If your child figure skates or plays ice hockey, be ready for the winter sports season with freshly sharpened skate blades. Ice skate sharpening can be confusing (when? where? how often?), so here's a cheat sheet.
What does ice skate sharpening do?
The sharpener uses a rotating grinding wheel to renew the edges of the skate blade by removing a small amount of metal from the blade. Sharper edges help the skate grip the ice; duller blades will feel like they are sliding sideways.
How often should skates be sharpened?
This is a matter of personal preference. As your child becomes a more accomplished skater, he or she will be able to determine what works best. If the skate blades look or feel dull or damaged, or like they are not secure (they are slipping sideways), that's a good indication that they could use sharpening. Your child should make a point of noticing how freshly sharpened skates feel and trying to remember that feeling—so that when it goes away, she knows it's time for sharpening.
Brand-new ice skates are usually sharpened at the factory or at the store where you buy them. Your child can usually skate about 40 hours in between sharpenings, depending on how hard he skates and how sharp of a blade he prefers. If you drag your fingernail gently along the edge of a sharp blade, you'll be able to peel off a tiny bit of metal. If you can't, the blades may need sharpening.
Where should we go for ice skate sharpening?
Ask your child's instructor or coach for recommendations. Many rinks or sporting-goods stores have sharpeners.
How should we care for ice skate blades in between sharpenings?
Always cover the blades with guards whenever your skater is off the ice. She should never step directly on concrete or metal with her skate blades (just one step could mean they need another sharpening). Even the rubber surfaces found at most ice rinks can be damaging, because they're dirty from street shoes.
Also take care to remove the guards promptly and dry off the blades completely so they don't rust. Store them in soakers, not blade guards. With good care and careful, professional sharpening, blades will last for five to eight years.