DIY roller skate toe covers

Cost: potential for as low as $10
Time: 2 hours

If you have roller derby venues like ours, some of your floors may be rougher than a cat licking sandpaper. This can be devastating on beautiful leather skates. I used to heavily tape my toes to protect the leather from the abrasiveness of knee falls, only to cover them with more tape as it wore down. It created a bit of a problem because I also like to take apart my skates. Having to tear layers and layers of encrusted hockey tape was not only annoying, some of the leather finish of my boot came off with the bottom tape layer.

IMG_3303I was never a fan of the snouts or single straps to help protect my skate from getting scuffed, because the materials weren’t thick enough. Our rough floors and skating outside had me burn through them quickly. When I changed my roller skate plates over a year ago, I came up with a DIY solution for toe stop covers, which I have been wearing with no need for tape or replacement since I first installed them.

You’ll see from the photo that it’s made from a belt and in three separate pieces. The only thing that’s holding the pieces in position are my laces and the toe stop. I worried the laces wouldn’t be strong enough to hold the side pieces in place, but have seen no evidence of shifting after skating on them for a year. (More photos of the toe protector are at the end of this post.)

I did a couple of things accidentally-on-purpose that has made this construction stand up to over a year of abuse.

  1. The toe stop holes were cut smaller than the toe stop stem width so the leather pieces had to be threaded onto the toe stop nipple. This keeps them from flapping between your skate and toe stop. Also, if your toe stop pops out unexpected, the smaller leather holes will keep it with your skate instead of bouncing across the track. (Proven! This happened to me in a recent game.)
  2. The pieces are layered strategically around the toe to prevent flapping and gaping holes on the sides. On top, the middle strip sits under the two side pieces. Holes are cut so they can be laced through both layers. On the bottom, the middle strip sits above the two side pieces, locking them in place to keep them from shifting. The toe stop anchors the bottom in place.

IMG_5776 copy

Here is a paper template that shows the positioning of the three pieces. You’ll want to refer to this picture when you are building your template and constructing your toe protector.

When I did this project over a year ago, I didn’t take photos of the process. So below is my best explanation of how I did the project. If you’re a crafter, eyeballing the photos will help you come up with your own design.

What you’ll need…

Leather belt at the desired width and thickness.
Mine was about 1.5” wide and 1/8″ thick and very rigid. The thicker the belt the more wear you’ll get. You’ll need six pieces and the length of them could be anywhere between five and seven inches, so make sure your belt is long enough. If you find one in the high 30s or low 40 inch in length, you’re probably good. I found a great belt at the second hand store for a few dollars.

Something sharp to cut through the belt.
I used tin snips. Scissors or a utility knife may work, depending on the thickness of the belt.

Something sharp to cut holes in the belt.
If you have a leather punch, that works best. But a hammer and nail could work well too, or even using a drill.

Paper and tape to help build your template.

Create Your Template

Figure out how the belt will work with your skatesIMG_5769

Skate boots have different toe shapes, laces start in different positions and your toe stop hole position will vary depending on your plate. Cutting three paper strips in the same width of your purchased belt will help you figure out how to cut your belt for length and angle, so you don’t waste pieces by cutting incorrectly.

You’ll want to overlap the three pieces of your paper template in such a way that the toe is completely covered, you have good side coverage and it goes up high enough IMG_5770to be laced onto your skate. You could alter this design so the middle piece goes higher up your skate if you wish.

Remove your toe stops and your laces from your skates. Wrap the three pieces around your toe, matching the layering to the coloured paper template I posted above. Make sure the paper isn’t too loose, or you’ll have floppy protectors when you make your final cuts.IMG_5772

Ensure all three pieces of belt are centred over your toe stop hole under your skate. Also ensure the position of all three pieces don’t have big gaps in between around your toe. Adjust the angle of your strips to get the coverage you want.

When you are happy with the position, use tape to secure your pieces. Flip your skate over and stab a hole through all three pieces to mark where you will cut for the toe stop.IMG_5773

On the top of your skate, mark the cuts for your two side straps and your top strap. You want your two side pieces to butt up against each other when it’s all laced together. (If you position your middle piece exactly where you want it to sit on the top of your skate, you won’t need to mark that cut). Don’t worry about marking lace holes at this point.

Assemble bottom portion of toe cover

IMG_5774Cut your belt into strips and mount them onto your toe stop

When you pull apart the three paper strips, it should look something like the photo to the right. Use this to cut your leather pieces to size. I add an extra 1/8 inch on each end when I cut, in case I made an error on measuring because you’ll be trimming to make it look neat and tidy once it’s all assembled. On the toe-stop-side of your strips, mark your toe stop hole and cut it about a 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the hole.


A closeup view shows how cutting a small hole in your straps allows the pieces to be threaded onto the toe stop nipple and will hold in place.

Cut a hole in each strip for your toe stop. (This will be hard if your belt is thick and rigid. Don’t cut yourself!) Make the hole big enough to just fit over the first thread of your toe stop nipple, but small enough so you have to turn the leather strap to make it go up the nipple.

Once you have all three holes cut, thread the strips onto your toe stop taking care to use the order as illustrated by the paper template above (middle strip should be the last one you twist on). Twist your toe stop nut on next then turn your toe stop into your skate, adjust the height and tighten.

You want the straps under your skate to be as close to the nut as possible (or next to your skate if your plates use a hex key adjustment). Position them accordingly before moving onto the next step.

Assemble top portion of toe cover


View of the assembled cover after the lace holes have been punched.

Flip your straps up and over your skate. Position them so the three pieces fully cover your toe, with no gaps. Layer the pieces according to the paper template above. When you have them positioned how you like them, mark your lace holes. Your middle strip needs four holes, your side pieces need two holes each and you want to do your best to line them all up. This will take a little guessing because the straps will be covering the holes you need to mark. Take your time to estimate. It’s okay if your holes are a little off; tightly lacing them (I use wax laces) will help keep it sturdy.

You could also do this step before you attach the pieces to the toe stop. However I do it in this order because I want to pull the straps up as tight as possible, then position the lace holes. Your laces hold everything in position and if your holes were inaccurate, the toe protector may shift more than you like.

View from the top. The laces also go through the bottom middle strip to securely fasten it to the boot.

View from the top. The laces also go through the bottom middle strip to securely fasten it to the boot.

Cut your lace holes using a leather punch or nail and hammer. (You can remove them from your skates to do this step or leave them attached to your toe stop). Once the holes are punched, lace your covers to your skates.

Finish up with tape to protect the exposed laces from being torn. Trim any excess belt to make the presentation look neat and tidy.

Done! Now do the other skate.

What’s great about this project is the pieces can be rotated to your other skate as they start to wear down. (We all have a favourite knee to fall on, that toe protector will wear down first.) Or you could just buy another belt and replace individual straps as needed.

Assembled unit from the side.

Assembled unit from the side.

Toe protectors are meant to get scuffed, torn and beat up. They also cost anywhere from $20 – $40. These ones cost me $10 plus 2 hours to make. While they may not be the prettiest, they are very practical. But I’m sure you creative derby peeps will find some unique second hand belts to give your toe protectors some personality!

Happy crafting! Post a link with a photo if you do the project!

Here is the wear on my toe stop protectors after over a year of skating. You'll notice I'm due to rotate some pieces to the other skate but they have held up well. Tape protects the exposed laces from getting torn. They aren't the prettiest, but they are super practical for the rought floors I skate on.

Here is the wear on my toe protectors after over a year of skating. You’ll notice I’m due to rotate some pieces to the other skate but they have held up well. Tape protects the exposed laces from getting torn. They aren’t the prettiest, but they are super practical for the rough floors I skate on.

New minimum skills have potential to make derby go ka-boom (in good and bad ways)

Everyone is slowly waking up from their weekend bangovers and hangovers to become lucid enough to read through the updated minimum skill requirements the WFTDA released. There’s no question, if a derby-wanna-be doesn’t strap on skates now and start moving, they may miss their window to play. There are some high expectations in there. But they are necessary expectations that will reduce time in the penalty box and reduce injury when skaters pass and start bouting.

Derby in Canada is in the middle of a major shift and I think these minimum skill requirements are going to be the black powder to trigger a bigger explosion of change. My province has over 20 leagues in existence right now. My guess is five years ago there were half as many, if not less. Many started their recruitment as, “Come out, we’ll teach you how to skate, you get to have fun, meet new people and wear fun outfits.”

With the new minimum requirements, leagues that continue to recruit in this manner are going to have some problems because this is bringing the sport to a new level. We all know fishnets and ass-creeping shorts are on the out while moisture wicking and performance gear are in. Skaters will be taught to skate, but if they can’t turn 360 degrees without breaking stride, they won’t see a bout until they can. Sure, they will be meeting new people and having fun, but don’t do it while the coach is giving instruction or you will be responsible for your team holding a plank for 1 minute.

Now is the time leagues need to be brutally honest when they are recruiting, if they aren’t already. Roller derby is work. Roller derby is commitment. And when your province has skaters moving so they can skate with better leagues, roller derby is turning pro (without the pro salaries).

I anticipate many leagues will be discussing these minimum skills at length over the coming days (and if it’s not on your radar, it should be). Many skaters who started the sport for fun and something different to do, as indicated by the recruitment poster in their local rec centre, will have to seriously evaluate their commitment and whether or not they will be able to continue. Granted, skills like hopping and lateral jumps are like riding a bike; once you get them you often don’t forget. But the new endurance and speed benchmarks require maintenance of your fitness level all year-round. (No more gorging and TV watching during the off-season.)

This is what everyone has been begging for… to be taken seriously as a sport. Here we are folks, this is serious.

But I still see opportunities for everyone to get to play.

I foresee a future of farm team rec leagues skating under the old requirements, where fresh meat will benchmark to skate and play until they want to be drafted onto competitive teams as rookies. These will be the skate-hard-and-have-fun leagues where if you need to leave the track during practice to answer your phone because your babysitter is calling, you won’t be punished. I’m sure this is already happening in the U.S. But I predict a sudden spike in rec leagues within Canada.

I foresee more teams moving to yearly intake to stay competitive and build a team intelligently (as opposed to monthly or quarterly). But expectations will be set high; you’ll have to play with a rec league and know the rules before even attending an intake practice.

I foresee serious athletes gravitating toward derby in great numbers. Athletes such as rugby players and hockey players may have stayed away because a league with constant open recruitment shows an un-established organization. I’m making huge assumptions here, but if you’ve played conventional sports your entire life and then move into a newer roller derby organization, I bet it would be very frustrating due to the constant coaching challenges, venue challenges and money challenges leagues have. Standardizing recruitment and having a venue that supports a full season would be very palatable to an established athlete.

I foresee leagues that have loaner gear programs ending them because the expectations to join will mean a new recruit owning skates and knowing how to use them before attending their first practice.

Finally, I foresee an exodus of existing skaters if leagues do not sit down and talk about these new minimum skills and how they fit in with their existing recruitment and practice policies. Some skaters are going to throw their hands up and say ‘I’m out’ if they feel they can’t keep up. If three or four skaters do that within a smaller league, the league won’t have enough players to roster and will be months away from training their fresh meat to reach the new minimum skills in order to be at the competitive level they want. Larger leagues that already have a high-level recruitment policy will make the shift to the new minimum skills more seamlessly. Smaller leagues playing catch-up will be left behind. I won’t be surprised if we see some leagues fold with these changes.

If your league isn’t talking about this right now, you should be. It’s going to change the sport we love. It’s going to be hard to work. But it’s also going to be awesome.

I’d love to hear from other leagues across the globe. Does your league have a recreational team? Do you use it to train and recruit skaters to the next level or is it strictly for fun? What do you think about the new minimum skills?

Here’s some other blogs on the topic that came out the last few days…

New Minimum Skills Highlights the Darker Side of Derby by Moxie

The new WFTDA minimum skills by Rachael

Minimum skills requirements upgrade – what does it all mean by Elusia

Edited (Apr 18/13) to add:

Mad Skills by Left 4 Deadwards

New WFTDA Minimum Skills – let’s chat by Frisky Sour

New Minimum Skils… and? by Elektra Q-Tion

Things Roller Derby Must Lose by Lightning Slim