Nov. 26, 2018

Schulich & Oval team up to perfect speed skate blades

Skate shop acquiring computerized blade-sharpening technology

In speedskating—a sport where the difference between finishing on or off the podium is measured in fractions of a second—skate blades, honed and ground to perfection, can offer the split-second advantage athletes are looking for.

To give skaters a competitive edge, the Oval Skate Shop is adopting new computerized blade sharpening technology. 

A speedskate blade has a minute bend to aid turning and a rocker shape from front to back almost imperceptible to the human eye. “Essentially, the rocker gives you glide and turning ability,” says Oval Skate Shop co-ordinator James Monson, leader of the new project. “A really round rocker will help you turn better, but you won’t get as much glide.”

The shape varies for short or long track and is customized depending on the skater. Traditionally, the blade is clamped into a grinding machine that follows a template, then a gauge measuring imperfections as small as 1/10,000th of an inch is run along it and the blades are ground out by hand.

It’s a laborious, time-consuming process, especially with more than 100 high-performance athletes training at the Oval, plus scores of regional training centre athletes, club skaters and visiting athletes.

The real disadvantage of that process, says Monson, a former national team speed skater, is it makes it difficult to create the custom rockers needed to give athletes that extra edge.

Computerized blade rockering makes customization easier
The computerized, numerically controlled machine the shop plans to acquire will be more accurate and will make it easier for athletes to change their blade rockering to improve performance.  

Schulich School of Engineering machine shop technician Clint Stern constructed the special jig needed to precisely clamp blades. “We make dreams into reality,” says Stern with a smile as he explains how the jig was machined using a modified 3-D blueprint.

The payoff, according to Monson, is the ability to put much more athlete-specific rockers on the blades than is now possible. “We can make it a little bit rounder here, or a little flatter here, totally change up and vary the rocker depending on the athlete,” he says.

Computerized files will allow blades to be altered quickly for better results. It’s the shape of the future of speedskate sharpening. “When you get that perfect rocker, your speed goes up,” Monson says.

Once the machine is tested and installed, it will offer developing athletes a cutting edge that could make a winning difference in years to come. “Going into the next Olympics, it will give us some time to hone down and fine tune some really good rockers that should offer a definite advantage,” Monson says.