All About Blades: A Basic Guide
Typically, blades are recommended based on skating skill level and personal style/technique. The list is based on USFS and ISI levels, manufacturer’s recommendations and many years of coach/professional advice. Blades are typically measured in ¼” increments, although, infrequently, some basic models will use 1/3” increments.
When measuring blades to fit boots, for ADULTS, the blade will typically be 1/8”-1/4" shorter than the boot sole length. If the sole length of your boot measures 9.5" long, then you would TYPICALLY purchase a blade that will be 9.25" long. Parents of GROWING CHILDREN will often choose on a blade that runs from end to end, called a “growth mount” allowing them to transfer what is often an expensive blade to their next boot. Avoid overhang on the heel, as using a blade that is too long for the boot will hinder learned skills and proper position and weight distribution on the blade.
Blades are constructed from strips of steel which vary in carbon content depending on the quality of the particular skate blade that is being made. Advanced level blades use a higher grade of steel than beginner blades, allowing the edges to maintain sharper edges for a longer period of time. They also provide smoother flow over the ice and can often improve jumps and spins.Many of the newer beginnner blades are now made of Stainless steel, which is less subject to rust and damage, plus holds a sharpened edge longer than nickel plated steel.
Skaters frequently ask why one blade is so much more expensive than another. The cost of blades is determined by many factors, the carbon and nickel content of the blades is one. The chrome process is another; higher quality blades have more layers for added protection against moisture. The solder used to attach the blades onto the soles of the boot may not hold up to the stress of repeated landing from jumps. Wilson and Eclipse products are all silver soldered. MK silver solder theirs, too, but the top quality blades such as Vision, Phantom, Gold Star etc. are hand brazed with bronze, to make the attachment stronger and more secure.
This operation creates a lot more heat in the process. Therefore the blades could be somewhat irregular in their hardness. To remedy this, they are set into an induction coil, electrically heated, re-hardened and tempered about halfway up the blade. Often the more advanced blades will also have a solid plate where attached to the boots. All of these steps require additional technical labor and expertise to produce a consistent product. . The chrome, which is used to coat the blade,( beginner blades are often plated with nickel instead of chrome) is ground away from the edge allowing a clean steel area to better grip the ice surface. The line that you see in the sides of the blades is typically considered the best indication of when the sharpening area has been depleted, although more advanced skaters will note that is not always true. The consistency of the rocker ( curve) of the blade, which can be affected by frequent, or poor quality sharpenings, is what really matters. Changing the rock can significantly affect technique.
With the improvements in “lighter” boot technology, some of the newer stainless steel blades have a lightweight aluminum alloy chassis which can help increase the height of jumps providing additional rotation time by reducing the weight of the blade. The chrome, which is used to coat the blade,( beginner blades are often plated with nickel instead of chrome) is ground away from the edge allowing a clean steel area to better grip the ice surface. The line that you see in the sides of the blades is also the best indication of when the sharpening area has been depleted.
The areas to consider in blade variances involve the following:
Radius, also called the Rocker, is a measure of the curvature of the blade from front to back, so it determines how much of the blade touches the ice when you skate. Radius is measured in feet. If you drew a circle on the ice with an 8 foot radius, and aligned a blade to the inside of that curve, the blade would follow the curve. An 8’ radius is flatter and provides more speed as there is more blade touching the ice, making it better for jumps. A 7’, smaller radius is better for agility, deeper edges and smoother turns.
Hollow (ROH) or grind refers to the concave surface on the bottom of a correctly ground blade. It is a measure in inches of the groove that runs down the middle of the blade. The typical range for hollow is .5” to.75”, with .635” being common for many skaters. A more acute edge angle (deeper hollow) makes the blade less likely to side sideways, so a deeper hollow gives more secure edges. There is more to it than that, though. It also makes the blade more determined at going where IT wants to go, so it will be harder to control (more likely to grab or "catch an edge"). And, the deeper cut into the ice causes more drag, so the blade will be slower resulting in the skater having less “flow” Given these tradeoffs, one could state that the optimum ROH is one which is just deep enough to give the skater the required edge security, but no deeper. It does, however, become a matter of preference and what best suits individual technique.
There are several designs of toe picks, some, having larger, more aggressive cuts in different patterns, but all are either straight cut or cross cut.
The straight cut pick will allow the skater to quickly dig into the ice deep, increasing height but sometimes losing momentum. The Cross Cut Pick doesn't dig as deeply into the ice, but will grip the ice better with less sliding. Beginners should chose blades with smaller toe pick so they do not impede basic skills, causing constant tripping. Grinding off bottom picks when sharpening can destroy the integrity of the blade and should be avoided. If your current blades are too advanced, replace the blade whenever possible rather than grind it down.
Most skating blades have the same constant width along its full length the edges are Parallel. However, Parabolic blades are thinner in the middle section and thicker at both ends. This reduces slippage on the ice. Side honed blades also channel water and ice away from the blade. You can tell side honed blades because reflections appear inverted. Tapered blades are thicker at the front near the toe picks and thinner at the tail, i.e. the edges are not parallel. Tapered blades reduce drag or friction on the ice. Some models or custom made blades can be both side-honed and tapered. Dance and synchro blades have a much shorter heel to enable the skater to get in closer to other skaters or a partner without fear of tripping. They are often narrower than a standard blade to enable a fast shift between edges for more complex footwork.
Classic blades, such as those by MK/Wilson have set the standard for decades of exceptional skating. Design is the area, however, where most of the distinctive changes have occurred in blade technology. Most involve a design strategy to decrease weight and increase lift. Aluminum Alloy Frames used in the Paramount and Jackson Ultima Matrix series have had a huge impact on modern skating. The hardened stainless steel runner holds edges longer, while the aluminum alloy frame reduces weight by up to 33%. Less weight results in higher jumps, less fatigue. The latest innovation is the MK/Wilson Revolution blade using Carbon Fiber Technology. The Carbon Fiber is coupled with a new support system design reducing weight while maintaining structural support. Titanium alloy body and stainless steel runner used in the new Riedell Eclipse line makes this another lightweight design Using a flatter profile rather than the rounded design of the aluminum, makes it fit more easily on standard sharpening jigs.
Remember… the most expensive or newest design blade isn't going to make you a better skater and it might actually impede your progress. Blades, like boots should be appropriate to your skill level. If you need advice, ask your coach or a qualified skate technician for suggestions.