Modifying Skate Fit and Balance:


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Clock Image We have already discussed some of the most important factors that cause boots to break down.

My own boots are over 10 years old, and have seen thousands of hours of use. They have lasted this long partly because I bought boots that were too stiff for my skating level, and which took a very long time to break in and are nowhere near breaking down, but it emphasizes that good fit and good maintenance can prolong skate life. I mostly ice dance. High level freestyle skaters break down their boots more quickly.

I knew a Russian ice dancer who competed and toured at the highest levels. 10 or 15 years later, he was still using the very thin but tightly fit boots he must have used at that time.

By comparison, most high level freestyle and dance skaters wear out their boots in a few months, even though they use much stiffer boots.


The primary cause of early boot breakdown is poor fit, or loose lacing. If there are parts of the boot that do not have full contact with the skin, or have low pressure, a breakdown crease can form there, especially if it is near ankle height, where the alternate ankle flexes and points causes the boot to bend. If there are no such spots, it is almost impossible for such a crease to form. Then the boots will never break down. But they will eventually soften until they provide little support, and will still need to be replaced.

Of course if you fit your boots loose at the top or around the ankle, a breakdown crease can form there.

Avoid Moisture

Boots invariably get wet, from the ice, or from the moist air at the rink. Moisture causes leather to rot, and makes it more vulnerable to insects and worms, and causes the blades and mounting hardware to rust.

So it is important to wipe the boots dry, inside and out, after each use. Wipe the blades dry too.

Between uses, keep blades in breathable (e.g., terrycloth, like "Soakers") blade guards, to prevent abrasion and rust. You may prefer to walk in plastic blade at the rink, because terrycloth wears out quickly, but transfer them to breathable guards as soon as you stop skating.

Do not keep skates inside a box or bag. If you must carry them in a bag, make sure it is breathable. Skates should be stored in a dry place, indoors, as much as possible.

The outsole (bottom of the boot) is particularly prone to rot, because it is close to the ice. Periodically waterproof the bottoms of your boots by melting a wax, such as Sno-Seal, onto them. Some people use Silicone gasket sealer, which you can get from auto parts stores between the blade and the sole.

Boot dryers are needed to prevent rot if you live in a very humid place. Boot dryers that get too hot are bad for leather. They should not exceed body temperature - about 98.6 degrees F (37 deg C). E.g., the Dry Guy Circulator boot dryers regulate temperature to be around 99 degrees, so are suitable. One model plugs into AC power, another plugs into the cigarette lighter power adaptor in vehicles. Regardless, avoid using a dryer for over about 30 minutes.

We already mentioned leather conditioning oils in another context. Periodically rubbing in a small amount will prolong the life of leather, by retarding rot. Apply to the inside and outside. The Lexol brand leather conditioners are often preferred, because they don't stain the leather much. But do not apply oil or conditioner to suede - just use suede cleaner, else the suede will turn very dark and the nap will collapse.

These things are particularly important if your feet generate much sweat.

BTW, Mahi Leather, which makes leather purses, backpacks, and duffels, has an interesting page about leather, including more on leather care and repair.

Reduce Temperature Variation

Constant temperature variation also breaks down leather. So store boots indoors. Storing your boots in a vehicle is a bad idea. Storing it in the trunk makes this worse. White vehicles undergo less temperature variation than darker colors, but are still less well regulated than most homes.

Just to emphasize these points, the boots of a skater I know rot in a few months. Her feet sweat a lot, she does not wipe the boots off or perform other maintenance, and she keeps them in her hot car trunk.

Sharpen Properly

Blades will last several times longer if they are hand sharpened using a tool such as the Pro-filer, or if you find a professional sharpener who is good enough to only remove a few thousandths of an inch. (Hockey skaters prefer deeper grinds, which remove more metal, because their blades often collide with each other, leaving deep nicks and gouges, which may interfere with skating. Fortunately, they can inexpensively change their blades. The small nicks figure skaters get are usually unimportant.) Ordinary machine sharpening shapes by grinding steel away. Slower hand sharpening partly reshapes the metal.


Laces are too cheap to repair, but are sometimes hard to find. Carry an extra pair. But you can repair a nylon lace end which has frayed by slightly melting it with a match or burner, then rolling it between your fingers (danger: hot and flammable - not for young children or incautious adults). Do it near a sink, so you can extinguish a burning lace. You can create a new cotton lace end by wetting the end with an appropriate non-water-soluble glue, but don't let your fingers get wet glue on them, especially if it is hard to remove, like Super-Glue.

Better yet, carry extra laces.

Protect and Restore Finish

The outside of non-suede boots are finished with shoe polish, which gives it color and makes it shine. Suede boots are dyed. Either way, the surface can be damaged by abrasion and by being cut by blades.

Avoid touching your own boots with your blades as much as practical. The first step is to become aware of when this happens.

Using boot covers helps protect the boot surface a lot. Some people instead wear tights that extend over their boots. The covers or tights wear out instead of the boot.

A polished leather surface can be restored. You can buy polish of the same colors as are common on skates at many skate stores. If all the polish in an area is gone, you can apply a primer designed for the purpose so the polish sticks better. If the surface is too rough, sand it with fine sandpaper first.

The outside of non-suede boots are finished with shoe polish, which gives it color and makes it shine. Suede boots are dyed. Either way, the surface can be damaged by abrasion and by being cut by blades.

Rebuilding boots

If you are growing, your old boots may no longer fit. Even if not, old boots slowly change their shapes. You may need to the way they fit again, using methods discussed starting here. You may also want to change the mounting location and orientation of the blades. Don't let an over-eager sales person tell you this can't be done, because old mounting holes can't be filled, and the old holes interfere with where the new ones need to be. If you grow enough, you may need longer blades.

If a blade has warped and is no longer straight, which generally occurs because it was mounted wrong as discussed on here, some boot fitters have devices that can straighten them.

If you have to replace your boots, you may still be able to use your blades, and vice versa.

If a breakdown crease has only just started to form, you can carefully use a ball and ring pliers (mentioned elsewhere) to reverse the direction (inward and/or outward at different spots) of the crease, at each point. It won't last forever, and the leather will be softer and will not provide as much support, but the procedure can somewhat extend the life of your boots.

Most boot makers are willing to rebuild their boots. They can redo stitching and glue, replace padding and interior stiffening elements, replace, reattach and resize heels. They can cut extra slots in ice dance boots to make them bend easier in places, add loops into the tongue so the tongue stays in place, replace lace hooks, and similar such problems. Some boot fitters can do some of the same things. However, if the outside leather has broken down or rotted, repairs are usually impossible. Consult with a good boot fitter, and then with the boot maker.


Riedell Boot and Blade Care thread on "How to take care of Ice Skates"

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