BRIDGETOWN, NS - When Philip Agombar put a post up on Facebook saying he was sharpening skates, things got busy in a hurry.
“I was tired of driving to Greenwood to get my skates done, so I bought a machine,” he said in the post late on Jan. 3. “I've been doing my own skates and some friends’ (skates) for the last couple of months and feel I am ready to offer my services.”
He said the reaction was unbelievable.
“I did not expect it whatsoever. I had this machine thinking I’ll take this year to learn how to do it,” he said. “Next year maybe I’ll put a shingle up and see who I can get coming in.”
Agombar knows about skates, but until he started sharpening his own he didn’t realize the nuances of the skill that puts literally millions of Canadians on the ice in rinks and ponds every year.
“I grew up playing hockey. I probably started when I was four or five years old, played Triple A hockey coming through and still play it. I never stopped playing it,” he said. “I like to say I’ve got just as much out of hockey as professional players, I just don’t get the money.”
The night he put the post on Facebook, he’d been sitting at home thinking he felt pretty comfortable doing skates for some buddies who are really good skaters. Really good hockey players. They liked the job he did.
“So I did a little post on Facebook and next thing I know my phone’s ringin’ and dingin’ and 75 or 80 shares of this post that I whipped out in two minutes,” he said. “I’m thinking this is really needed. People want this.”
He’s offering basic skate sharpening at the moment as he finishes insulating and making his shop in the carriage house comfortable. But even basic skate sharpening is a skill, and maybe even a mystery to some.
“People are dropping their skates off to me, letting me know when they need them back, and I get them ready for them,” he said.
His clientele ranges from four-year-old kids up to 70-year-olds.
“Hockey skates, figure skates,” he said. “There’s a knack for doing real figure skaters’ skates, but for recreational people who are using figure skates, it’s no problem. It’s no different than a hockey skate,” he said.
The Fleming Gray gear he bought for the business is the real deal. He found it on Kijiji.
“It was used by a professional skate sharpener,” he said. “I would think it’s about 30 years old if not a little older. Thirty or 40 years old is what I’m thinking.”
There are two grinding wheels so he can put different profiles on the different wheels so he doesn’t have to switch back and forth to change the profile on the stone each time he does a different skate. A vertical wheel allows him to straighten out a blade before grinding out the hollow.
How it works
“Different skaters might want a deeper cut into the blade, or a shallow cut, so you’re using your stones up quite a bit if you’re switching back and forth all the time,” he said, “so I’ve got two stones that can do two different hollows. That’s why I’ve got multiple heads.”
When Agombar runs the length of the skate blade over the horizontally spinning grinder, it creates a hollow in the steel and makes the sharp outer edges. The deeper the hollow the sharper the edges. But sharper isn’t necessarily better.
“You’re finding out the hollow you want for the skate,” he said. “A smaller kid is going to want a deeper hollow. A recreational skater who is not doing too much is going to want a shallower hollow. The deeper the hollow the more edge you have. It’s going to cut deeper, so a heavier person is going to cut harder into the ice -- which is not good. You’d go slower. A lighter child is going to want more edge to use.”
Agombar said the difference in the deep or shallow profile is minute, you wouldn’t even see it. “How I’ve learned is on my own skates,” he said. “I’ve gone through every range of the hollow to try to figure out what I like. Before this I would never even have thought about it. I’ve skate for 30 years and never have I ever thought about the hollow I had on my skate until I got this machine. And now I think I’m teaching people as they come in the door. I ask them questions about what they like to do.”
He said they’ll come back to him and say they were too sharp or not sharp enough and that guides him to figure out what works best for each customer.
What prompted him?
“I’ve got two little boys now and two girls coming up right behind them that are using skates,” Agombar said. He also has an 18-year-old at home and the need for sharp skates is high. “To get them sharpened I’m travelling 25, 30 kilometres to find somebody to sharpen them and not knowing if I’m going to even be able to get them done. I just got tired of it. I’ve been watching Kijiji and whatever else for a machine for years thinking this is something I’d always like to do.”
Down the road Agombar hopes to provide others services like laces, guards, and other accessories related to skates and skating. And he hopes his shop will become a bit of a social spot, sort of like a barber shop where customers come in and talk about skates and hockey and warm their hands around the wood stove.
To find out more, go to Granville Street Skates on Facebook. After liking the page you can message Agombar. He also has a drop-off box at 151 Granville St. He can be contacted at 902-309-0339.