How to Build Roller Skates

Ever since the pandemic forced everyone to find new hobbies, roller-skating has been a hit, with dancers and daredevils going viral on Instagram and TikTok.

Among the most sought-after skates are Moxi’s Lolly Skates, rainbow-colored old-school four-wheelers made in Red Wing, Minn. Riedell, the 100-person company that makes the skates, is on track to make almost 80,000 pairs of roller skates this year, about four times as many as before the pandemic.

The skates are so popular that buyers now have to wait a few months before they arrive in the mail — especially if they want them in floss (mint green) or lilac (light purple), two of the last year’s most popular colors. Each skate takes about a week and a half to put together.

This is how they’re made.

1. Cut the leather

About 1,250 square feet of leather is cut into 4,000 pieces each day. Workers use a die cutter (basically an industrial cookie-cutter) to carefully stamp out each piece of the boot.

2. Bundle the pieces

After the leather is cut, workers stack the pieces up and label them with the boot’s size, width and style. Though the skates come in lots of colors, all Moxi Lolly skates have the same liner, covered in vintage-style ads.

3. Sew the backs and toes

Workers at Riedell use industrial sewing machines to punch through the tough leather. They attach the outers and liners to one another first, then sew the heels and toes together.

4. Add eyelets

Moxi’s skates come in lots of sizes, but any roller-skater will tell you that you need to lace up to get the perfect fit (and avoid blisters!). Nine sets of eyelets, the metal-lined holes that laces go through, are punched into every boot.

5. Put the shoes on forms

The leather pieces of the boot are pretty flat until they are put on a plastic model foot, called a last. When workers pull the leather over it, the boot starts to take its shape.

6. Place the inner sole

Once the last is tucked into the boot, workers lay an insole on the bottom. The upper is then pulled around it and pinned down with a tack to hold it in place. When the skates are finished, this will be inside the boot.

7. Insert the box toe

To help shape the boot and protect skaters from stubbing their toes, each boot has a hard protective cap called a box toe. To make it, workers stick a soft piece of resin (a type of plastic) inside the toe. As it dries, it hardens.

8. Shape the boot

To give the boot its final shape, the leather is stretched by hand over the model before it is tacked down through the bottom of the boot. Each tack is double-checked to be sure it won’t poke through to your foot.

9. Sew the heel

A “heelseat lasting” machine smooths out the leather at the heel and sews it down. This completes the process of shaping the boot.

10. Apply the glue

It’s time to glue the hard outer sole onto the boot. Workers cover the bottom and the sole with urethane, a superstrong cement, and heat it up.

11. Attach the outer sole

When the glue is heated and sticky, workers align the right size of sole beneath the boot and use a hydraulic press to push the boot, glue and sole together. The model foot is now removed.

12. Secure the heel

The last thing a skater wants is a roller skate’s heel (and wheels) falling off! To make sure that never happens, workers nail the heel into the boot and bend the end so it stays in place.

13. Bolt the plate

A plate is bolted to the boot, creating a strong base for the wheels. While some people use the skates just to glide through rinks, others do flips and tricks — meaning the wheels have to be supersturdy.

14. Attach the wheels

Workers bolt on squishy cushions that let the skates lean to either side to turn. Soft wheels help ensure the skates can roll over bumps and stones. The toe stop, a rubber circle at the front of the skates, works like a brake.

15. Inspection, packing and shipping

After a final inspection, the boots are packed up and shipped around the world — ready to be laced up and rolled out at the park, on the street or in the roller rink.

This article was originally published in the September issue of The New York Times for Kids. Find the section in your paper this Sunday, Sept. 26 (and the last Sunday of every month).

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