Robert Jones’s skates again

My Robert Jones skates.

In A Treatise on Skatingthe first book on skating, published exactly 250 years ago—Robert Jones describes, in great detail, his ideal skates. I made a pair and tried them out.

Jones’s skates are the type used in England at his time, in contrast to the Dutch type. They have short, curved blades to allow skaters to do edges.

[S]kating is used here [in England] as an exercise and diversion only; hence an easy movement and graceful attitude are the sole objects of our attention. To arrive at these, nothing can be better imagined than the present form of our skates.

Jones 2017 [1772], 34.

He provides a drawing of the skates, which is what I worked from:

Jones 2017 [1772], 36.

I made the wood part from popular using a variety of power tools in the woodshop at CIADC. The holes for the straps were the most difficult part and I ended up carving out sections of the top with the table saw, sawing the holes in, then placing inlays on the top to fill the carved-out sections. It would have been better to make the skates in two parts, top and bottom, then glue them together.

I had the blades laser-cut from 1/4″ mild steel by Send Cut Send. They were very quick! What I wasn’t able to capture was the taper. Jones specifies that the blades should be 1/4″ wide at the heel, increasing in size to 5/16″ at around the point labeled B, then increasing more sharply to 5/8″ in the front. Mine are just 1/4″ wide all the way. That may or may not make a difference for skating.

I used an angle grinder to polish the blades and sharpened them by draw-filing with a hand file, following Jones’ advice not to give them a hollow. He considered fluted skates too bad to even describe!

Putting the wood and metal parts together was quite simple once I had the wood carved to fit. The blade slid into its groove and stayed there—the little hook at the front was enough to hold wood and metal together.

Attaching the blades to the boots was the next step. The boots are just a pair of old Riedells I had sitting around unused. For straps, I used fake leather. The three “little sharp points of iron” Jones represents by I, I, and I (35) were little nails glued into the wood. The heel screw was more of a challenge, and mine doesn’t quite match his. I just drilled a hole through metal, wood, and leather boot and stuck a #4 screw in. I think his system was better—it sounds more complicated—but I need to see some skates that have it before I can reproduce it. In any case, what I did worked pretty well.

Skating in them was very hard. The lack of a hollow meant the blades slide all over the place instead of digging in when I push. And the blades are very, very curved. Jones wasn’t kidding about that when he compared them with Dutch skates:

ours would by no means be proper for travelling, because the irons are short and circular; not above two inches of their surface touch the ice at a time; all our attention is required, to keep the body in an equilibrium on so small a base, which would be almost impossible to continue for any length of time

Jones 2017 [1772], 33.
The difference in curvature is clear when comparing a Jones blade with an MK Silver Test blade (rocker radius = 7 ft).

My first couple of times out on them were not promising, but I will persevere.


R. Jones and W. E. Cormack. 2017. A Treatise on Skating. Edited by B. A. Thurber. Evanston, IL: Skating History Press.