Nov 20, 2020
Hi, I am Gael Doucet-Gagnon and this is my story about how I came to design the Bont short track sharpening jig.
Short Track: A sport of details
Since the age of 6 when I started ice speed skating, I have always been fascinated by this sport. It’s a sport that looks simple, but it is actually really difficult because it’s focused on details. When you say that you need to be the fastest person skating around an ice oval, it seems very simple, but in practice, it is not a simple task at all. How do you become the best at short track speed skating? By spending years practicing your technic, strategy, and physical conditioning. When talking about the equipment in speed skating, it looks like the same principle is applied. The equipment we use to compete looks simple; a pair of boots that fit our feet, a pair of blades to glide on the ice, and some protection. Actually, these simple things are not that easy to produce. To allow us to use our full potential on the ice, everything we use has to be optimized for our sport.
It’s not rocket science, but the complexity behind this simple idea, the way we chose to make it so perfect, and the passion involved behind this not quite simple jig is what makes it so special.
The complexity behind our equipment and our sport is something that I have realized during my still not finished career as a 21 years old speed skater. This inspired me to create something that would be used for this sport.
One day, knowing my passion for speed skating equipment, the owner of Xact Performance (Bont Canada) in Quebec, Marc Pelletier, gave me the opportunity to realize that dream. Knowing that Bont would like to produce a new speed skating sharpening jig for the short track market, he asked me if I would be interested to design one for Bont. I gladly accepted, knowing that my studies in civil engineering could help me to realize that dream.
Bont short track speed skating sharpening jig
I had to develop a new sharpening jig so I had to do some plans for the specifications of the machining and a 3D visualization of the product to show its potential. Having learned how to use CAD (computer-aided design) at school, I used the software AutoCAD to get the job done. My thoughts while creating this product were the same we use in civil engineering; the production had to be efficient to produce and the product of the highest quality. That’s why my first concern was to be sure that the jig would fit every brand of blade on the market, no matter their wear and tear degree. So I designed some removable items and did some specifications on the dimensions of the jig to make sure every blade would get a perfect fit. I also made sure that it would put the least amount of tension as possible on the blades to not affect their bending while keeping a good grip on them, so they would not move while sharpening the blades.
My second step was to minimize the total weight of the sharpening jig while keeping it solid so it could last a very long time and be lightweight to pack away when traveling to skating competitions. As we do in civil engineering, I chose to play with the form of the product. I optimized the design to save weight where it was possible but keep some material on the areas that were the most vulnerable to get deformed in case of an accident.
Short track ice speed skating sharpening jig
My third step was to get a design that was simple to produce so we could offer a product that would be affordable for everyone. Again, I played on the forms to get something easy to machine so we could diminish the selling price of the product. While doing that, we could also diminish the potential risk of manufacturing defects.
Finally, I found every norm for each screw or thing that would be used for the assemblies to standardize the product. I came up with a basic design of the sharpening jig but had different ideas concerning some specificities that could be included in this design. Not knowing which one would Bont prefer for their jig, I chose to do 5 slightly different 3D designs based on the options available on the 2D plans. They chose a unique design, using a 90-degree aluminum bracket that could be used to adjust the height of the blade sitting on the jig. The prototype was a real success concerning the design. We only had to give advice and specifications to the machinist so they could truly understand what was that product intended for and then the production began, initially intended for the Canadian market.
As you may know, a speed skating sharpening jig does a quite simple job. Just like every other jig, the Bont pro jig holds our blades at 90 degrees while we sharpen them so we can get a really sharp edge. It’s not rocket science, but the complexity behind this simple idea, the way we chose to make it so perfect, and the passion involved behind this not quite simple jig is what makes it so special. Just like short track speed skating.
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