I’ve always said you could ask any skate sharpener how good they are, and they’ll tell you they’re the best they know. Most have come up with certain habits: grinding from toe-to-heel, Gusto-glide, pink stones, blue stones, never cross grind/always cross grind… the list could go on for days. I’d like to consider myself a great sharpener, I follow all the basic rules and produce a mirror finish and keep my edges even. I educate the consumer and try to be as consistent as I can be. As good as I know I am, I’m always self-conscious. I always ask my customers how it went and if they thought something was off. Understanding the variables; hard ice, soft ice, hot and humid, cold and crisp, and losing an edge, I try and get to the bottom of any issues if they should arise.
Over the last 10+ years, I’ve refined my skills and become a truly great sharpener. I skate on my own sharpening 4-5 nights a week and take extreme pride in all sharpenings I give out to others. I’m very close to what I do; there’s a connection that you have when you also play the game that makes me wonder how anyone who doesn’t skate can understand that feeling at all, but they can, to a point. There are a few qualities to all great sharpenings that even someone with no skating experience at all can understand. Level edges, smooth surface finish and sharp edges (ensuring that you’ve ground deep enough to remove all nicks). Mastering these few qualities could make anyone a good sharpener.
So for someone this confident, who knows it all, you may wonder what I could have learned from working at Sparx.
#1 - I am not a machine.
Do I apply even pressure across the blade at all times when touching the blade to grinding stone? No. Am I moving at a perfectly consistent speed while making my last pass (or any pass for that matter)? I try, but again, no. Humans, by nature, cannot always move at the same speed or apply consistent pressure when manually sharpening skates. It’s just not possible. We can be REALLY good at it, but never perfect. What do we end up with? Each time we sharpen skates we are altering the skates profile, bit by bit. This is why you’ll hear everyone say to re-profile your skates every 10-15 sharpenings to maintain that perfect profile.
#2 - All hockey steel is not created equal. Literally... none of it is perfect.
Being lucky enough to have a group of smart engineers in the office allowed us to test things. Lots of things. One of those was the straightness of steel. We get it all the time when demoing “what about bent steel?” the person who has "sharpened skates for 30 years" says, acting like he’s proved in 30 seconds that the Sparx is obsolete to the manual sharpening (P.S. sir, it’s not). Long story short, we measure all types of steel: new, expensive, cheap, used, old, Bauer, CCM, Step… you get the point. One thing that rings true for all of them is that they aren’t perfectly straight. They all have some bend, whether it’s .001” or .005” I can assure you, steel isn’t straight.
And that blade straightener you bought? While it may take a severe bend and make it tolerable, it certainly isn’t making the blade straight. So to all of those who ask how you handle it, well, we handle it just like you do, clamp it in and sharpen it. Personally, I’ll always aim to make the main center part of the blade where you do the majority of your skating level. Sure, you could adjust your jig and get a level toe or heel, but then you’d be off at the center. Which do you prefer?
How has all of this changed how I sharpen?
I’m now extremely vigilant of my speed and pressure on all passes. I am mindful of the “zone” we would prefer to hit on the way in and leave on the way out. It’s not too high because we don’t want to start wearing in from the front and back, I like to call them “banana blades” and it’s not too low, so we aren’t flattening out the profile too much. It’s doing the best I can on each and every pass, being mindful of all those things our Sparx machine does well and doing my best to emulate them.
For me, the proof is in the pudding. I’ve had a Sparx at home for the better part of the last year and what do I use to sharpen my skates? The Sparx. I only sharpen manually when I'm in a bind. I have my own Sharpening 101 website. I’m a sharpening nerd. I once did a blue sky session on how to make a viable business by bringing my high-quality sharpening to the world. What I came away with was the realization that I would have to clone myself hundreds of times over to reproduce my quality and care to get it out to the world.
Sparx is my answer. It’s why I’m here. My passion is spreading great skate sharpening throughout the world and this is my vehicle to do it.
-The Second Best Skate Sharpener I Know