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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hockey Skates: Pitch, Hollow and Radius

Hockey Giant Skate Sharpening Service

Whenever you take your skates to your local pro shop to have them sharpened, I'm sure the man behind the sharpening stone throws around a few terms that you may or may not be familiar with. If you're a seasoned vet, you probably don't need to read much further. If you're a beginner, or you've simply made a habit of handing over your skates and crossing your fingers as you hope for the best, this article should help you become a bit more familiar with some of the hockey pro shop jargon.

We're going to discuss the terms pitch, hollow, and radius, as they pertain to runners (blades) on your ice hockey skates. Knowledge is power, and if you have a clear understanding of what these terms mean, you'll be able to communicate more clearly with your local skate sharpener. You have options – so take full advantage, and don't hesitate to make some adjustments here and there until you find what you're looking for.


Hollow is the depth of the edges given to your runners when they are sharpened. The most common hollows used are (from deepest to shallowest) 3/8”, 7/16”, 1/2”, 9/16” & 5/8”. You may be wondering what these numbers represent. You may also be wondering why the sharper/deeper hollows are represented by smaller numbers. Well, the numbers actually represent the radius of the imaginary circle that would be created if you traced the contour of the hollow in the runner to produce a complete circle.

The grey area, in the diagram below, represents the runner. The groove in the 9/16" hollow is much shallower than the groove in the 3/8" hollow. This also means that the edges of the 9/16" hollow are not as thin or long as the edges of the 3/8" hollow. Keep in mind that these images were not done to-scale, but should help you visualize the difference between a shallow cut (9/16") and a deep cut (3/8").

A few things must be considered when choosing the hollow that best suits you.

  1. Your weight – Heavy skaters do not need a deep hollow because their weight allows them to dig into the ice much easier than lighter skaters.

  2. Hardness of the ice – Harder ice requires a deeper hollow in order to allow a player to dig in with the edges of the runners. On the other hand, soft, chippy ice requires a shallow hollow to allow a player to glide on the ice without digging in too deep.

  3. Your skating style – Players who desire greater straightaway speed and easier gliding should use a shallow hollow, while players who desire the ability to make tighter, sharper turns should go with a deeper hollow.


Pitch is a reference to the profile of the runner on a hockey skate which causes a player’s weight to shift to their toes or mid foot. Forward pitch puts a player on his toes and gives the skater an aggressive stance. Neutral pitch puts a skater on his mid foot for a stable, balanced stance. There's really no benefit to putting a backward pitch on your runners because leaning back on your heels will simply throw you off-balance. The pitch is adjusted by grinding down the runner at an angle so that your weight is shifted (pitched) toward your toes.

    *Be careful with pitch adjustments*... Once you put a substantial pitch on your runners, there's no going back because you obviously can't reverse the grinding process. Your only option at that point is to replace the runners, which isn't the end of the world, but it's another $40-50 bucks that you don't want to have to spend as the result of a poor decision.

Another thing to understand about pitch is that your holders also play a major factor. For example, Cobra holders (used on Graf skates) have a longer heel post which lifts the heel and puts more of your weight on your toes for an aggressive stance. TUUK holders (used on Bauer skates), on the other hand, have a very neutral pitch, putting most of your weight on the middle of the foot for a neutral stance. If you've decided that you prefer a neutral stance, you're better off buying TUUK holders than grinding down the runners to off-set the natural pitch of another brand of holders. And if you prefer an aggressive stance, your best choice is to go with a pair of Cobra holders. This is the better way to address the issue of pitch, because if you happen to break a runner which you spent the time and money to have pitched (*tip: runners break more often than holders), you have to replace it and have it profiled again to match the runner on your other skate... Whereas if you simply chose a pair of holders with the pitch that suits your needs, you wouldn't have to deal with the hassle of readjusting the runner pitch.


Radius is the measurement of your skate runner’s profile as it relates to the size and shape of a circle. The visual aid above, which was used to show the imaginary circle created by the hollow of a runner, should help you understand how the radius is measured also. But in the case of runner radius, just imagine that you're looking at your runner from the side, and that the imaginary circle follows the contour of the blade's bottom edge. A runner with a 13’ radius is fairly flat and a large portion of the runner is touching the ice surface – so when you trace the profile of the blade and continue the imaginary line out to create an imaginary complete circle, the radius of that circle is 13'. A runner with a 9’ radius is noticeably more curved from tip to tip than a runner with a 13’ radius, and you can see that less of the runner's bottom edge is touching the ice surface when it's resting flat on the ice.

When you have your runners profiled, you're giving them a different "rocker". Visualize the curved feet of a rocking chair; you can find rocking chairs with varying foot curvatures, and this difference affects how much of the undersides of the feet are actually touching the ground beneath at any given point. When you look at the different rocker options that are available, you observe the same effect. More curvature (i.e. 9' Radius) = Less blade touching the ice.

Here’s basically how the pros and cons boil down…

  1. 13’ radius – offers greater surface area contact, which increases straightaway speed, acceleration and balance at the cost of tight cornering and smooth transitions

  2. 11’ radius – offers a good, well balanced blend of speed and agility

  3. 9’ radius – offers great agility, tight cornering and smooth transitions at the cost of straightaway speed and acceleration