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John Lake Debunks the Myths of Skate Contouring

John Lake Debunks the Myths of Skate Contouring

My goal is to provide you with a good insight into the world of skate blade re-shaping.

For those of you that are seeking information so that you can make an educated decision as to what contouring system best suits your requirements, this should be quite enlightening. For those of you that are working in the industry, be it a pro shop, retail, team equipment technician or working from your home, this copyrighted text will be a valuable learning tool.

Please bear in mind that various systems deliver various results. What worked 20, 30 or 40 years ago doesn't mean it works effectively today. As well, automation plays an integral role in our lives assembling the things we use on a daily basis, but you still need a "humans touch" and thought process to sort out all the variables that affect our desired outcome.

Most manufacturers of contouring equipment try to keep things as much a mystery as possible, while some training services use the old "smoke and mirrors" theory where they try to boggle your mind with useless rhetoric and complicated procedures in an effort to make them selves and their systems look better than they actually are.

Done properly, contouring is a very straight forward procedure and will remove most of the inherent variables that abound in skates and skating in general. I will keep things very easy to understand and uncomplicated.

No "smoke and mirrors" or "misconceptions" here, just straight talk that is logical, makes sense and is backed up by over 50 years of experience in the industry.


Rockering, contouring, blade shaping, profiling... these are just a few of the more common names given to the re-shaping of skate blades and has been around for eons. Rockering is probably one of the most common names used when referring to the re-shaping of skate blades.

The term "Rockering" came into existence in the 50's and was used to describe the process of altering the blade shape on "Tube Skates". (more on tube skates later)

The term "Contouring" became more recognized after I introduced it in the mid 90's and has become the most used term since then.

At the end of the "Myths" section I will go into great detail explaining the process, its evolution and the how's and why's of what actually works, and what doesn't.

Please take the time to learn about the human body and its balance characteristics and traits by reading the following... "True Balance Dynamics" -click here

Can you contour for a position?

Definitely not. There is no such thing as a "forward" or a "defensive" cut in todays world. Position played is only one of 7 criteria required to determine the proper cut! ie: Grinding a skate blade to a position would have the following scenario, Adjust the "Lie" on the holder to "F" "S" or "D", then install a skate onto the holder and start the grinding process. Once the first skate is completed to your satisfaction, repeat the process with the remaining skate. What's missing or wrong with this process? The first thing that comes to mind is, "How much "Lie" is ground onto the skate. Larger skates will have more" lie" and smaller skates would receive less. This method will leave you guessing at what cut you actually have.

The second issue that comes to mind is the type or model of skate being worked on. In other words, "what's the geometry of the boot"? To contour properly, you need to know how much natural knee bend in being induced by the boot, then take this info and incorporate it with the desired outcome to achieve the required "Lie". Not all skates are created equally. Next time you are in your favorite sporting good store, spend a few minutes at the skate wall and take a good hard look at the amounts of heel lift that the various models have. You will be astonished at how greatly skate geometry varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model.

For the record, higher heel lift induces more knee bend while the lower heel lift offer less but both are still affected by the parameters of grind you place on the skate.

Finally we must take into account the location to which the holders are fastened to the boot. Very rarely are they mounted in exactly the same location from one skate to the other. This gives the same effect as large vs small skates in that the skate that has the holder mounted further forward will in fact have more material ground off the toe, resulting in more "Lie" on that skate.

To surmise, without proper knowledge and direction you are only guessing as to the outcome!

Can you contour without using defined "Parameter" marks on the skate blade?

Not properly, you can't. Without proper parameter marks located in the proper place you are only guessing as to the outcome!

Can the process of "manually" grinding a radius onto a skate blade be accurate?

No, not even close. The heat generated by the machining process causes movement within the steel. Heat expands steel, while coolness contracts it. The only way to get an accurate radius is by having the skate fixed into a jig that follows a prescribed radius bar, and the blade is kept cool during the entire machining process. Another issue about free hand cross grinding is that it is virtually impossible to get accuracy and consistency in the radius that can easily be achieved by use of a radius bar. Logically thinking, how could you ever match one blades radius against the other?

Any inconsistencies in the trueness of the blade radius, plays havoc with the body's stance over the skate. As you rock forward or backwards you would notice a slight hesitation in the smoothness when this imperfection is passed. In a skate blade application, this slight hesitation, slows the foot action momentarily but does not affect the upper body mass, which keeps moving in a forward direction. Once the upper body mass is ahead of the fall line, balance and smoothness are greatly affected and it drastically effects the smoothness, which we need for a smooth powerful stride. ie: imagine a rocking chair with a flat spot on the rocker. As you rock back and forth, each time you pass this flat area, you would feel the motion of the chair change, but your momentum would want to keep moving in a forward direction.

Do "Automatic" contour machines offer quality work?

Currently there are several models of Automatic sharpeners/contouring machines on the market. While they may give a reasonable sharpening, their contouring is less than ideal. There are simply too many variables that can affect the outcome. These machines do not take into consideration any relevant information pertinent to matching or balancing the skates. They operate on the principal that they simply measure the length of the skate blade, and then proceed to grind whatever cut you determined. What they are missing is the most important aspect in contouring, and that is being able to balance and match the blades.

For instance, if you have one skate blade that has 14mm of steel available and the other skate has 15mm available, that's what you end up with, skates that are, un-matched and forcing the body to have Pelvic Mis-alignment. The same phenomenon occurs when one blade is mounted in a different location on the sole of the boot than the other.

The blade that is mounted further forward on the skate, forces that foot to roll back into the rear radius further than the other foot, thus causing pelvic mis-alignment.

Another area that is extremely important, but overlooked with an automatic machine is the amount of "Lie" that each blade has prior to contouring. It is not uncommon to see a pair of skates with up to 1mm difference in the "Lie" from one skate to the other. Again, if this scenario is present prior to contouring on an automatic machine, you will still end up with the same defect when the process is complete, that being one skate still having more lie than its mate.

When a pelvis is out of alignment, the spine is out of alignment. When the spine is out of alignment, there are adverse effects on the neurological system. For example - nerves entering and exiting the spine may be compressed and thus unable to perform their function of enervating the major organs to the full extent. The body will not be served energetically as it should. Circulation and metabolism will be affected, and digestion and elimination can suffer. Legs will be thrown out of alignment, potentially causing knee and ankle problems. More weight will be placed on one hip than the other, causing more 'wear and tear' which can result in the need for hip replacement. And so the list goes.

Contouring removes too much material from the blades.

If the job is done properly there is minimal material removal at the heel. Most material removal is from the front of the blade and is regulated by the amount of existing "Lie". It's not uncommon to have upwards of 1mm difference in the height of the blades at the front measuring point. Failure to remove this excess material will leave you "back on your heel".

Heel lifts work, right?

In order for any positive effects to be realized, the change has to be made at the point of contact between the ice and the skate. This means that the work must be performed on the blade itself. Placing a spacer between the holder and boot, or under the insole, can and will induce some minor knee bend, but in reality you are still standing on the skate blade which ultimately determines the body's stance over it.

Heel lifts are usually associated with increased fatigue and a short choppy stride. Heel lifts and pitch blades force the knee outwards which is a good thing for increased power, but, then the body rolls back into the rear radius placing the majority of upper body weight onto the thigh muscles causing increased fatigue. ie: imagine that you are going to sit down in a chair, as you are bending your knees to sit, you stop part way through the process. Feel the pressure on your thigh muscles. Imagine holding this position for 60 minutes. You thigh muscles will fatigue in a short period of time.

Pitch blades work, right?

See above.

You can't contour goalie skates!

That's a big misconception in the industry. Have you ever actually taken the time to look at the shape of the blades that are made available to the customer? The word "Nasty" comes to mind. Like all skate blades, you need one and only one radius. Many goalie cowlings are delivered with "highs" at both ends and a "low" spot (or spots) located between the highs. This occurs directly from the factory in their efforts to deliver a flat blade. This also occurs through the sharpening process when the technician moves the skate too fast across the wheel. This scenario greatly affects the tenders lateral movement and balance. The pressure of the body's weight should be centered on the blade, if you have 2 high spots (one front and one back with a low in the center) a "toe" or "heel" can grab, or drag during lateral movement caused by the body's stance over the skate. This results in slow and inconsistent lateral movement.

Look at the pro's, how many goalies suffer from lower back pain during the season? The answer is "it's very common". It is not uncommon to see blade height differences of over 2mm at the rear which causes severe "Pelvic Mis-alignment" which affects the kinetic chain and peripheral vision.

The speed of the game has increased dramatically over the past decade so it's only logical to think that goalies need to increase their performance as well not to forget their health and well being.

Do "Compound or Multiple" radius work better than a single radius

Every skate blade on the planet has 1 radius and 2 convexes ground into it. The slang term most commonly used to describe the Front convex is "front Radii" and "rear radii" for the rear convex. Radii are round and convex are elliptical or oval.

The front convex goes from the front most part of the blade to the junction of the "work radius" or rocker as It's commonly called. The only true radius on the blade is the Work radius, which must be positioned between the balance point and break point on the foot. The rear convex goes from the junction of the rear most point of the work radii to the rear of the skate blade.

Normal radius for the work radii is either a 9' or a 10' radii, and takes up approximately 60% of the foot size. The front and rear convexes make up the remaining 40%.

Now, logically thinking (and you can try this at home) take a pair of dividers and make a semi circle with say a 3" radii. Now change the radii to 2" and try to connect the two in a smooth and flowing arc. It's impossible unless you change the pivot point of the radii. The human body has only one balance point and trying to suggest that a compound (or multiple) radii works is pure speculation. Trying to imply that a 7' - 9' or 9' - 10' combination is achievable is geometrically impossible and only guessing at best.

A small blade radius (ie: 7, 8, 9") is superior to say an 11 or 13' radius!

It's a known fact that the amount of blade radius is what controls the amount of leg extension. Up until the last several years the majority of manufacturers used the 9' radius with CCM being the only company to use a 10'. In reference to the amount of radius, consider a speed skate which is 16" long and has no radii. You can easily see how far the leg is extended as compared to any hockey or regular skating stride.

A skate that starts with a 9' radii will, over time and through the sharpening process, be reduced to a smaller radius. That's why your stride gets choppier over time.

A smaller radius of 7', 8' or 9' gives a short, choppy stride which causes premature fatigue while a larger radii gives a longer, smoother stride. Going from a 9' radii to an 11' radius will see an increase of approximately 20% in the length of the stride. Think about how many strides you will save over the period of a hockey game if you make 20% fewer strides. The player on the larger radii will be far less fatigued than his counterpart on the smaller 9' radii at games end, not to forget how much more stability the larger radius gives.

An easy analogy would be to compare a skate blade with a ball. If you stood barefoot on a baseball, how would your balance be as compared to standing on say a medicine ball? The larger the radius, the easier it is to attain balance.

Can you contour blades that are not mounted on the holders?

Simply put, the answer is no. To properly contour, you need to know the exact location that the blades are mounted. How could you ever determine where the apex of the blade would be or the location of the front and rear convexes. Another area that would affect performance would be in determining the amount of lie on each blade and then balancing the blades so as not to induce pelvic mis-alignment. Anyone who tells you they can contour blades without being at least mounted in a holder is only guessing as to the outcome. Quality work cannot be accomplished in this fashion.

Can you contour blades that are mounted in the holder, but the holders are not mounted on the skates?

The only way this is possible is if you have taken the required measurements off the skates (with holders installed) prior to beginning. You would have to layout the parameter marks onto both blades while mounted on the skate, then carefully transfer these marks to the holder. The steel in each holder would then have to be identified as to which side (L or R) it's to be installed on at a later date. Failure to follow this simple process will result in possible reduced performance as you only have a 50% chance of getting the proper blade under the proper foot.

You can't improve on the manufacturer's stock grind?

The grind that the manufacturer delivers the skate with is a very generic grind at best, designed to be un-offensive to all who skate on it. This is where proper contouring comes into play verses the generic or guesswork grinds. Each individual has their own requirements so it's impossible to think that the manufacturer could supply a line up of skates to suit every ones needs.

Can the stock grind be improved upon, the answer is definitely!

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