Modern Ice Skate Construction
Reinforcements - Strong, board like material fitted in the boot on both sides to strengthen the ankle area. Sometimes double wrapped or even triple wrapped in the higher level boots. May be completely absent in cheap skates.
Quarter Paddings - Once again, this may be absent on very cheap ice skates. Improves foot comfort at the ankles and adds a further degree of rigidity to the boot.
Heel Counters - Usually a feature of advanced and some intermediate level skates. Gives proper support for the heel in the boot, a critical area for the skilled skater.
Intermediate and Advanced models are provided by all the top manufacturers, ie. Risport, Riedell, Jackson, Edea, Graf. All of these companies have invested a lot of time, money and effort to produce a skate boot which will perform well at the expected level. It is really a matter of personal preference which one you choose. Just remember that with skating, as with everything else in life, you get what you pay for.
Recreational skates tend to have a simplified lacing pattern which makes them quicker and easier to fit and remove. They are designed primarily for fun skating and although they may take you a fair way towards becoming a proficient figure skater, you will probably find they hold you back when you come to learn the more complex moves. They are unlikely to be strong enough to stand up to jumps and spins.
The beginner level is the area where you need to exercise the most caution, and there are a few key pointers for a newcomer to look out for in a figure skate.
Tend to have synthetic outers, with synthetic linings, a PVC sole and a basic blade which will be riveted to the boot. These skates are fine for occasional recreational skating, and the early levels of instructional skating, but they are unlikely to stand up well to jumps and spins.
Some beginner skates are advertised as being made from real leather, but you should be a little careful here. There are many different grades and thickness of leather available to the manufacturer, and if the boot seems very cheap, you can be pretty sure the leather in use is a low grade one. Many Chinese manufacturers have cottoned on to the fact that people read the words ‘Real Leather’ and assume that means top quality. Be warned, it most certainly does not.
One quick check you can do is look at the lower lacing holes in the boot. Good quality leather is strong and thick enough to support the lace on its own, it does not require the fitting of metal eyelets. If the manufacturer has used eyelets on a leather boot, it is either because the boot is actually synthetic (it is not easy to tell the difference!), or it is very thin and low grade leather.
Lower cost ice skates invariably have the blades riveted to the boot. This method of mounting the blade is far less labour intensive for the manufacturer as it can be carried out by machine, hence the lower cost. The downside is that is makes it almost impossible to change the blade as your skills improve. You’ll need to carefully grind out the rivets and then plug the holes before fitting a new blade. It also leaves no possibility to realign the blade to the boot if they have been incorrectly positioned, and they often are!
Almost all figure skate blades are made from Carbon Steel, with chrome or nickel plating on the sides to prevent rust. Very few are made from Stainless Steel as this a softer metal. Carbon steel can be hardened (tempered) in a furnace. The metal is heated to a very high temperature, and then cooled very quickly. The temperature and the rate of cooling determines the hardness of the metal. Too hard and the metal becomes brittle and may chip or snap, too soft and the blade will not hold its edge as well and will need sharpening more often Top blade manufacturers like John Wilson and Mitchell & King (MK) have invested a lot of time and money in perfecting the level of hardening required for an ice skate blade, so you can be sure that any blade which bears the name of these manufacturers will have been hardened to just the right degree.
Most of the cheap blades, which can generally be identified by the rivet mounting, will at best have been unevenly tempered, and at worst, not tempered at all.
You can sometimes get a bargain on Second hand skates but you need to know what you are looking for. Ebay is littered with low quality, or badly worn skates that the seller is asking an over inflated price for. On the other hand, some people are selling great quality hardly used skates for much less than they are worth because the original owner grew out of them quickly, or decided not to continue skating, and the seller doesn’t know their true value.. If you can find one of these, you can get a bargain. Please be aware of the following points though.
The size listed is very unlikely to be the UK size. Most boots are marked in either US sizes or European, and the translation to UK size will depend on the manufacturer. We see so many boots listed on Ebay as size 5 for instance, only to find that it is a US5 which in a ladies boot, usually equates to a UK3.
Over time, ice skates tend to mould themselves to the individual skaters feet through use. The chances of your foot being exactly the same size and shape as the first owners feet is very slim, so you may find it difficult to get a pair which fit you properly. Leather boots can probably be re-heat moulded to your foot, but synthetic boots cannot. Perspiration consists of 98% moisture and 2% salts and acids and is a central element in boot break down. The foot produces and carries more bacteria than any other part of the body. Bacteria eats protein, and since leather is 98% protein, it also eats skates! For this reason alone, regardless of how well the skates have been looked after, if they have been used, the deterioration process will have started.
If you are considering second hand, give yourself a chance and choose a good make. Well known makes are Jackson, Risport, Riedell, Edea, Graf, Gam, SP Teri, Wifa and you can be pretty safe with all of these models, particularly if they are relatively new.
The main stress point on any ice skate is the ankle area. Once the ankle support has gone, the ice skates are finished, and you’ll need to replace them. Nearly all second hand ice skates will show some degree of wear in this area. Look at the leather at the sides. Any creases or buckles here are a sign of wear. a slight buckle at the front of the boot is to be expected, particularly if there is no forward flex notch. However, if the creases go all the way round the boot, you can be sure the ankle support has broken down. If there is a crease on the outside, and a buckle on the inside, the probability is that the original owner used to pronate (ankles tipping inwards) and was not adequately corrected. This is one of the main causes of premature boot breakdown as the boot tries to keep the ankle upright, but it eventually gives up and the support fails.
Don’t worry too much about scuffs and scratches, this is an inevitable and unavoidable factor in ice skating.
Check the heel area to make sure it is still firmly attached to the boot, and carefully check the lace holes for any sign of tearing.
Have a look at the blade. The bottom part of the blade should have an exposed metal section of about 5mm deep below the chrome plating. This section will give you an idea how much the blade has been sharpened. If it is already all the way up the chrome plating, the blades will need to be changed. Are the blades riveted or screwed on? If they are riveted on and have been over sharpened, you have a problem! Check the edges of the blades for nicks. Small nicks can be ground out at the sharpening shop, but deep ones may mean the blade needs replacing.
Ice Skates fail in many different ways. Even good quality skates will wear out over time, the most common area of failure being at the ankle. Proper and timely maintenance, and correct support for the foot if needed will greatly prolong the life of an ice skate.
Metal eyelets in thin leather are a cause for concern on cheap boots as they can pull out when the laces are being tightened, It is a particular risk over the instep where the skater needs the laces fastening quite tight. Once this has happened, it is all over for the skates.
If the boots are left wet for too long, or poorly maintained, the heel can come away from the sole, and once again that is the end of the boots. Here, moisture has attacked the insole of the boot, causing it to soften. This has allowed the screws to pull through the insole material, so the sole is no longer secured to the boot. It tends to happen more on beginner level boots as the insole of the boot is made from fibreboard. This is a very strong material as long as it remains relatively dry. If it is allowed to get wet and stay wet, the fibreboard can break down and allow the heel to pull away.