharpening, getting a fresh edge every month would cost $60 annually. You could buy 4 pair of new tblades at that price and have similarly sharp edges for the year.
Parts of the system
There are essentially three parts to the tblade system. There is the holder, the stabilizers and the runner. While most players are familiar with the holder and runner, the stabilizer is a new beast. So hey, lets talk about them first.
Er, maybe lets not. If you dont know about the other two parts, the stabilizer wont make sense. So let me back up a moment and talk about the holder first. The holder is the part that connects the blade (or runner) to the skate. On the tblade system, the holder is rather unique as it covered the entire base of the skate. Five circular cutouts keep the holder from being a solid mass. The entire design is the stiffest holder on the market today.
Stiffness is important at any level of skating. The nylon-reinforced plastic of the tblade holder excels in a couple of ways. First, the stiffer design flexes less than traditional holders when skating. This keeps energy from being lost in the skaters stride. Second, holder breakage is very low on the tblade system. I have yet to see a tblade holder break. Have they broken? Probably, but they are in my opinion, the toughest holder on the market.
The runner is unique as well. Most of the runner is a special fiberglass that was developed just for the tblade system. There is only a thin stainless steel strip on the bottom of the runner. Again there are multiple benefits to this.
First the miniscule amount of steel makes the tblade the lightest system on the market. The traditional answer to reducing weight has been to remove materials. This creates a weak runner that breaks or bends easily. This brings us to the next benefitflexibility.
Tblade runners are made to be flexible but the stiffness of the holder always returns then to straight. The tblade will actually flex during turns allowing more of the blade to remain in contact with the ice. This along with the improved, molded edges inspires incredible confidence in hard cornering. They flex much like a ski, giving amazing confidence and power in a hard turn. Further, Ive never seen a tblade runner break. The flexibility allows them to take significant impacts without cracking or breaking.
The last benefit is that of higher glide rate. There are a couple of reasons for this. First temperature of the steel will assist in glide. Again much like skis, skates glide on droplets of water acting like tiny ball bearings. According to tblade, the tblade warms up more quickly than a thicker piece of steel. Having used them I wouldnt argue with that. I would however, suggest that the mirror smooth finish of the tblade reduces friction adding to this as well.
Six screws and a pair of stabilizers facilitate the connection between the holder and the runner. These stabilizers attach to the outside of the holder and allow the system to be both flexible and strong, while always returning to straight. Stabilizers come in a wide variety of color choices. (More to follow on that).
So why havent they caught on?
Some players have complained about the way tblades feel on the ice. Indeed they feel different from traditional steel. The perfectly molded steel edges have a great deal more bite on the ice than what skaters are used to. It does take a few hours to get used to tblades. The first time I was on the ice with them, I didnt think they were worth a penny. However, after three or four hours, I was enjoying them. After a month, there was no going back.
Another issue is that many players dont like the way they look. Frankly, who cares what they look like if they work better? The last uninformed complaint that Ive heard is they are too loud. While it does limit the ability to sneak up on other players to poke check from behind, I have to once again say, who cares? Yes, the tblade system is a little louder than steel runners are on the ice, but it certainly isnt uncomfortably loud. Not using them because they are too loud is logic right up there with busting your bladder because you dont want anyone to hear you tinkle as far as Im concerned.
However, I think there is another reason that they havent completely overtaken traditional steel. If you ask a shop owner about the tblade they will give you a negative answer in most cases. If you know the shop owner well enough, they will admit a fear that the tblade might cut into the most profitable portion of their businesssharpening skates.
Sharpening skates is big business. Selling a pair of tblades for $15 will yield most retailers a little more profit than sharpening a pair of skates will. However, there are other factors to consider. Tblades take up space in their shop. They have a carrying cost. They last longer and the retailer will have far fewer repeat sales. Sixty dollars that a player spends on sharpening is worth a lot more than the $60 they might spend on tblades.
The bottom line is that retailers make nearly a 100% margin on a sharpening. The only expense they have is the replacement stones and quills for the sharpener once the machine is paid off. Margins on retail sales typically run about 40 to 50%. Even with markups of 80 to 100% the hockey industry is highly competitive. Retailers hold tight to any profit they can make. The tblade will not be a boon to their business. It will just make them feel sad about spending thousands of dollars on a sharpening machine.
As mentioned the first couple of times on tblades took a little getting used to. One thing that I found was they werent set up very well for the skates they were on. While skate makers can adjust the pitch by putting thicker outsoles in the heel area, the F1 skates were set up with a distinctly aggressive heel pitch. I was trying to skate on my heels.
I put a pair of heel lifts in and felt a distinct difference at once. There was still a slight learning curve, but within a couple hours I was comfortable if not proficient on the tblades.
The biggest shock I had was when switching back to my better fitting skates with traditional steel. If you ever had a pair of skates with rust on the steel, this is the best comparison I can draw to the different glide ratios. Traditional steel, even with a clean sharpening, was sluggish. It almost felt like the blades were stuck to the ice in comparison to the amazing glide of the tblade runners.
Cornering on the tblades is awe inspiring. Ive never been reluctant to lean a little further into a turn. The perfect steel edges have an amazing bite that gives me more confidence than any other edge on which Ive skated. The only drawback to this is that its very possible to lean into a turn until the boots hit the ice. The tblades will hold right up to the moment that the edge of the boot lifts them off the ice. I took the net off its moorings moving it about twelve feet a couple of weeks back when I did this. (You should have seen the look on the goalies face!)
Some doubters seem to think that Ive just never had a good sharpening. Well, theyre right. There is no way that you could grind an edge as true and smooth as what you get on the tblade. It is simply impossible with a grinder to duplicate the cold milled steel of the tblade. These blades are phenomenally sharp. When pulling the soaker off my skates before the first use, I grazed one of them lightly and found my self in need of a band-aid.
Having sharpened skates for five years, I can tell you that there is simply no way youre going to get a pair as precise as tblade makes them. Yes, you can cut yourself on a pair of traditional runners (I had four stitches recently to attest to that). I will also agree that there is a huge difference in a good and bad sharpening. But nothing comes even close to a tblade.
Options and customizability
The tblade system comes in a number of options to allow you to pimp out your skates (if you want pimped out skates). These include numerous color choices. Holders come in black, white and grey. Runners come in black or white. The stabilizers come in a huge variety of colors. These include black, white, grey, red, yellow, blue and green. If that isnt enough for you, stabilizers also come in metallic colors: metallic ice blue, gold, metallic red, chrome, metallic blue.
The runners come in a wide variety to suit any skating style. A number printed on the runner designates the choices. An example is my choice of M-13-280. The M designates one of the three rocker choices. These are Short, Medium and Long. These translate to roughly 9, 11 and 13 feet respectively.
The 13 in the runner size designates the hollow of the steel in millimeters. A 13 mm hollow equates to a 7/16-inch grind. Other choices for hollows are 9 mm (5/16-inch), 11 mm (3/8-inch), 15 mm (1/2-inch), 18 mm (5/8-inch) and 21 mm (3/4-inch). Most players will find that the tblade feels much sharper than the hollow they traditionally use and move to the next shallower hollow up.
The last number, 280, will not be a variable. This designates the length of the blade. Only one length will fit in the holder attached to your skate. Mine happens to be 280 millimeters.
If there is one complaint that I have about tblades it is the proprietary tool they use. The screws that attach the blades to the holder utilize a three-pronged screw and require a special tool. The tool itself is cheap, about $5 for plastic, $14 for aluminum. When you buy a complete system it will come with plastic version of the tool. The problem lies with losing the tool. Maybe youre more organized that I am, but I lost my first one.
Beyond the tool the actual process is pretty simple. Remove six screws, pull the old runner, put in six screws. It takes me at most ten minutes to change them. Ten minutes three or four times a year is a lot less painful than waiting in line for ten minutes every time you get your skates sharpened. Tblade makes a drill bit tool for the blades as well which would significantly shorten the change time.
I did have issues with one of the screws coming loose (in the right toe). While this was annoying, it was a very easy fix. A little bit of removable lock-tite took care of the annoying bugger. Just make sure if you have this issue that you use the removable type or you might ruin the holders trying to get the screw back out.
People always seem to think that if a product is good, it has to be used in the NHL. Hence, I often hear this question, If tblades are any good, are there any NHL players using them?
The answer is yes. There are several players using the tblade system in the NHL. Among them are Jochan Hecht of the Sabres and Dennis Seidenberg of the Flyers. I expect the number will grow in the future as more players try them and younger players move up into the ranks. (Guys get attached to their old gear).
While tblades havent quite caught on here in the U.S. they are very popular in Europe and Canada. Ive heard that as many as half the competitive skaters in Europe including the majority of German pro players are using tblades. Players returning from tournaments in Canada have told me as many as a quarter of the players there are using them.
Players living in areas where access to a decent traditional sharpening is difficult will find that there is nothing better than the tblade. It makes a great deal of sense if you have to drive an hour or more to get an edge put on your skates. The non-traditional hockey areas of the United States are the first area that these will like catch on here.
With skate makers like Graf and CCM expanding their lines of skates with tblades there is little doubt that they are for real. In Europe Graf has even more tblade skate options available. Salming sells large numbers of skates in Canada and Europe with tblades as well.
Still, I think that eventually, even the dubious paranoia of U.S. retailers will be unable to continue to bury what is a far superior product to tradition steel runners. The tblade might not eliminate traditional steel altogether, but it is here to stay and will continue to win fans throughout the U.S.
I for one will continue using tblades forever.
7/16/2005 Update - I should mention that whole never say never thing came true somewhat recently. I purchased a pair of Bauer 8090 skates (with TUUKs) and set aside my t'blades. In part, the reason for the change was due to the purchase of a $6000 skate sharpening machine. However, I can truthfully say, that I've been very pleased with the 8090 on the ice. In fact, whether it's the boot or the blade, I've been skating much better since the switch.
12/14/2006 Update - I'm still on my Bauers, no t'blades and no plans to go back to them. I've had several players complain about the feel of their t'blades lately. I'm pretty sure this all revolves around the pitch issues that I previously noted. However, one interesting thing that
I've noticed is that the two players who most recently made the switch were notorious for sharpening their skates once or twice a year (not even close to often enough). They were also both players who enjoyed trashy gimicks (like pocket skate sharpeners, stick weights and such) rather than quality equipment. Does it mean anything? Maybe not.
However, the more I think about t'blades, the only good reason to buy them is because you cannot get a decent sharpening locally. They are a five star product if you live in Mississippi or Arkansas, but probably a 1 star product if you live in Maine or Michigan.
? 2005 Scott Noble All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited.
Some of my other reviews you might find helpful:
Hockey Skate buying demystified
How to Care for Skates
CCM Vector ZG 130 Skates with T-Blades
Salming F1 Skates with tblades