Story and photos by Mike Tripp, contributor
Nathan Edwards stood at his lathe by the window of his garage workshop in Harrisonburg, intent on his work.
“In my spare time, I cut these roller skate wheels,” he said.
One of those wheels spun on the lathe as a cutting tool restores the rolling surface to a smooth, like-new state.
A life-long skater, Nathan’s own skates have a high-end set of precision wheels from Australia.
“Something happened at one of the rinks that I flat-spotted a wheel,” he said.
The term “flat spot” refers to a badly worn section of the rolling surface resulting in a not so smooth ride.
“That’s something you can feel,” he continued. “And for a discerning skater, it’s something not nice.”
“I thought to myself, ‘I need to fix this wheel.’”
The fact he already had his own lathe made that possible.
“So, I repaired those wheels and ever since, I’ve been cutting roller skate wheels.”
For six years he’s been at it.
“I like seeing all the different skate wheels and not just what’s available today but from the past,” said Nathan.
His hand gestured to one of his work benches.
“There’s a lot of wheels sitting here on the table that are no longer made but are still a desirable thing.”
Holding one of the wheels, the skater-turned-craftsman smiled.
“You get to see a lot of different skate wheels, and I get to apply precision to something that most people would just say … ‘It doesn’t need to be that good. It’s just a roller skate,’” he explained.
“I don’t like that. That’s not my deal. I like excellence.”
His mindset has earned him a reputation that has gained him customers from all over the United States.
“Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina …”
How do they find him? … Facebook and word of mouth.
“Someone will mention regrooving wheels or have pulled their old wheels out of the closet from back when they skated in high school and want to get back to skating,” said Nathan.
And invariably someone he’s done wheels for points that person in his direction.
“What I do is address the rolling surface,” he explained. “From what they send, I find the smallest wheel and restore that one first.”
“And the next ones all go down to that same size,” he continued.
“That way they’re all the same size within a thousandth of an inch.”
Another thing Nathan does is take wheels from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ’60s that were long thought unusable and give them new life.
“They used a different standard of (ball) bearing, they were called a ‘loose ball,’” he said. “They had to drop the balls in their manually.”
Considered unrollable today because no one sells a skate that will run a loose ball bearing.
“So, I bore all of that out and install a precision hub that takes a modern standard bearing that everyone uses,” Nathan explained.
“So now that desirable wheel from the ‘40s that couldn’t be skated anymore can now be skated again.”
Nathan can often be found skating at Funky’s Skate Center where he likes to jive skate to the music.
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